News Columns & Blogs

Imagine a profession where you have to wait years to see if work paid off. That’s teaching

Teachers are masters of delayed satisfaction — a fancy term that means resisting immediate rewards to hold out for the more valued reward in the future. I can attest to that. (Although I don’t know if eating all the yucky stuff on my plate first and saving the favored mashed potatoes for last counts or has anything to do with my being a teacher.)

Nonetheless, teachers have a knack of holding out for delayed kudos.

Perhaps the ability rests in a teacher’s need for self-preservation. After all, there are not too many other occupations that have such a delay in reward as the education profession. For instance, a patient walking home after surgery is fairly instant gratification for a doctor, and a lawyer’s big paycheck after winning a case is certainly a quick pat on the back for his efforts. I could go on with examples of jobs that reap the speedy benefits of its labor.

But then, there is teaching.

Since our “customers” are kids who are often reluctant to or incapable of expressing the emotion of appreciation, teachers must resolve in their minds to wait. Days, weeks, sometimes years. Have a conversation with almost every teacher, and you’ll learn about delayed satisfaction. You will most likely hear a story about a tardy token of appreciation — a grateful email from a graduating senior 10 years later or a spontaneous visit from a father of three who was changed by something that was said in the classroom.

Most teachers find a way to protect their resilience to continue sowing into the lives of their students even without ever knowing if their efforts are making an impact. For any teacher, it’s not about test scores and grades. It’s not about reading, writing and arithmetic. It’s about hoping, praying, wanting every student who sits in their classrooms to make good choices, be kind and generous, speak with love and acceptance, and be better walking out of their classrooms than they were before they entered.

One has to admit, most people would run for the hills if they seldom heard accolades for their efforts. When a day’s work goes unnoticed or underappreciated, most people would ask, “What’s the use?” The silence of gratitude is painful. Teachers know this. They recognize the inability of some students to act in gratefulness regarding their hard work. They acknowledge the fact that appreciation for their efforts isn’t at the forefront of their student’s minds. And so, teachers make focused strides to counteract the pangs of the silence.

So to combat the quiet, teachers surround themselves with tank-fillers. When their love tanks are emptied upon the lives of 30 hungry, desperate children, teachers find a source of replenishment. Loving spouses, inspiring pastors, energetic coworkers, kind tellers at the market — the list goes on. They get their pep-talks from principals who have been in their shoes and recognize the need for a refill. They fellowship with folks who acknowledge the importance of the position of teacher.

And then, they come back. They come back the next day, replenished and rejuvenated enough to do it all again.

It’s a wonderful, inspiring cycle, if you think about it. How could we not marvel at the daily life of a classroom teacher?

So, put your name on the list. Add yourself to the support system of a teacher. Write a letter, send an email, make a visit. Offer a high-5 or a smile or a pat on the back, because you can guarantee they need the satisfaction of knowing someone acknowledges and appreciates them.

Sheryl Green is a secondary educator in Columbus. Email her at