Just this week, I asked some of my non-educator Facebook friends to tell me what responses they get when they describe what they do for a living. Overall, the consensus fell into one of these categories:
- People don’t really understand what the job is and ask exactly what it entails.
- People already know what the job is and ask for advice or a favor, or start telling the person all about their experiences or opinion with that career or about their friend who is in the same field.
When I tell people what I do, I rarely get asked for advice or a favor, and people never ask me what my job entails. However, I will get plenty of opinions or stories related to my career. Most of these involve stories of family members who are teachers and the crazy things they have to endure, strong opinions about what it must be like to be a teacher, or comments about some crazy news article they recently read.
Unlike many careers, teaching is well understood. Nearly everyone has attended school and has had experience interacting with teachers. In their minds, there is no question as to what teachers do because 15 (or however many) years ago, they were sitting in a classroom learning from a teacher. People also don't seem to look to teachers as a source of advice, and rarely is teaching seen as a career where anyone has any clout to give a favor. This, to me, is an indication that, unlike many other careers (even non-prestigious ones), there is an assumption that teaching hasn't changed in the last 15-20 years, and that teachers don't hold enough expertise to be able to provide advice or fulfill a favor. In addition, many of the responses I get are framed around the idea that teaching is a career that is charitable, or that I've made some kind of sacrifice to do a good deed.
The next time you talk to a teacher, ask them why they got into teaching. Ask them about their favorite reading strategies, or a recent project their students worked on that they are really proud of. Ask them for advice for your own child's education. Ask them for their opinion on the Common Core Standards, or for their favorite learning website or tool in the classroom. If they have some great suggestions, ask them a favor -- ask them to send those resources to you by email, or write them down on the spot.
Teaching is not what it was 15 years ago. Teachers are expected to track student data, integrate technology, map their teaching to standards and be familiar with the diverse ways in which their students learn, while also doing daily things like taking attendance, getting students to lunch on time, tying shoes, resolving conflict, grading homework, and all the while making sure that all of their students learn. They also work with families and with the community, creating partnerships and navigating the difficult world of interpersonal relationships. Teachers tend to be highly educated (usually at their own expense), with their certification often dependent on continuous learning. The teaching career at this point in time is as demanding and professional as some of the most prestigious careers.
The best way to appreciate a teacher is to appreciate the hard work that they do and their high level of expertise by allowing them to share the positive and professional aspects of their career. Too often, we focus on the negativity that surrounds the profession in the news, and conversation turns to working conditions, class size, union issues or other outside forces that teachers have little control over. The best way to thank a teacher is not to treat what they do as a good deed, but to treat it as a highly professional career path that they love to follow, and for which they work hard to be successful.