‘Passion trumps all’ is a pretty typical movie trope.
So while watching Teacher of the Year, a 2014 indie film, I was pretty confident I knew how it would end. T agreed, and he is a MASTER of film and TV (he called the twist in The Prestige about 10 minutes in, which really bummed me out.)
Mitch Carter is the titular character, a well loved English teacher at a wacky charter school (his fellow faculty are disturbingly hilarious and provide pretty much all the humour). Then he gets a stupidly lucrative job offer to become a lobbyist for an educational organisation. Tough choice, right? He loves teaching and loves his students … but on the other hand, $$$! As in, more than double!
Why can’t I keep doing this and make that kind of money? he wonders to a another teacher in the staffroom. You can’t. Take the job is her response. Otherwise, he’ll be in the exact same position in 10 years, not making much more, and with all the same frustrations.
It reminded me of a conversation I had with a colleague at a previous job shortly before I left. Knowing we probably made fairly similar salaries, she asked, “How do you manage?” I told her I didn’t have a student loan to repay, and was pretty frugal, and she seemed to accept that. And you know what, it WAS fine at the time. It’s one thing to be a journalist in your early 20s. But the older you get, well, the older the whole shebang gets. If you want a family, a home, to sleep on nice sheets, splurge on good food sometimes, take occasional holidays, or have even hobbies (especially sporting ones) … journalism is probably not going to support that.
Everything in the film, IMO, seems to be pointing towards Mitch staking his ground on the passion/mission side and remaining an educator. Everyone at the school, teachers and students alike, love him. His wife fears that the required travel will take a toll on their family, especially their young daughter. But they have another baby on the way, her job sucks, and he doesn’t want to see her ‘killing herself’. Maybe this way, she won’t even have to work at all. This all really resonated with me – how much more squeezed-middle-class can you get?
“This could change my life,” he says. “I’m just trying to decide whether or not my life needs changing.”
It does. In the end, he decides to try for it all. The high paying job AND the perfect family. Maybe he won’t get to see the difference he makes to those high school kids every single day … but eventually you need to put your own family and their needs first.
God, I sympathise. Is a perfect balance possible? No, I don’t think so. But I want to try anyway. Earn more. Love my work. Cultivate my marriage. Have a family.