I spend today participating in the process of interviewing applicants for the education program at a local university. We are a PDS (professional development school) working with them. A couple of things struck me.
The professor I was partnered with taught in second and third grades for three years before joining the academic world. She mentioned today that she is thinking about taking a year sabbatical in order to go back to the classroom and do some action research. One thing holding her back so far (other than her own children) is her fear. I was so impressed to hear her say that she was terrified of going back into the classroom. However, I also had to wonder how she prepares new teachers for something that is so scary to her. I think she is wise to be scared and I think she is a wonderful professor. I guess it seems strange to me that professors preparing new teachers have no classroom experience or very little that may have been years ago.
The other thing that struck me may show my own bias. As I introduced my self to each new potential student, I explained that I am a first grade teacher and the site facilitator for my school. After saying it a few times I was struck by the fact that I almost feel ashamed saying I teach first grade. Somehow it seems less respectable than when I taught fourth and fifth grade. Do we, as a society, have less respect for primary teachers? And possibly even less for preschool teachers? Or am I misreading my response and I have an issue?
It's a big change, and you are in a completely different world in primary. I hold my primary teachers near and dear to my heart - as my first grade teacher is the reason I am a teacher today.
You have made an incredible leap - challenging yourself as a professional by changing grades so drastically. Wear it as a badge, because that's how we all see it.
Anyone who looks down on primary teachers doesn't know jack about education.
After working the k-12 spectrum the last 18 years, I feel that those in primary classrooms are among the very best we have to offer in this profession. Personally, I am both enthralled and terrified with the idea of teaching primary---just because it looks so daunting.
Hold your head up. You're a first grade teacher. Be proud of that and expect that others give you the respect you deserve.
Primary teachers build the foundation for all other education. Of course it is scary. I used to worry that I would ruin them for life. (I am always glad to hear that students from my first class survived and are doing well. I knew so little then!)
I think many professors do need to spend more time in elementary schools or find ways to get their students out there with some good mentors. We are also a PDS school. I find that I have a difficult time turning my students over to an intern when I am still ultimately responsible for their learning. I think I have control issues! ;-)
I don't think that there is a lack of respect, but I do feel like there is a large lack of understanding. When I say that I teach second grade, people often say, "Oh they are so cute at that age." I usually respond with "Sometimes." They have no idea of the amount of time, planning and paperwork involved with teaching those cute kids.
That's interesting that you would have that feeling about being a first grade teacher. When other teachers and people in general find out I teach first grade, they practically hand me a medal. We hold the very precious task of helping our students make reading their own. I'm glad to say that most people I know respect and honor that.
I don't know about society, but I have a great deal of respect for anyone who teaches primary-level students. I taught middle and high school kids for many years and they have their own unique set of challenges.
However, I don't think there was anything I faced in the classroom that could match the complexity of teaching six year olds the huge variety of skills they need to cope with both the real and academic worlds.
It's no problem with you, really, it's that most people visualize themselves able to adequately teach early elementary. Then they look at their complaints about education in general and assume that they could actually teach better than the teachers that are in place...and they start looking down at the teachers.
Maybe they could teach better? Who cares, they aren't.
Don't worry, you're not alone -- this really happens with most jobs.
It's true that outsiders to education don't understand how demanding your job is. It's also true that preschool teachers are even less respected--consider what we are paid. It's more of a stipend than a salary. Sad, but true. I used to teach freshman composition, which garnered some level of respect. Now I teach preschool--no respect. And I work SO much harder. Funny.
When I meet parents in a school setting for the first time, they are in awe- some even look fearful, peeking in around the classroom door, as shy, or even MORE shy than their children. When out and about in public, if asked what I do for a living, I respond "I'm a kindergarten teacher." The response is is either 1) emotional and appreciative...memories of a dear kindergarten teacher complete with amazing details ("she had curly red hair and smelled like Ivory soap"), or praise for a grandchild's first teacher, or 2) blunt cluelessness... "oh, so you're like a babysitter."
Thankfully most colleagues with whom I work exchange mutual and honest admiration- I wouldn't want to teach sixth graders, and they wouldn't come near kindergarten students with a ten foot pole.
Take comfort in the fact that anyone worth their salt in the field of education knows that the younger the learner, the more complex your job. You are giving them the essential building blocks - so, not just knowledge, but the skills they will use to obtain and filter information for the rest of their lives.
"First grade teacher" only sounds like fun, games and naptime to those who have never explored the inner workings of a standards-based school system or read up on basic intellectual development.
As a fifth-grade teacher, I salute you!!
I think you hit a key point in your post; that many (if not a majority) of education professors and university instructors have little to zero actual experience in public schools. My experiences in high schools, while in college, were the best "teachers" for me. I think there needs to be a clear distinction between the theory (university classroom)and the practice(K-12 classroom).
As for your primary question. I haven't noticed any stigma against lower-numbered grade teachers. I hope that isn't the case! I have immense respect, as a secondary teacher, for primary and pre-K teachers. I know I couldn't do what you do, and I am thankful there are people like you doing it! I added your blog to my feed, I need to read more about elementary school instruction :-)
I know absolutely how you feel. I would prefer to call myself an "art teacher" rather than "elementary art teacher." It's not that I think my job is less than that of the upper grades. Far from it. I have to be a jack of all trades. They often specialize, and certainly teach less students in a week than do I. But I believe the perception of others is that my job is all fingerpaint and free time.
My wife was working on some graduate work a few years ago and I tagged along to a conference because Gloria Ladson-Billings was there. After her talk I went up to get some books signed and waited around with all these high-falutin' academic types telling her all about their research. As she signed my book she asked me what I did. "I'm just a teacher," I said. She stopped and gave me a look that made everyone go quiet. "Never say you are 'just' a teacher."
Well ok, then!
But she's right. And you're right. The perception can seem backwards at times.
I recently moved from upper elementary to first grade and a lot of people were very worried that I had somehow got in trouble with the administration - even offering to go and speak to the principal in my defense.
What really scared me was some of the people were teachers.
I'm a first grade teacher and I love it.
Post a Comment