Friday, June 28, 2013

I'm Just a Teacher

I'm ashamed and pained at how often I think that. "I'm just a teacher." I firmly believe my job is a challenging one. I firmly believe I work really hard at that job. I firmly believe I'm reasonably darn good at that job.

So why do I so often think, "I'm just a teacher."? That word, that 'just,' says so much, doesn't it? It says I don't value the job I do the way I believe it should be valued. It says I consider myself inferior to others because of my job.

A brilliant teacher wrote recently about hitting the ten year mark as a teacher (something I reached five years ago):
And yet, I have the same job that anyone right out of college could have. Although I've personally made huge gains professionally none of these really matter. I hold the same job 22 year olds are qualified for. We have the same voice, are treated the same professionally, and are considered the same in the eyes of the district. For that matter, we're treated the same in the eyes of society. Or maybe not. Maybe the 22 year old is given more respect because there is still time for her to get out. This isn't her career yet - it's just a stopping place.
(There's a lot more brilliance there and I highly encourage you to read the entire post.)

Do you hear some of the 'just' in her words? Maybe it's just me, but I do. The difference between me and a new teacher is how much we are paid. That matters, I'll grant you, but is that really all there is?

Deborah Meier, in her Bridging Differences blog, wrote about young people feeling a need for more than 'just' being a teacher:
So many say they are interested in teaching, and then imagine they will go on to more earthshaking occupations that influence more than 25 to 100 youngsters a year. Like making policy and/or becoming entrepreneurs of some sort. I recognize it—and it isn't bad. But it also worries me.
I don't want to leave the classroom. I love what I do and feel no need to more on to 'more earthshaking occupations." But I also don't want to 'just' be a teacher. Is it me? Do I need to change my attitude? Or is there something bigger here?

8 comments:

Unknown said...

It's not you. It's the society we live in. You (probably) can't change that. You have to become comfortable with your own value. You know, more than anyone, the contribution you make to your students development. You've seen when the light bulb goes off. You've heard from their parents who see what you've accomplished with their children. You're only *just* a teacher if you let yourself be. You're not just a teacher--you make an extraordinary difference in the lives of your students. Never forget that! (Getting off my soapbox now.;-)

Steve said...

Forgot to sign the previous...

The Science Goddess said...

I think there's far more difference between a new teacher and a seasoned professional (like you) than just the pay scale. Each year, you develop as a professional and improve your craft.

Steve has a good point there about how the view of someone being "just" a teacher comes from outside. But remember that for your students, being "just a teacher" is the most important thing in their worlds. You are their first grade teacher---a name and classroom experience they will remember for a lifetime.

I find myself ready for a change about every 5 years. I need a new class (or grade level) to teach or project to take on. I admire people who are happy with their status quo for years and years, but it just isn't me. Maybe it's not you, either? Perhaps next year is a time to think about a new grade level or teaching environment?

Jim Randolph said...

reminds me of a little story: http://www.teacherninja.blogspot.com/2013/06/just-teacher.html

Dahlia said...

I do think we need to change the societal view of teaching...but, I think that all roles that were / are deemed "women's work" will have the JUST attached to them for a long time. Nursing, teaching and even mothering seem to have a lower status in our society.

That being said, I don't think that everyone views a 22 year old teacher the same way they view you - administrators don't, our colleagues don't and certainly parents don't. Think of all the parents who don't want to risk having a new teacher teach their kids. While they are not always right, they do understand the point of experience.

And...I think we as teachers are guilty of looking down upon those teachers who "just teach." Most of us reading this are involved with a lot of professional communities both in person and online and I am sure we have all rolled our eyes (at least once) at teachers who "just teach" and don't seem to care about the bigger picture with regards to policy, DOE, blogs professional reading, etc...why isn't it even enough for us that someone "just teaches"...

John Spencer said...

Love this post. I never thought of the years and professionalism aspect. Thought-provoking for sure.

Katie Horst said...

I think it is a societal problem. Right now, I am in college working on my BSEd in Early Childhood Education. I decided that's what I wanted to do at the age of 8. I remember being heart-broken the first time an adult asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up - when I said "I want to be a teacher," she responded with, "That's it? Are you sure?" For the past 12 years, I've been hearing that adults were disappointed that with all my "potential," I was "settling" for teaching.

Absolutely, a teacher with 10 years of experience is different than one fresh from college. You know what you're doing, you've refined your classroom procedures and assignments, and the difference shows. I hope that you can find some happiness in teaching again.

Fatima said...

I have recently completed my 3rd year of full time teaching. When I finally got my first classroom I was on top of the world. I had finally achieved this goal of having my very own classroom and my very own students. I was motivated and creative. I did all the right things. By my third year of teaching, that spark died. I was in a new school,new environment, but not only that, I was just wanting more. I truly believe that it is society that puts it in your head that you are 'just' a teacher and that you have potential to do more. But I also felt like my bachelors and masters were too easy to get and that I didn't have to work hard enough to become a teacher. I want to make a difference but I also want to be respected. I also don't want to be doing the same thing my whole life. It is so sad because I still love kids, love teaching and learning from them. But I'm curious about my potential, how big of a difference I can make on a larger scale, what policies I can change, and what else I can do. I am in the same boat and I really can't figure it out. I adored teaching and now I just see it as 'just teaching.' I feel like I wont do justice to the profession with my attitude and I'll turn into a burnt out, bad teacher who isn't fully there. What to do?!