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The Truth About the Wonderful, Excruciating Life of a Teacher

A young girl wearing glasses and a bowtie sits excitedly by a sign that says, "I love school."

Teachers laugh, cry, and find inspiration together to keep going during the toughest parts of the school year, according to the book Schooled.

Speaking from experience, it's hard to describe the life of a teacher to someone who doesn't teach. It's sort of like describing the color red to an alien. Precise as you might be, whoever you're talking to probably still won't totally understand the ins and outs of your life. Only a certain type of person—someone who's been to that other planet—can truly describe and understand what it's like.

Further Reading: 10 Ways to Avoid Teacher Burnout (Infographic)

Stephanie Jankowski, an English teacher and founder of When Crazy Meets Exhaustion (and a contributor to Hey Teach!), is that kind of person. I recently read her new book, Schooled: A Love Letter to the Exhausting, Infuriating, Occasionally Excruciating Yet Somehow Completely Wonderful Profession of Teaching, and I was pleasantly surprised by her ability to capture the life of a teacher and put it all in perspective.

Getting Schooled

Plenty of educators can fill a hundred pages with wacky stories and in-your-face truths about teaching. With Schooled, Jankowski zags where those educators zig: she mirrors the daily reality of today's teachers' lives. She walks a tightrope that only a professional teacher who's seen it all could safely walk across. And she does so with an easy back-and-forth that only a teacher could appreciate.

But what can a teacher gain from reading Schooled?

The biggest takeaway, perhaps, is that all teachers, no matter their experience, endure ups and downs. Teaching is just not a steady, punch-the-clock kind of job. All teachers—this one included—learn that about two months, if not weeks, into their first year.

Hectic as it is, you also learn how special teaching can be. You learn that it's totally acceptable to say your job is "wonderful" and "excruciating" at the same time, like Jankowski does. You might be inspired and embarrassed in the same school day. Non-teachers won't ever totally get the dichotomy. But other teachers will, and that makes it special.

A Resource for All Teachers

Suffice it to say, prospective teachers will find humor in Jankowski's chaos; veteran teachers like myself will smile, nod, and feel a sense of déjà vu. And if your experience is anything like mine, you'll pick up a thing or two about becoming a better teacher.

  • Prospective teachers: Jankowski might be the person to convince you to become a teacher. She rejected the possibility of being a teacher for years, initially choosing to pursue journalism. She makes it apparent to the aspiring teacher that, for better or worse, teaching is like swimming. You can read about how to do it, but until you jump in the pool, you'll never know if you're any good at it.
  • New teachers: Chapter titles such as "When You're a 22-Year-Old Teacher and Your Students Are 18" or "The Month of May Can Go Straight to Hell" convey the struggles and triumphs of the new teacher. They meet new teachers where they are. They'll laugh, they'll cry, and maybe they'll even find inspiration to keep going during the toughest parts of the school year. (That means you, May.) What's more, Jankowski offers specific examples and actionable tips that young teachers can use to improve their relationships with their students.
  • Experienced teachers: "Why did you become a teacher?" is a foundational question of the book. In answering it, Jankowski addresses potential challenges a veteran teacher faces, but she also encourages vets to acknowledge what they love about the profession. She urges those with classroom experience to remember their "why," or what got them into teaching in the first place. Upon reading, I found myself reconnecting to a purpose that put some of my day-to-day issues into perspective.

An Honest Appraisal

"There's so much about teaching that's right and good and amazing," says Jankowski. "The very soul of our profession is helping kids believe in themselves; is there a better feeling than watching a child succeed? "

It's neatly-packaged reminders like this that makes Jankowski's book special. Her words help teacher like me remember the good parts of being a teacher, without shying away from the challenges we face. A unique balance to pull off, for sure, but Schooled manages to do it.

Jankowski's book is a refreshing take on the complexity of the profession. It says what deserves to be said. It's a raw, entertaining, and honest account of the wonderful, complicated life of teachers.

Further Reading: 3 Ways to Avoid Teacher Burnout

And coming from another teacher, you can be sure I know what it's like to be wonderful and complicated at the same time.