Students are More Important than Content

I love what I do. If you know me or if you read this blog, then you know how true that is. It’s not always rainbows and sunshine, but it’s something I take pride in. There are days when I struggle, but for the most part, I feel fulfilled and confident in my abilities as a teacher.

The other day, someone unintentionally and unknowingly insulted me by insinuating that I am not qualified to do what I do. This person doesn’t know me very well, and I don’t believe that they intended to be offensive at all. A few people were having a discussion about teaching and I was asked where I got my master’s degree.

“Oh, I don’t have a master’s degree. I have a non-traditional teaching license.”

After this person’s eyebrows shot up they asked me what my bachelor’s degree was in.

“Kinesiology.” (I am an English teacher.)

More shock and more eyebrow-raising was followed by, “I can’t believe you managed to get a job!”

Now, I don’t believe for one second that this person was intentionally insulting me and this has happened to me before. It is a perfectly reasonable question (even though it wasn’t exactly phrased as a question). When I started working towards my teaching license I had no prior qualifications other than a short stint as a teaching aide at an elementary school. It’s kind of a Catch 22 when you’re in the non-traditional program in the state of Arkansas. You can’t stay in the program unless you get a job. You have to get a job with the provisional license they give you while you are in the program (it’s a 2-year program), and most schools don’t want to hire someone without a full-fledged license and no student teaching experience. In spite of this, the program actually has a very high rate of hire. I can’t quote statistics, but I do know that out of the 60 people I started the program with, we only lost a small handful, and those were mostly people who were only certified to teach low-profile elective classes that not all schools offer or who wanted to teach high school PE but weren’t certified to coach any sport (not going to happen…). 

This person went on to make more comments about how lucky I am and kept expressing disbelief in the fact that I am working as an English teacher, let alone at one of the best high schools in the state (as far as I’m concerned, THE best high school in the state, the country, and even the entire world, but I’m a bit biased…). I was told I must have known someone, otherwise how could I have gotten the job?

At this point, my slight annoyance was morphing into indignation. This person still didn’t seem to understand how insulting their comments were. They just seemed genuinely interested in how I got where I am. My response is that it was a God thing. He places people exactly where they need to be, and this is where I need to be. That’s all you need to know. The circumstances happened in a way that prevented me from giving anyone but God the credit because only He could have orchestrated the events that led to me teaching at Har-Ber High School.

What I chose to study in school was something I enjoyed. I loved my anatomy and physiology classes. I loved learning about how the human body functions. I thought I wanted to be a physical therapist. I interned at a PT clinic in college and I enjoyed it, but I wasn’t passionate about it. There is a difference between enjoying something and having a passion for something. I still think about taking the test to become certified to teach life sciences. I think it would be fun to teach Biology or Anatomy/Physiology, but right now I’m having way too much fun teaching a subject that I have spent my entire life studying on my own. 

Jake was a part of this conversation and as soon as the comment was made that I must have known someone or I never could’ve gotten the job, he immediately jumped in to defend me (I’m a lucky lady). He pointed out that I read more books in one summer than most people read in their lifetimes. He usually jokes around and pokes fun at me for the fact that I would rather spend time with fictional characters than real ones, but he knows how much I love literature. And that’s really why I have to give this person the benefit of the doubt, because they don’t know me. We were making random small talk because we happened to be sitting in the same vicinity. This person couldn’t possibly have known how hard I’ve worked to be where I am, or all the moments and decisions in my life that led to me deciding to teach English. I do have an odd story. I like it; it’s unique. So, I can’t really blame this person for intentionally offending me. What I can do instead, is learn from their blunder. My habit of speaking without thinking has undoubtedly made me the unintentional offender before. I’m sure I’ve made incorrect assumptions about people that I never intended to be offensive, but they were all the same. 

There is something I wish I had had the guts to say to that person. 
I wish I had told you that content is only a small percentage of what teaching really is. I wish I had mentioned that students are the most important part of being a teacher. I can know everything there is to know about literature, but if I stand there in front of my students and lecture them on all that knowledge they will learn nothing. If they don’t trust and respect me, it doesn’t matter if I have a doctorate in English and literature, they will walk out of my class and forget everything I said. Sure, they might memorize a few facts to regurgitate on a test, but is that all my goal should be? Teaching is so much more than student scores. If you are more focused on the content you teach than the students sitting in the room, you’re doing it wrong. That’s why it doesn’t matter what it says on my bachelor’s degree. Of course I know my content, but I know my students, and to me that’s 1000 times more important.

It’s getting harder and harder to work in education. It isn’t easy to be a teacher. We shouldn’t be tearing teachers down, we should be building them up. I don’t say that because I feel like this person was trying to tear me down, they weren’t and they didn’t. I say that because I hear negative comments about teachers far too often. Your teachers and your children’s teachers need your encouragement and support, not your indignation and disrespect. They need you to work with them instead of against them. Teaching is one of those careers everyone assumes they can do, even if they’ve never done it. Remember that teachers are professionals, in spite of how we may dress on spirit days…

Being a professional looks different depending on what you do. For us, it looks like cheering on our team on a pink out day supporting breast cancer awareness in ridiculous tutus and running out with the flags before the team in honor of a colleague who has beaten breast cancer….among other things. We are professionals, and we love what we do. Give us a little credit. Encourage a teacher today.


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