I am going to enjoy life after 50 if it kills me!

The teaching profession has such an identity crisis.

Having been a teacher now for the better part of thirty years, I speak from experience and up close and personal observation.  And I read stuff, too.

We are this unique group of unionized, salaried, degreed public servants who have been called heroes and lazy, who are told “I wouldn’t do your job for all the money in the world” and “It must be nice to have your summers off”, and are told they make too much money, but can qualify for reduced lunch for their kids if they are the sole breadwinners (I worked with someone in that position, and after my divorce, my kids could have qualified at one point).

For the record, in those almost 30 years, I have NEVER met a teacher who said they did it for the pay or did it to get their summers and holidays off.  And most teachers I know come back to work after swearing they weren’t going to do schoolwork at home, and proceed to talk about the unit they planned over the holiday, or the papers they graded over the weekend, or the ideas they came up while lying awake at night to help little Johnny read better.

We teachers love what we do.  Why else would we put up with a kid calling us a bitch, having more students in our class than books and desks for them, being cursed at over the phone by an angry parent, and having an eight year old throw up on our shoes (all of which  have happened to me personally… good times, good times…).

Have I ever met or worked with bad teachers?  One or two over the course of three decades.  Have I worked with teachers who could improve?  Yep.  You mean you’ve never worked with anyone in your chosen career who wasn’t perfect?  I have improved every year I’ve taught, not by chance, but by choice.  Haven’t you?

Some teachers like to compare our careers to those of doctors, especially when it comes to people respecting our knowledge and time.  I kind of cringe at that.  I have half the higher education of a doctor, and I’m not called at 2am or while at a party to rush to the school to deal with a student in need of my expertise.  On the other hand, sometimes teachers get caught up in “labor” versus “management” so to speak.  I am torn about this.  On the one hand, I am a public employee, so I am told what my salary will be – I can’t negotiate in a job interview.  People in other professions requiring the same education levels can sometimes negotiate benefits such as insurance, pay rate, paid holidays, etc.  We can’t, so we rely on a union to do that for us.  But I don’t feel like “labor”.  And I want to be treated as a professional in the field of elementary education.  I think the result of trying to have it both ways is that in some ways we end up being viewed as neither a professional nor as underpaid, overworked working-class folks.

If we can’t clearly identify ourselves as professionals, how can we expect the public and the local, state, and federal governments to treat us as such?  I don’t have an answer to that, or in fact, how to be regarded by the public as experts and professionals in a public service field.  Am I on the right track?  Have I missed the big picture?  I’d love to hear your opinions.

Just don’t be mean.  I’m an elementary school teacher.  We’re sensitive little souls.

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Comments on: "Identity Crisis in the Classroom" (6)

  1. Great post. Though I don’t “officially” teach, I have nothing but respect those who do. The problem is, as it usually is, the people are misplacing anger at the system to those who work in it. One thing about a teacher as you said, they aren’t in it for the money, they are trying to make a difference. If our society paid by value, teachers would be millionaires, ball-players would be pinching pennies. Keep up the good fight.

    • Thanks, Mike. I just spent three days this week in training with 80 or so educators from my district. I listened to conversations going on around me, all of which were focused on children and how to help them succeed. What an inspiring way to bring my summer vacation to a close!

  2. Cgris Garren said:

    As always you always share good thoughts. At 30 I went back to school, but as schools were closing in my area I went in a different direction. Moving to Florida where teachers were needed I celebrated changing my goal to be an elementary teacher. I knew I wouldn’t make the big check involve in my previous choice, but I felt passionate about getting kids to love learning. Learning to me is a life long process and I want to teach my student this. I read stacks of professional books over the summer, as I leave school at 5pm (or later) and spend Sunday working on lesson plans so I don’t have time to read as many as I’d like during the school year. Most summers I teach summer school or am involved in the summer enrichment program, or take a class/workshop to improve my teaching skills.
    I LOVE WHAT I DO!
    My husband takes offense
    when others make the comment, “I wish I got out at 3:30 or have my summers off.” Being married to a teacher he sees first hand the work involved. The first day of summer he always exclaims, “I have my wife back!”

    • And thank goodness we have our Thursday dinners to decompress and talk shop. No one else wants to hear us talk about exciting lessons we’ve taught or how many papers are stacked on our desks to be graded!

  3. Nicely said.

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