My take on back to school


I got into a little back-and-forth the other day with a couple of teachers who were moaning about school starting, and I was basically just making fun of them for complaining about what they do for a living. In the end I threatened them with this blog. So hey, I gotta follow through, right? I can’t go back on my word.

In addition, after I made a positive post about returning to school somebody asked who I was sucking up to. I know she was joking, but anybody who knows me understands I’m not real good at the sucking up thing. That attitude has actually gotten me in trouble a time or two with my superiors.

So fellow teachers, you can roll your eyes and shake your head because I don’t give a damn. I love teaching. I just do. Always have, from Day 1. As a matter of fact, I’ll issue this challenge. If you can find a student I’ve had in class since 1984 that can honestly say they believed I didn’t love teaching I’ll buy you dinner. Not even kidding. Not every kid has liked me, but I’m pretty certain they knew I was having fun every day.

I must also tell you I work with a bunch of great teachers who I’m pretty sure love what they do. Otherwise why would they do it? Yeah, the summers are great, but if you hated teaching that alone wouldn’t make it worth it, trust me. Anyway, I’m not criticizing the jobs they’re doing. Just consider this some good-natured teasing about the whiny, “we have to go back to school” garbage I heard the past few days. If it upsets you I’m sorry, but not really. If it pisses you off maybe you need to look in the mirror. Seriously, if you don’t like teaching please go do something that doesn’t influence a bunch of kids. You know, like be a park ranger or something. Nobody to talk back to you but the bears.

Oh, of course, I’ve had my days where I’ve complained about a certain kid, administrator or parent. But I defy anyone to name an instance where I complained about going to school and doing what I do. That doesn’t make me special or anything, I just consider myself very very lucky.

Perhaps it’s because before I became a teacher I had several jobs, both full-time and during the summer, that have helped me to appreciate what I do now. I started teaching a little later than some, at the age of 28. Full disclosure: I was a complete idiot from about the age of 16-25. Because of this I graduated 60th out of the 80 in my high school class and I flunked out of Ohio University after only one pathetic year. So, from the age of 20 to 26 I took on a variety of jobs. Among other things, these jobs included:

Construction. I almost died falling from the second floor to a basement in a house we were building once. I wasn’t real, shall we say, focused.

Cleaning bathrooms at a state park. Just as fun as you’re imagining. Advice: Always yell before going in the ladies side.

Lifeguard. Hey, nobody drowned on my watch as far as I know.

Roofing houses. Whenever my room at school gets too hot I remember those August days on the roof. Mercy.

Garbage man at Rocky Fork Lake. Actually a pretty fun job because you got to ride around the lake all day. On a negative note, those dirty diapers at the campground were nasty.

Barber. Yep, I used to cut hair and I think I was pretty good at it. For whatever reason it wasn’t fulfilling for me though. Maybe because I don’t care for most grown-ups?

Mead Paper Company. I worked in the cutters and rewinders for almost two years. The money was great but I hated it. Those 12-hour days and trick work just weren’t for me.

Anyway, my brother-in-law Jigger heard me complaining one day and basically told me to get my butt back to college and do what I’d always wanted to do – teach. After all, my mom and sister both taught for over 30 years each and loved it. Both were amazing teachers. Anyway, to my first wife’s credit she took a job and I went back to school.

From that point on I never looked back. From the day I stepped foot in that junior high classroom at Greenfield in the late summer of 1984 I’ve never dreamed of doing anything else. Hell, at some of my other jobs I’d go days without laughing. For the last 30 years I’ve never made it to the front door, let alone my classroom, without some kid cracking me up. What can I say? I love kids. They’re idiots. Some say that’s why I relate to them, and who am I to argue?

I know this is a little irrational and sort of makes no sense, but I actually hate it when I hear a teacher talk about “going to work” or “getting off at 3.” Too me it’s just not a job in the literal sense. Whenever I hear a teacher speak of “going to work” I always think, “Huh? Are you remodeling a kitchen or something? Putting in a fence row? Laying some asphalt?” But that’s just me. Because of this I always say “going to school” rather than “work.” And I never “got off.” I just went home.

Remember years ago when Senate Bill 5 was up for vote? Remember there was a bit of a backlash against teachers? I think complaining about returning to school after three months off contributes a little to that type of thinking. What do you think the average person working in a factory, laying blacktop in 95-degree weather, or guarding convicted murderers 12 months a year with a two-week vacation feels when they hear you complaining about going back to school after your summer break?

I know and understand the normal person doesn’t comprehend the problems we face as teachers. We’re the most underpaid and underappreciated professionals in the world, I get that. The expectations are sky high. The average person doesn’t see that our salary is for nine months spread over 12 months and we’re not actually paid for doing nothing in the summer. They don’t see the after school work we put in or the paperwork and pressure of state testing that is put upon us, and the crap we put up with a few irrational parents. Still, a lot of people would kill for our jobs. You know why? Because even considering the negatives I mentioned, the positives more than outweigh them. By a lot. The rewards earned by a teacher are something the average person will never get to receive. It’s something unique and special, something to be cherished.

I know that sounds corny and sappy, but when a former student tells me on social media or in person that I inspired them in some small way it makes me feel good. Really, really good. You see, I can still drive by one of those houses I helped build and it’s a nice feeling. But when a 33-year-old career soldier tells me I changed his life forever back in the sixth grade, well, you just can’t put a price on that, now can you? Again, it may sound silly but if that was the only kid I helped in my career it would be worth it, right? For that reason alone I feel so very lucky to have taught for the past 30 years.

Imagine you could start over and choose a new profession. Anything you like, maybe own your own business, something where you’d make a boatload of money. Would you do it? Would you start over doing something else? Lord knows I’d change a million things regarding my personal life, but when it comes to teaching I honestly wouldn’t change a thing.

I can’t imagine doing anything else.

Dave Shoemaker is a retired teacher, athletic director and basketball coach with most of his professional years spent at Paint Valley. He also served as the national basketball coach for the island country of Montserrat in the British West Indies. He lives in Southern Ohio with his best friends and companions, his dogs Sweet Lilly and Hank. He can be reached at

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