February 10, 2011

Me? I'm Just a Teacher

Someone in my building cut this article out of the Chicago Tribune and posted it in our copy room, where I read it today while waiting in line to scan some documents.  Even though I've only been teaching a short time, I completely agree with the sentiments expressed here (my favorite points are highlighted for those that prefer the Cliff's Notes version).  I encourage you to take a moment to read the words of Victoria Robinson and maybe let it be a reminder of the positive things educators do as well!

Me? I'm Just a Teacher

During my 20 years as a high school social studies teacher, society conveyed countless messages to remind me that I was just a teacher.As an undergraduate, many of my non-teaching peers devalued my decision to pursue a teaching degree. Their favorite one-liner was “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.” I understood their message — I am just a teacher.

Adults were a little more subtle and respectful in their approach to my career plans. “Vickie, what is your major?” “I plan to teach social studies.” “Oh.” Then there would be a scratch of the head or a rub on the chin and the person would say, “I just imagined with your many talents and scholarship ability you would set higher goals.”

I understood the message: I was wasting my time and talents on kids. I am just a teacher.

The public also sent strong messages about my value as a teacher. Along with signing my first contract, I took a vow of poverty.

Five years into my career, I sat next to a John Deere personnel director at a job fair where we were both recruiting. We discussed employment opportunities at John Deere. That day, I could have been hired for a position at John Deere for three times my teaching salary. I wouldn’t have to work weekends manning the ticket booth at football games, supervise the lunch room and break up food fights, or grade papers until midnight. But I loved teaching and I didn’t take it.

The most hurtful public message was that I was to blame for just about every academic, social, economic and political problem in America. American students’ test scores are inferior to students in other countries — blame the teachers. American kids are disrespectful — blame the teachers. The American work ethic is slacking — blame the teachers. And if my student doesn’t earn all A’s, it must be the teacher’s fault. I am just a teacher.

I am just a teacher in a society where nearly 30 percent of the children eat their only hot meal of the day at school. I am just a teacher in a country where out of more than 49 million public school students, 4.5 million have special needs; more than 1 million are abused, of which half are victims of neglect; and tens of thousands of families experience homelessness each night.

Teachers think their subject is the most important in a room where each child thinks he or she is the most important, and somehow teachers make these two perspectives compatible. Teachers help students do more than answer questions — they encourage them to question the answers. Teachers create a climate where time is precious, content is challenging, the tone is serious and the lesson is inspiring.

I wondered how many lives I touched in some way during my 20 years as a high school teacher. Using my best math skills and a calculator, I taught 4,050 students — what a responsibility and privilege to be part of the growing and learning experience for these students!

I now have the responsibility for preparing current teachers who aspire to become principals. I share my passion and wisdom with them and hope they will proudly say, as I do, I am still a teacher!
Future teachers are going into a profession where they can make or break another human’s spirit. They must know this is a heavy role but also one so noble, so full of rewards, that no matter how many voices say “Just a teacher,” they will smile inwardly and think, “Those who can teach those who can’t.” I am a teacher!

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