Teachers do it because they love it despite stress of pandemic, school shootings
By Michael Wetzel
For the Enquirer
Many local teachers starting new positions this fall acknowledge that nationwide school shootings, pandemic disruptions and unruly students concern them, but they say their passion for the profession outweighs the risks.
Julie McGough, 56, who is beginning her first year as a teacher in Morgan County Schools as an English teacher at West Morgan Middle, said teachers should not work in fear.
“Teaching is something I enjoy. If you have a strong administration that supports the teachers, things will be in place that you shouldn’t fear. If you know the protocol and the things to do, we should not fear to be in a classroom,” said McGough, who is among about 60 teachers joining Morgan County Schools.
She spent the past eight years at Decatur Heritage Christian Academy after 14 years of home-schooling her two sons. She said it’s important for teachers to embrace their subject matter.
“If you are going into teaching, do it because you love the subject,” she said. “Don’t do it because you have summers off or extended time off at Christmas and spring break. If you have passion for your subject, that passion will shine through every day in your class. Your students will see the difference.”
For her it is literature.
“Literature is a great mechanism to teach life lessons,” she said. “In math, you have formulas. In literature, why did this character make that decision? What was their motivation? How did it end?”
Triston Hanks, 24, will be teaching first graders at Priceville Elementary School after two years as a teacher in Huntsville City Schools at Rolling Hills Elementary. She’s acutely aware of the threat of school shootings.
“It’s terrifying to know those things are happening so often now,” said Hanks, who recently earned her master’s degree in elementary education from the University of West Alabama. “Does it make me not to want to go into teaching? No. I still love teaching. It’s stressful to think about it though. We should get paid more. We did some (active shooter) training at Huntsville. It’s important to know what do we do.”
Fellow educator Jessie Hensley, 23, who will be in her first year teaching English and language arts at Lacey’s Spring School, said she feels young people no longer respect teachers and adults like they should. She feels the pandemic and broken homes could be factors in that.
“With all of the school shootings now, you have to be on edge with everything going on with the security at the schools,” said the former Brewer High School star athlete who attended Martin-Methodist on a volleyball scholarship and graduated from Faulkner University. “You never expect it to happen in your town. You see it happening everywhere else. That is probably a big reason why people are getting out (of teaching). They are realizing how dangerous the world is. … Everyone seems to be a on rampage right now.”
The daughter of an Alabama state trooper, Hensley said students appear to be more disrespectful, disruptive and rude to teachers nowadays.
“I remember when I was in school. You had your wild kids in class, but for the most part, they respected the teacher naturally because it was an adult,” she said. “But nowadays a lot of kids are hateful to the teachers and really rude. A lot of it has to do with the society we are in right now.
“I am concerned about that. I know my ideas and what I expect of them. I think a lot of controlling the narrative is letting the kids know you have respect for them so they will respect you. Establish a mutual respect. Especially the rules, if they respect you, you will help them with anything.”
As an Air Force retiree and a teacher with 20 years of experience, David Floyd said he pushes discipline with the students and doesn’t focus on the possibility of school shootings and violence. He’ll teach 11th grade history and coach quarterbacks at Brewer High School.
“I like seeing smiles on the kids’ faces,” said Floyd, 63, who has been out of teaching the past three years. “I want them to be better human beings. I want the males to grow up being better fathers one day. I treat them like they are like my kids. They will know what my rules are and we’ll get along fine.”
Aaron Batchelder, 54, is joining the Morgan County system as a science teacher at Priceville Junior High. He and his wife, Susan, an educator in Decatur, returned to the United States after teaching stints in the Philippines. He said school shootings “are concerning” but not enough to scare him out of the profession.
“It’s never been enough for me to shy away from what I love to do,” he said. “I’m concerned for my own kids. The teachers are on the front lines. I’ve been in other places of the world and this is where I chose to come home to and raise my kids. As bad as it might seem, there are worse places.”
Batchelder said teaching has to be about the students first.
“I am in education to be a positive part of a child’s life,” he said. “I’ve taught in rural poverty, inner-city poverty. I’ve taught in very high end international private schools. The challenges are all different. But kids are kids. They’re all unique. All come from different backgrounds. All different experiences they bring to you every day. But at the end of the day, it is an opportunity and responsibility to be a positive part of a kid’s life. There is nothing else I’d rather do. If there is, I would go do it.”
He said teaching with summers off allows him to spend more quality time with his family. “Spending time with our kids is not an opportunity in many other careers.”
Susan Batchelder said despite the present-day challenges teaching is her first love.
“It’s all I ever wanted to do,” she said. “Going through college I knew that’s what I wanted. But now being a parent, it puts it in a whole new light. It actually means a lot more now as I’ve watched my kids go through school, the teachers they’ve had, the experiences they’ve had. It shaped who I am as a teacher as well.”