When I was in elementary school, perhaps second grade, I asked for a radio to strap onto my bicycle handlebars so I could listen to music while I rode my bike up and down our street. On Christmas morning I found a red transistor radio that was about the size of a peanut butter sandwich. I thought it was pretty cool that I could slowly move the tuning dial and discover several radio stations while sitting in the living room.
Christmas day meant loading up the car and heading to the country to spend time with family. My sister and I got to choose one thing each to bring along, so I chose my radio. I don’t remember what my sister chose to bring, but I do remember that she wasn’t especially impressed with my radio.
When we got to my great grandparents’ house, we passed the front porch where all the men congregated. They asked about what we got that morning from Santa and I showed them my radio. Some of the men with quite a bit of gray hair started reminiscing about radios they had as youngsters that were the size of a piece of furniture and were anything but portable. They thought they would never see a day that a radio would fit in the palm of their hand. After a few minutes of hearing compliments about my radio and watching as it was passed around the group, my gift had become many times more valuable to me. I kept it close for the rest of the day.
So many times, how much we value something is based on how it is perceived by others. How do you feel when you tell someone you are a teacher? Do you present it as something to be proud of, or do you downplay its significance?
In my current job, I have the opportunity to visit teachers in the classroom and sometimes teach a model lesson. I always begin by telling students that there are many parts to my job but that sometimes I’m lucky enough to get to join students in the classroom. I can see them visibly sit taller when they hear that it’s a privilege to spend the day with them rather than a punishment or a chore.
Teaching is an amazing job, but it isn’t always treated that way. Here are a few points to ponder as we represent teaching as a profession and mentor those who are considering entering the field.
It’s All in the Attitude
There’s research that says your body can’t tell the difference between a genuine smile and a forced smile. Telling yourself to smile really can improve your mood. As with any job, there are days in education that are more fun than others. Rather than focus on the bag of ungraded papers to tackle, focus on the uplifting parts of the job like a new science joke to share with your students or staff.
Brag about Co-Workers
We just don’t hear enough good stories about teachers so let’s start spreading our own. If you look around, I would bet you are surrounded by innovative, motivated, clever educators. Have you seen a teacher who can connect with even the most reluctant learner? Is there a teacher who has a student friendly analogy for every occasion? It’s great to give a compliment directly to the teacher, but consider saying a few words to his or her co-workers or supervisor.
Teacher burnout is a real thing, but that doesn’t mean it’s inevitable. Look for something to improve in every instructional unit. Try a new strategy or switch out the lab that has lost its luster. When I started teaching, I had to hit the library to discover new content, but now I watch a TED Talk or discover a YouTube video. You could even choose to learn something just for fun. You’d be surprised how improving your outlook outside of school spills over into your attitude in school.
Be a Professional
If we want others to value our profession, we need to value it as well. That means being on time each day, meeting deadlines for lesson plans and paperwork, dressing within dress code boundaries, and just generally behaving like the professionals that we are. There may be days we just don’t “feel” it, but we are the face of education so let’s represent it well.
There really is nothing else I’d rather do as a career. Helping students use science to explain the world around them and growing teachers so they can seamlessly deliver a rock-solid lesson are the types of things that make my heart beat faster. Let’s be the educators others aspire to be. Next time someone asks what you do for a living, don’t apologize for being a teacher. Broadcast far and wide that you are an educator who changes lives—the lives of your students and your own.