I was a teacher for the first chapter of my adult life. I went to grad school, got my Master’s, took all the tests, earned my Massachusetts teaching license, and spent several years in the classroom. I am not one of those teachers who got burned out or quit, because I felt like the field was too hard on teachers. I’m also not one of those teachers who became jaded with education itself. (And I say that with no disrespect to those kinds of teachers.) I am simply a former teacher who found something else she loved to do more.
Looking back on my career as a teacher, I have a lot of amazing memories. I got to work with some pretty awesome teenagers over the course of the past few years, some of whom have grown up to be pretty awesome twentysomethings. While I’m not sure I changed the life of each and every one of my students, I know that I changed the lives of some, and that feels like an incredible sense of accomplishment.
But I was not immune to the stigma and stereotypes that are attached to being a teacher. I know that others who are outside the world of education have some concrete ideas of what it’s like to teach. Perhaps these ideas are formed from movies, or maybe from memories of being a student, or just from what people have heard on the news. Some of these assumptions might be accurate, but others are very, very incorrect.
With that, here are some false assumptions I’ve heard over the years.
1. Teachers have the easiest schedules.
I’ll get this one out of the way first. My first teaching job was at a public school where my school day ended at 1:40 PM. To others who work a traditional 9-5 schedule, it must seem like I had an incredible amount of free time. But to assume that teachers have it easy because their day “technically” ends in the afternoon is to disregard several things. First of all, many of us begin our days at 7 AM or earlier. And by that, I mean, that’s the time the bell rings. So we’re usually up at 5:00 or earlier. On days when I tried to go to the gym before school, I would have to set my alarm for 4:15 AM.
As for the afternoons, most teachers do not head home as soon as the final bell rings. They stay late to grade, or they are in charge of after-school activities. In my case, I was also the drama program director, so I had rehearsals every day after school for several hours. The weekends were also not off-limits; I often had to go in on Saturdays for extra rehearsals or set builds.
When talking about teacher schedules, I have to acknowledge the biggest factor: summer vacations. Many consider this to be a luxury of being a teacher, and it definitely is. I won’t minimize the fact that it is great to have the summers off. However, the majority of teachers don’t actually take the summer as vacation. They pick up a second job, or they spend the summer doing curriculum planning for the next school year. And this isn’t necessarily a complaint; after all, every other job requires its employees to work all year round. It’s just important to acknowledge that teachers don’t exactly sit on the couch all summer doing nothing — we work, just like the rest of the population.
2. Teachers would do anything for their students — not all heroes wear capes!
I want to tread carefully with this point because there are some teachers that would definitely put their students’ lives before their own. But there has become a strange expectation for teachers to be these selfless creatures, these servants of the future, who value their students’ every need over anything else. It has to be acknowledged that for some, teaching is simply a job. It is something that pays the bills and provides security — benefits, insurance, a reliable income. For some, teaching is not a higher calling, nor is it the passion to end all passions. It is okay to be a teacher and prioritize your own life and family over your students.
Furthermore, I think most teachers don’t want to be viewed this way. A lot of teachers would much prefer to have society’s respect in the form of a higher income than this odd martyrdom that they’ve been branded with. Teachers are severely underpaid, especially when considering how much time they actually do put in for their jobs. After all, honor and heroism does not pay the rent.
3. “Those who can’t do….”
For as much as teachers are put on pedestals, there’s a startlingly large amount of condescension and disrespect out there as well. You would be surprised as to how many times I’ve heard the only cliché, “Those who can’t do, teach.”
It is not easy to become a teacher. You often need a Master’s Degree, or proof that you’re on track to obtain one, in order to teach in a public school. You need to take standardized tests, which are quite challenging. You need to jump through so many hoops in order to renew your license every few years. It’s like going to the DMV, but ten times more frustrating. It is not for the faint of heart.
Furthermore, I feel like teaching has changed from when we were all kids. It’s no longer about delivering information for our students to process — it is about creating a path for students to learn actively. And when teaching a craft like art, theater, or music, you need to be able to demonstrate the skills yourself in order for students to accurately learn them.
4. Teachers just teach to a test.
Many public schools do face extreme scrutiny in regard to standardized tests, and there is an enormous pressure on teachers to get all of their students to reach a passing score. Unfortunately, there is so much that is out of a teacher’s control. For example, a student’s home life plays a huge role in how they perform on tests in school. Some students are simply “not good” at taking tests — test-anxiety is a real thing. Other students have serious learning challenges that make standardized tests an enormous obstacle, even with test-taking modifications.
Teachers know all of this. And we also know that the real learning doesn’t happen while taking a standardized test, or even preparing for one. We know, from our own lives, that tests don’t matter in the “big picture.” And so teachers have to balance the pressure of THE TEST with the actual task at hand — helping students feel equipped to enter the “real world” someday.
5. All teachers are extroverts.
Being a teacher while you’re an introvert is very common — and it is draining. Teaching is a job in which you have to be “on” all the time — it can feel like doing a tap-dance for eight hours straight. Many teachers who are also introverts have to rely on a lot of methods for managing that balance. “Fake it til you make it” is a way of life for those educators who find it exhausting to stand up in front of a room full of children day after day.
At the end of the day, no two teachers are alike — but all teachers are human. They have lives outside of work, just like everyone else. Teaching is a profession that deserves a lot more respect from society and the public than it currently has, but it is also a profession that deserves to be humanized — and that is the most important thing of all.
De is a New Yorker turned Bostonian and lover of all things theatrical. She’ll never turn down a cup of gingerbread coffee, and she’s the owner of the fluffiest cat imaginable. De is on Twitter and Instagram.
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