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Finding: Teaching Leads to the Good Life

One More Time And You Will LearnBernie Goldbach in LSAD-Clonmel | Photo of Mike Kiely and Brian Lanigan.

EVEN THOUGH I am stuck in a job that has proven to lead to lower salaries the longer I remained in it, my career in teaching will lead me to "the good life" according to the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index.

Statistics don't lie: out of 14 major career categories, teachers are No. 2 in overall wellbeing, trailing only physicians. The Gallup Blog says, "Teachers have high wellbeing because they rate their lives highly and are in great emotional health, which are two key subcomponents of wellbeing. In those two categories, teachers also rank No. 2, beating out professional workers, nurses, business owners, and managers and executives, among others."

With the current hiring freeze in the Irish education sector and with normal retirements pushing teachers out of the classroom before the onset of senility, Ireland will need new blood in classrooms soon. Unfortunately, structural changes to the teaching pipeline (i.e., forced pay cuts for newly qualified teachers and low starting salaries for third level lecturers) means there is less excitement in Ireland about entering the teaching profession now. So the Gallup data could change things.

The survey from Gallup and Healthways defines wellbeing as "all of the things that are important to how we think about and experience our lives." This isn't a measure of mental stress and monetary wealth. Deep research by Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman and Princeton economist Angus Deaton found that happiness does not increase with annual income after reaching the $75,000 mark. That was certainly true in my case (although I hit the 75k dollar mark only by taking a job paid in euro).

In the court of public opinion, teachers rank higher than investment bankers and politicians. In happiness research, teachers beat consultants, accountants, engineers, sales professionals, and entrepreneurs on how they rate their lives overall. And in a point of research I personally acclaim while chatting with colleagues on campus, those who stand and present in classrooms "use their  strengths and do what they do best every day."

The research also shows other facts you might discover through anecdotal evidence.

-- Teachers are the most likely of all professions to say they “smiled or laughed a lot yesterday”.

-- Teachers are the most likely to report experiencing “happiness” and “enjoyment” yesterday.

-- Teachers rank No. 2 in saying they “learn or do something new” each day.

These findings, uncovered in American research, inspire me to see if Irish teachers might affirm the data during an upcoming #edchatie discussion. These Monday evening text chats happen for an hour, starting at 8:30PM most weeks. But in keeping with the Happiness Index, there's normally no #edchatie on Easter Mondays so it might be a few weeks before this kind of topic percolates to the top of an #edchatie poll.

I teach because I know I have changed the trajectory of several wonderful lives while working over their shoulders to show them how to create unique things. I teach because I work alongside a half dozen peers who know we can change the trajectory of local industry. There is something unflinchingly positive in knowing you have made a difference in helping hundreds of  young people to realise their potential, to know you've been part of them overcoming hurdles, and in being told you have helped proud sons and daughters achieve their goals.

I get to see these results in tangible ways every semester. And it helps to know I can dive into rabbit holes (sometimes called "research") while still getting a wage packet when I emerge with nothing to show for the distraction.

A serious obstacle remain in my way--the workplace dynamic itself. In the Gallup poll, teachers rank toward the bottom (eighth out of 14) of the professions surveyed on  work environment. They rank sixth in saying their “supervisor treats me more like a partner than a boss.” And they are dead-last -- 14th, behind coal miners and truck drivers -- in saying their “supervisor always creates an environment that is trusting and open.” They are also dead-last in saying they were “treated with respect all day yesterday.”

My work dynamic eroded since the amalgamation of Tipperary Institute and the Limerick Institute of Technology. I suspect anyone working under the blanket of fiscal austerity in Ireland can say the same thing. I know it's absolutely critical to ensure a high level of workplace engagement for the teaching profession because on a personal level, when I engage with the job, my energy translates directly to better student engagement.

We have a day-long ICT in Education Conference in May where coffee chats will certainly discuss the transformational forces and challenges encountered by teachers from first to third level. Through all those level, solutions lie with the people. And that's one reason why I work with teacher training initiatives like #edchatie, #ictedu and the Irish Learning Technology Association.

Brandon Busteed -- "Teaching may be the secret to the good life" on the Gallup Blog, March 27, 2013.

Bernie Goldbach is a creative multimedia lecturer working in Clonmel, County Tipperary, Ireland.