Tuesday, September 24, 2013

I am JUST a teacher

Recently, I caught myself saying that very statement when my husband and I were opening up junior savings accounts for our two offspring.  I hate hearing that and I even hate hearing myself utter those words.  

A few days later, a student of mine informed me that “teachers have it so easy, all you have to do is grade.” 

“All I do…is GRADE?” I asked.

“AND you get winter break and summer’s off too!  You have it so easy!” 

Maybe it was the lack of sleep from my 8 month old teething.  Or maybe it was the fact that I have been so busy with trying to be a good mom, a good wife AND a good teacher that I was placing my own personal needs (i.e. jogging) on the back burner.  Whatever the reason, I literally ran through the gamut of emotions.  I was stunned at first, because this kid was a sophomore and I was shocked at the audacity.  I then was angry.  Angry because his statement clearly didn’t stem from his own observations and it more than likely, probably originated from his parents.  Then I was livid.  Livid that because of all the things I do throughout a day, a week, a year mean nothing because the public perceives me as my profession and apparently, grading is the extent of what I accomplish.

My initial reactions used to be rage, but now I matter-of-factly comment, "If you think we get paid so much to do this piece-of-cake job, why aren't you a teacher?"  

Being “just” anything needs to be eliminated from our lexicon.  Completely.

Being “just” a secretary or just a teacher or just a firefighter degrades not only the profession, but the people who are dedicated to being those things.

I am more than just a teacher.  I am a counselor, a mentor, a researcher, a leader, a copy repair woman, a coach, a collaborator, a multi-tasker and an advocate for children.  We have the patience of saints most days and bladders made of steel because we are not permitted to leave children unsupervised in our classrooms.  We are excellent at wolfing down lunch in the 30 minutes we are allotted while responding to parent emails or grading lab reports.  We assist kids with discovering what it is they want to do with their lives and where they can do to make it happen.  We are shoulders to cry on when break ups happen, when their parents lose their jobs and when reality falls short of their dreams.  We are social workers who purchase classroom supplies and clothes with our own money for kids who are homeless (true story).  

 We are not just workers within a building, we make the school a school and an institution of higher learning.  And we are not as dumb as some might think, as the majority of teachers I work with have masters degrees and accreditations beyond.  We are experts in our craft, managing classrooms of up to 30 teenagers, engaging them in thoughtful discussions and showing them where to find the right answers without telling them.  I dare those who believe our jobs to be easy to walk into a classroom full of hormonal teens, eager to test you on your content knowledge, all the while texting on their phones and thinking more about the weekend than the phases of mitotic division.  Taxpayers send us their most prized possessions during the day, entrusting us with exposing their children to information and knowledge no one else has.  It’s an interesting notion to consider that we “just” teachers spend more time with your children than you do.  

Yet, we are “just” teachers and all we do is grade.

I do not expect others to fully comprehend what it takes to do my job, but I do expect others not to be so judgmental and assume that a particular job is simpler than another.  I do not assume being an electrician is easy.  Or a lawyer.  Or a car salesman.  I’m positive there are layers upon layers of responsibilities those professions have that I am unaware of.  

My colleagues and I work very hard at what we do, yet I am constantly reminded that the public rarely has a clue as to what our days entail.  I’ve read that teachers, on average, work 9 to 14 hours a day, so by the time winter break rolls around, we have actually accrued enough time to justify our summer vacation.  We chose to be teachers – it wasn’t like we couldn’t cut it in molecular genetics or sociology or economics.  The majority of us actually enjoyed those courses and that’s what propelled us into this profession: to share our enthusiasm for learning with others. 

It is interesting to note that I actually was accepted into a nursing graduate program and a masters education program the same year at Ohio State and I had to make the decision of which profession to pursue. 

Teaching was not my plan B.  It was my first choice.

We are not just teachers.  We love what we do and we chose this profession knowing full well that we would not be millionaires.  We enjoy the challenges that are thrown at us every day and we celebrate the successes and milestones with our students.  We enjoy the breaks and vacations just as much as our students do because it gives us time to recharge our batteries and regroup before we get to start all over again with a new batch of kids.  I always joke with my students that vacations are for the teachers, not the kids, because I am mentally, physically and emotionally exhausted by the time June arrives.  And that’s because we work hard at what we do – we take this profession seriously.  And it’s about time the public took us and our profession seriously too.