The first week in May is Teacher Appreciation Week, so declared back in 1984 by the Parent Teachers Association, and the 2014 observation of this is upon us. It couldn’t have come at a better time, given that teachers aren’t feeling especially appreciated these days, what with school reform policies targeted right at them. In this post Julie Hiltz, a media specialist at Lutz Elementary in Hillsborough County, Florida, and a National Board Certified Teacher with 12 years of experience, writes about her profession. She is also a 2013-14 Center for Teaching Quality Teacherpreneur, who is spending half of her workweek this school year engaging colleagues across the state in teacher evaluation and Common Core reforms.
By Julie Hiltz
I meet new people all the time—at baseball games, the car wash, or any of the usual places where strangers share space. After trading platitudes about the weather and complaining about slow service, we arrive at the inevitable question: “So, what do you do?”
“I’m a teacher,” I say.
I get a lot of different responses when I tell people what I do for a living. Some people nod as a look of empathy crosses their face (usually fellow teachers and their family members). Others say, “Oh, I couldn’t do your job,” and give a long list of reasons why: ill-behaved students, failing schools, excessive testing, low pay, arduous homework, gangs, and so on.
It’s natural for these stories to come to mind. What most people know or see about teaching are all the surface issues. The challenges of modern-day education that play out on the news with little context or explanation.
But the reality is that these are just glimpses into the teaching profession—not accurate, meaningful depictions of what I and millions of other teachers do.
Perception is reality, and we as teachers have not done our part to challenge or correct those notions. For the most part, we’ve kept our heads down. There’s barely enough time to do everything we need to do for our students, much less advocate for ourselves and our profession. The day is only so long, and we would never “punish” our students by taking time from them to feed our professional egos.
So what can teachers do to show the public the realities of our profession?
Recently, a colleague and I created a social media campaign called #TeachingIs to raise awareness about teaching—using photos, blog posts, tweets, and stories submitted by teachers. I believe it has produced amazing insight into our profession, and I would love to share some of those takeaways.
Through this campaign, my colleagues have demonstrated that teaching is:
* Complex. There’s more to teaching than managing a classroom full of kids or grading endless tests and homework. Teaching is balancing rigorous learning with engaging activities. It’s catering to the emotional, developmental, and physical needs of students—and doing whatever it takes to support them and get them to where they need to be.
* More than clichés. Teaching isn’t just tending to runny noses and untied shoes. It goes further than helping children find the greatness within. Most of the activities in our day do not include mending broken hearts or bridging family divides.
* A skill, not a natural talent. Teaching isn’t something people are born knowing how to do. And it’s not just a passion. Teachers’ skills are developed gradually through insight, trial and error, collaboration, and research. We grow and refine our skills over time, like any other profession.
* More than human interest stories. Teaching isn’t represented by larger-than-life “rock star” teachers. It also isn’t sustained by guest visits from celebrities who want to “make a difference” or competitive grants from nonprofits seeking to resolve socioeconomic disparity (although if you know anyone who wants to help fund my dream of creating a Makerspace in my library, please give them my contact information).
* A profession that requires preparation and ongoing professional learning. Teaching is carefully conducted by demonstrating activities, asking and answering questions, providing opportunities for students to collaborate, and giving feedback and guidance—all based on the reading levels, interests, and motivation of students. It requires applying content knowledge and having a deep understanding of how kids learn.
Teaching starts—but doesn’t end—in our preparation programs. We continue to develop our expertise over the years by pursuing professional learning, studying research, and sharing knowledge with other educators. Because school schedules allow little time for professional development, most of us devote time after school, on the weekends, and during the summer to improving how we serve students.
When I tell people I’m a teacher, I want them to realize that I wasn’t born one. That my work is complex. That it involves strategies, skills, and knowledge that I’ve had to work to develop and apply. That almost no one could just walk into a classroom unprepared and do it well—just like most of us couldn’t walk into an operating room and perform surgery.
This Teacher Appreciation week, I hope you’ll help my colleagues and I spread our visions of teaching. Click here to learn more about #TeachingIs and how you can help elevate the perception of our profession.
#TeachingIs my career, and one that I am proud to support and promote.