Coordination, Innovation, Celebration

WHY TEACHERS ARE NOT "THOSE WHO CAN'T"

Naturally, I began teaching for the money and the prestige. Who wouldn’t want to stand around a cocktail parties listening to some puffed-up acquaintance on a six-month consulting stint drone “Yeah, I mean teaching is great and all. But what will you do next?”
Shortly after completing my student teaching last fall, I applied for part time job or sometimes for project job outside the teaching field. The interviewer lit the cigarette and reviewed my resume, “Chelsea International Academy. Very good. Chelsea! Good school you’ve got. Best handwriting and player award. Teaching experience: English. Teaching?” He looked from up from the paper. “But you have such a good degree! Why waste it teaching?”
I would like to say that nowadays everybody asks this question. That’s up until this point; I have had no need to defend my ambition. The truth, of course, is bleaker. So, bleak that I am always ready with response.
“Who would you rather have teaching your offspring?” The interviewer sat back and took a long drag. “Well, I never thought of it like that,” he conceded. We live in an age when people seem to lament the state of public education in the same breath that they dismiss teachers as “those who can’t.” I cannot count the number of times a well-meaning acquaintance has assured me that I am qualified to do other things besides teach. That, by implication, I don’t have to teach. In fact, I want to spend my life teaching. I love teaching. And ritzy degrees aside, I don’t think I will ever feel qualified to do it as well as I’d like.
I feel extraordinarily blessed to have been called to a profession in which I am always learning. It is grueling, exciting, gratifying work. As a student teacher in Bhaktapur last fall, I looked at their clunky boots and spiked hair and adored them. Naturally, there were downsides. On bad days, I felt I was preaching to a swarm of gnats. Yet as wretched as my students could be, it’s been far more distressing to be told by adults that I have wasted my degree.
There are notable exceptions. Fellow teachers have been nothing but kind, witty and encouraging. Without a fiercely funny, intelligent mentor teacher who believed in what she was doing, I never would have survived my student teaching. Many parents with children in the public-school system are deeply invested in recruiting and retaining gifted teachers. Yet there are people both inside and outside this public –school culture who continue to wrestle with assumption about who is and isn’t teaching, often arriving at troublesome conclusions: that teachers are poorly educated, ill suited for high-powered jobs, unwilling or unable to have more glamorous careers.
Though it is decidedly unglamorous—I spent all three months of my student teaching exhausted and encrusted with chalk—teaching is deeply rewarding. In my classroom, there was nothing more exciting to me than witnessing a write first a good sentence and then a good paragraph. Yet as victorious as I felt when a student nailed down a provocative thesis, employed a stellar verb or gracefully move textual evidence into his or her paper, I was even more gratified to hear that I had touched a student personally. “He was only the teacher who didn’t question my black hair, mongoloid face and comprehended the meaning of my having it,” on student wrote in an evaluation. “I think you will be a good teacher someday,” one of my more challenging students told me as I passed his paragraph, “because you always make me feel like I’m doing well.” I look forward to the day when teachers are as rewarded outside the classroom—with both higher salaries and greater respect—as they are within.
Students, not teachers, may be the greatest beneficiaries of increased respect for educators. If insinuations those teachers are unqualified for other careers upset educators, these notions alienate students. I remember vividly one afternoon proctoring in-school suspension. Eager to chat after a morning of enforced silence, a tall, gangly boy asked: “You a student teacher?” “Yes.” “Where from?” he inquired, his words reverberating off the dusty linoleum. “KMC”, I responded. “KMC College?” he asked, flashing a broad smile. “Damn! What are you doing here? I mean, you could have been like a doctor or a lawyer or something!” “I am at Chelsea Int’l Academy, I want to be here.” I said, smiling at his sudden animation. “Don’t you think you deserve good teachers?”
“You know I deserve only the best,” a sullen boy in the far corner cracked, raising his head up off the desk. As humorous as I found the moment, I could not help wincing at his irony……

- This article has been published in The Rising Nepal on June 17, 2011.

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