You know, I did not want to make my profession the subject of this blog. Rather, I wanted to focus on the joys and challenges of being a middle-aged woman, and on the exploration of ways to increase the enjoyment of life despite the demands of being a full-time employee. But when I read Miya Tokumitsu’s essay In the Name of Love, which so cogently articulates the poison of this elitist attitude toward work, I had to chime in. (Read the essay here.) And so, here is my response to “Do what you love and the money will follow.”
Balderdash! Bullshit! This ridiculous claim devalues the work that I do – the work that most of us non-elite, non-privileged working stiffs do – and is a blatant ploy to coerce even more underpaid or unpaid labor from us. We must resist this poisonous propaganda.
I work as a public school teacher; that’s my profession, my “day job,” not my passion. I don’t come from a wealthy family; I don’t have a trust fund; I don’t have the luxury of doing what I love all day long. I have to earn money to pay the bills, and teaching teenagers is what I do to pay those bills.
My profession is particularly subject to this kind of blatant exploitation – not only from our employers, but from our clientele. All teachers have heard this sort of claptrap: “Well, no one goes into teaching to get rich. Everyone knows that teachers don’t make much money, so you should only go into teaching because you love children.” Bullshit! Teaching is a job, like any other. My job is to help students improve their reading skills, their written communication skills, their oral expression, their critical thinking. My job is to help them understand literature, history, and current events. My job is to foster their creativity via dramatic performance, and to develop their ability to speak, read, write and understand another language. It took a lot of training to do all that – both at university and on the job – and I do my job well. It’s important to me to do work that furthers social justice and makes a positive impact on my community, and teaching young people fulfills that obligation in a way that, say, designing advertising campaigns for lingerie would not.
But my administrators, the parents of my students, my students, and the hateful teacher-bashers who populate the media and social networks – from them I hear that I should willingly, joyfully give more time, more work, my evenings and my weekends, the time I should spend on my family, friends, fitness, personal errands, and even my passions – I should gladly give up that time to sponsor after-school activities, to provide one-on-one tutoring, to create a classroom blog – to do all manner of time-consuming, exhausting, soul-sucking projects – and I should want to do this for free out of love for the kids.
I like most aspects of my job. I like young people, I like most of my students, and I’ve really loved some special students that I’ve been privileged to know. But I do this work to earn money. I would not do it for free. To imply that I should do so is to devalue the twenty-five years of physical, mental and even spiritual labor that I’ve put into doing my best at this job. Teaching our children to write essays and understand literature is not my passion – it’s my job. And that guy who drives a truck to deliver organic produce to your Whole Foods store? That’s not his passion. And that nurse who works the night shift at the ER and comforted your feverish toddler? That’s not her passion. And that computer tech who set up your home computer network? That’s not his passion. That kid who makes your fancy coffee just the way you like it every morning and serves it with a smile? That’s not her passion. Get real, privileged people. We working stiffs do what it takes to pay the bills. Most of us take pride in our work, but don’t you ever imply that we should willingly work for free or for a pittance out of love for kids, coffee-drinkers, bumbling computer users, consumers of organic produce… That ridiculous propaganda ignores the fact that we work because we have to. My passions have to wait until I get home from work. Keep your greedy hands off my passions, and respect my work.