While out for dinner tonight, there was a lady sitting at a table close to ours. I could hear parts of their conversation, and one phrase struck me to the core.
“I’m just a teacher.”
She didn’t say it in a sarcastic way, as I have done many times when others degrade our profession. She didn’t say it in an apologetic way, as I have done when explaining my lack of time or income. She didn’t even say it in an angry way, as I have done when feeling overworked and the stress and anxiety kicks in.
She said it in a completely conversational way.
That single sentence brought me to a standstill. So much so that my husband commented on how my face twitched.
Since when has anyone ever been “just a teacher”?
I wanted to go over to her and say so many things, but I didn’t want to intrude.
I wanted to tell her that I too am “just a teacher”.
I wanted to tell her that there is nothing “just” about being a teacher.
We work so damn hard for our students. We “only” work 9-3, but then we also work 7:30-5 most days, with a bit extra in the evenings or on the weekends.
We get “so many holidays”, during which we mark assessments, rearrange seating plans, plan lessons and sometimes even whole units of work (as in what is being taught when, in what order, what resources could go with it, what assessment should accompany it, etc).
We get lunch breaks when we’re not flat out, and even then they are usually interrupted by students and colleagues asking for a multitude of things. When we do get to sit and eat in peace, the conversations will 80% of the time be about the students and/or lessons.
We are continually doing professional development to keep on top of our game, to better ourselves for our students.We are constantly sifting through endless data about personalities, assessment results, educational needs, health needs, behavioural issues, sporting abilities, previous year level results and reading abilities, just to make sure we are adapting our lessons and our own teaching styles in an appropriate way.
We are changing our personalities on the fly, as necessitated by the mood our 20-35 young people are in during that lesson, which could be a complete 180 on the previous lesson. We are pretending to care about minor ‘issues’ (Miss, he keeps looking at me!), or pretending to not care about larger ones (acting nonchalant about some conversations, or the students will shut down on me and I won’t get the information needed to assess the situation and pass on as necessary to the appropriate people), depending on the situation.
We are the ones who are mentally, physically, and worst of all, emotionally burnt out by the end of term, but still keep it going so that the students can get a great education.
Sometimes we are the only responsible adults in the students’ lives.
Sometimes we are the only ones who will stop and listen to what they have to say, answer their questions, read through their written work with any form of genuine interest.
Sometimes we are the only ones who ask them how their day has been, what their favourite show is, what they dream of doing after school, and make sure they have something to eat at lunch.
Sometimes we are the only source of truthful, non-judgemental, and helpful information they might be getting outside of the internet.
Sometimes we are the only adults in their lives who know how to push aside our own emotions, pretend to be in a good mood for them when they need it, or not take out our frustration on them.
Sometimes we are the only ones who will sit them down with their group to discuss friendship issues, or deal with bullying issues, or comfort them through a breakup.
Sometimes we are the only one who teach them how to deal with their emotions, how to be patient and caring, how to accept rejection and being told ‘no’.
We are the ones who are teaching the next generation how to deal with the world at large. We are teaching them how to learn, how to think about their actions and words, and yes, even how to do stupid maths equations that they might never use again.
We are shaping the next generation for our world,and shaping the world for the next generation.
All of the doctors, lawyers, carpenters, fry cooks, cleaners, astronauts, make up artists, stock counters, changing room attendants, chemists, film directors – they all come through our hands. And we shape them. We help them, some less than others true, but as was said to me a few days ago, we have to take every opportunity, even when they turn out negative. We are TEACHING these young people.
There can be no nobler profession than TEACHING somebody how to do something.
I wanted to tell her how wrong she was.
I wanted to thank her for also being a teacher.
I understand you, I see you, I accept you as a teacher and as a person.
Thank you for doing this hard, incredible job.
You are not “just”.
About the Author:
Emily is a secondary science and math teacher in Australia. She enjoys blogging about her experiences, facilitating the ‘light bulb’ moment in her students, and drinking tea and wine. Emily is currently on maternity leave with her first child. You can read more teaching articles from Emily here, or about her life as a new mum over at Actual Mums.