Not Knowing What We’re Doing
The more I teach, the more I realize that students don’t really know what teachers do, and neither do the adults they grow up to be. It wasn’t until I was in my senior year in teacher school that I started to really grasp what exactly this job entails.
I can remember having my first inkings of a desire to be an English teacher in seventh grade. That became my default answer when someone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. At that time, my understanding of what that actually meant was completely wrong. What I imagined that teachers did was a complete caricature of the profession. I thought homework was arbitrary and teachers just said whatever they wanted to say during each class. I had no idea about the planning, research, and careful judgement involved in every step of creating and presenting each lesson.
Even when I was in teacher school, it wasn’t until I’d spent years studying what teachers did and started to do it myself that I could say I actually understood teaching. And I’m still learning what it means.
I spend most of my time speaking with teachers. Literally every one of my friends is a teacher, and so is everyone I interact with on a regular basis. This is why I wind up totally blindsided every time I hear something negative about teaching from someone who has clearly never taught. There’s a usual list of scoffs: teachers get three months of vacation (in the US), we get out of work around 3, we only teach a fraction of the class periods in a day, and of course there’s the oft repeated “those who can’t do, teach,” etc. (To that last one, my reply is just to add “poorly” on the end.)
Anyone who’s been a teacher knows that “summer vacation” isn’t actually a vacation for most teachers, it’s common for teachers to work 9-15 hours a day (I do) and take work home with them, and planning periods are not “free time” in the work day.
Still, the people I actually teach show a tremendous amount of ignorance when it comes to what I’m doing. It seems that though teaching is what we do, its not what we’re teaching. I’m starting to think we should. A relatively small number of students will go on to become teachers themselves, but most of them will go on to become voting citizens and parents who will make decisions about educational policies.
And bad educational policy can be doom for us all.