So I have spent the past year working at a University for their Teachers College. For a quick note to clarify what that means, Universities are generally broken down in the US into colleges. Each college is a grouping of similar degrees which report through an administration to the upper echelons of the university. For example, there may be a college of education, of engineering, of business, of nursing, of humanities, of social sciences, and several more. This may be an oversimplification, but it will allow one to understand where my arguments here are coming from.
I work with numerous students. These students come from across the nation, from various socioeconommic, educational, racial, religious, ethnic, and national backgrounds. They are members of different sexual orientations, genders, and regions. We have veterans right alongside ‘traditional’ and ‘non-traditional’ students.
Not all of these students seek to become teachers either. While a large portion of our population focus on becoming traditional classroom teachers, some move beyond that as well. I work with students seeking to affect changes in policy, work with non-profits, museums, centers, universities, or in other roles within education.
And yet, the argument I hear these students face time and again:
But you’re so smart. Why would you want to become a teacher?
I find this to be a reprehensible thing to say, let alone believe. Taylor Mali offers some words of wisdom for those who find the field of education to be worth anything less than our best.
But beyond that, consider what we are saying. Our “best and brightest” in other fields means the future generations should suffer. By denying the field of education to smart people, our future educators are hindered and kept docile.
When teaching is demonstrated to be at times a down trodden profession, we all rise up in self righteous anger. We say we should be doing more for teachers. Everyone offers their stories of a teacher or educator who touched their lives in some special way. I can recall many of the teachers in my life and how their support impacted me. They drove me. And I would never refer to anyone of them as less than brilliant. To do so would be a disservice to the profession.
Perhaps there were some who were not quite as ready as others to stand before a classroom, but stood there they did none the less.
And in our anger, we demand support for teachers. We glorify programs such as Teach for America. We praise those teachers who give of their own paychecks to support students. And yet as public education continues to take a beating in the US, we let it. We praise teachers, yet I have numerous students who have to transfer into my college after a semester or more because they received pressure from their parents to go and get a “real degree.”
When the idea of teacher pay is raised, we are quick to say teachers should make more. My college offers a program regularly called “What teachers make” where one of our staff breaks down what a teachers pay looks like and what actually subsisting on these finances looks like. This idea that teachers can get by on the warm fuzzy feelings gained from their work is silly. If that is a fact, should we not ask the same of a professional in another field who sees their work succeed?
Yearly, teachers all around are asked to do more with less because of reduced funding and then when funding appears, it is noted how ‘successful’ the teacher was on the reduced funds so why should we really increase it?
And so it angers me when anyone in my college is put down. Education is a field where one must not only master material, they must master passing on said material. More than that, they must perform a tightrope act so tightly woven between their personal and professional lives that simply existing is impressive.
Teachers balance a knowledge of education alongside the knowledge of material which must be shared. This is two sets of understanding a teacher must know, as opposed to the material required of these other students, staff, and at times faculty putting my students down. The same stands for those moving into fields such as non-profits, educational policy, museums and centers, and higher education. Administration in education faces similar challenges.
Now, I should clarify. I am not saying we should not have best and brightest in fields such as engineering, medicine, and more. But just because these fields have those should not deny teachers being recognized as smart. And I am not saying all teachers are perfect. I have had my share of educators who honestly would have been better served beyond the classroom. But the same could be said of multiple professions, could it not? Do not reduce the teaching profession to those who do it an injustice.
It is time we take a look at ourselves. How do you treat teachers? And more importantly, where do we go from here?