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In a Heartbeat
By Nancy Flanagan

What is teaching like today? Who should do it? And who shouldn't? This Education World series features essays on teaching by teachers as they answer the question, "If you had it to do all over again, would you still become a teacher?"

Nancy Flanagan is in her 31st year in education; for 29 of those years, she has taught music for the Hartland (Michigan) Consolidated School System. Flanagan, who currently teaches at Round Elementary, a K-4 school, has previously taught high-school and middle-school music, both vocal and instrumental. A National Board certified teacher, Flanagan was named Michigan Teacher of the Year in 1992-1993, and served for two years as a teacher in residence with the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, working to improve schools across the country. She is in demand as a speaker, writer, and music education clinician. Flanagan and her husband, Terry, have two children; their son Alex is a junior at Hartland High School and their daughter Christine is a sophomore at Arizona State University.

Anyone who thinks that teaching is a process by which information is transmitted to students, and who believes that the physical act of standing in front of a classroom spouting knowledge is the real work of teaching, is sadly mistaken. Some of these mistaken people, unfortunately, are teachers -- probably teachers who are discouraging career-changers and idealistic college students from becoming teachers.

The rarely acknowledged truth about teaching is its complexity -- requiring persistence, patience, personal relationship skills, and a bag of tricks that would challenge Santa Claus. Most of the student teachers and novices I have mentored are shocked when they discover the time commitment and the high tolerance for frustration and humility that teaching requires.

Most people go into teaching for the right reasons -- they want to serve, to give back, to influence the next generation. They rarely are prepared effectively, however, before they enter the classroom, and they seldom get the support they need in their early days in the classroom. The profession has done a poor job of recruiting, retaining and nurturing its own.

Would I recommend teaching to an outstanding prospect? Absolutely! I'd tell the truth, though, about the career's challenges, as well as about its rewards.

Would I go into teaching again -- 30 years after my first day? In a heartbeat!

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