I had a conversation with a family member recently about teachers and education. I’m always a little leery going into these conversations because, as Martinez and Stanger (2013) pointed out in their book Invent to Learn, “Everyone is an expert on school, having been a firsthand participant for at least 12 years” (p. 187)”. My family member believed they had the answer to my overloaded work schedule while I was writing new curriculum: “I don’t understand why every teacher in the country doesn’t have the same exact book to teach things out of. Shouldn’t they just hand you a book when you get hired with what you’re supposed to do and say?”
I tried to tell my loved one that teaching is much more complicated than that, that every class of students is completely different, that teachers are artists as well as scientists, and most of all, that if teaching were just giving students information, we may as well close down schools and let them use Google for all educational pursuits. I think my family member started to understand after that.
If you happened upon this blog as a non-educator, keep reading! It may come as a surprise to you just how dynamic teaching is! If you are an educator, I’ll outline what you already know about your career. Maybe it’ll help you with future conversations.
Teachers are Chameleons
Estes and Mintz (2016) wrote a chapter in their book Instruction: A Models Approach about what a good teacher looks like. In their section about teachers being leaders, they address the need for balance: “being caring, funny, concerned, and nurturing while being firm, unrelenting, clear, and consistent. Often, teachers need to be both warm and strict at the same time” (p. 291). This sounds like a nearly impossible task, but teachers are trained leaders, and they do this everyday!
Teachers are Risk Takers
Heifetz and Linsky (2017) outline the risk of leadership in their book Leadership on the Line as “dangerous”. Teachers are risk takers because they are required to do much more than “just teach” (see the hats comic above). Heifetz and Linsky (2017) write: “To act outside the narrow confines of your job description when progress requires it lies close to the heart of leadership and to its danger” (p. 24). On paper, a teacher’s job is to impart knowledge and keep students safe. In reality, a teacher’s job is much more vulnerable (“dangerous”) than that.
Teachers are Detectives
If a student isn’t “getting it”, a teacher is there to figure out why. If a lesson didn’t go as planned, a teacher must make the adjustments in the curriculum. Teachers must learn about each individual student to help them be successful. Lee S. Shulman (1999) of The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards puts it this way: “Accomplished teachers know much more about their students, such as where they call home, what their families are like, how they performed academically in the past, and who they want to become in the future” (p. 13). Teachers know this is essential to academic success.
Teachers, I see you. I see the many hats you wear. I see the passion that burns in your soul. I see your endless commitment to students and your frequent lack of appreciation and support from the outside. I see that everyone seems to think they’ve got your job figured out because they’ve sat in a classroom when knowing what you truly do would be like discovering an entire new continent. You do what you do because it matters, and its complexity only makes your job more exciting. Thank you for what you sacrifice for this dynamic career!
Estes, T., & Mintz, S. (2016). Instruction: A Models Approach 7th Edition. Boston, MA: Pearson. ISBN-13: 978-0-13-398558-0
Heifetz, R. A., & Linsky, M. (2017). Leadership on the line: Staying alive through the dangers of leading. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.
Martinez, S., & Stager, G. (2013). Invent to Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom. Torrance, CAL Constructing Modern Knowledge Press. ISBN: 978-0-98-915110-8
Shulman, L. S. (1999). What teachers should know and be able to do. Michigan: NBPTS.