Sunday, April 25, 2010

Training wheels

"Your shower shoes have fungus on them. You'll never make it to the bigs with fungus on your shower shoes. Think classy, you'll be classy. If you win 20 in the show, you can let the fungus grow back and the press'll think you're colorful. Until you win 20 in the show, however, it means you are a slob."

Crash Davis to Nuke, in Bull Durham

Teaching in a public school system is, for me anyway, a shot at the show.

I used to practice medicine. I was pretty good at it, but it consumed pretty much every waking moment, and as the years went by, docs lost quite a bit of their autonomy. I also reached a point where I wasn't going to get much better.

I love to stargaze. A fellow stargazer, a walking star atlas who could pinpoint any deep sky object anyone could name, reminisced about when he began, back when he still got lost looking for the moon. There is joy in the process of mastery, in emerging through the fog of failure into competence.

I practice teaching now, and while I'm not yet half the teacher I was the doc, I'm getting better. It's fun, and I doubt I'll master the classroom in the years I have left. If I do, well, I always wanted to try plumbing.
Most of my fellow teachers work hard, very hard, and love what they do.

Some teachers complain very publicly about lack of respect, about the need to be recognized as professionals.

First, understand the backlash. We have jobs. We're paid decently, we have good benefits, and we have a lot of days off.

Teachers with a decade or two under their belts make far more per hour than I did as a pediatrician. Most do not have 6 figure debt at graduation, and their apprenticeship was a mere 17 weeks, not several years.

I went into pediatrics because I enjoyed working with kids, and I worked in the projects because that was where I was needed.

I presume you teach because you enjoy working with kids, and I hope you feel like you're doing something useful.

A profession is a calling. I'm not sure where teaching lies--for some it's a profession, for some it's a wonderful job, but still just a job, and for a few miserable folks, it's a trap baited by a pension a lifetime away.

If you're going to complain about not being treated as a professional, toss the shower shoes. The public does not define professionalism, our behavior does. If teaching is not a vocation, literally "a calling," then it's just a job.

And that's OK, too--so long as you keep working to improve.


Kelly said...


I have seen in my short time as a teacher many who cry to be treated as professionals, but then do so in clown suits and gimmicks. The message was lost in the delivery.

Self-respect--there's a thought. Sometimes I think teachers don't like to say what's awesome about our work because then we will undermine any professional respect we've earned. It's a matter of misconceptions. Just read any comment thread about a teachers' strike or budget cuts to see how some loudmouths view this profession. I think putting it back on the teacher - asking ourself, Is this a job? A vocation? A profession? A calling? Is the quiet, self-reflective piece we all need to do every day.

Well said, sir!

Mr. David M. Beyer said...

Wonderfully written statement. Thank you for sharing it. Teaching is a second career for me, too (software development), and I wouldn't trade it for anything. ANYTHING. I've never felt more valued; needed; appreciated. That other career makes me appreciate what I have now.

Barry Bachenheimer said...

I'm curious how your thoughts on shower shoes translates to teacher (and administrator) dress. In your opinion, how should these "professionals" dress, as many impressions that are made are visual ones. (Especially for our impressionable students who might just model their dress on the way they see their teachers!)

I have seen some fabulous teachers dressed like they are ready to do yardwork. I have seen some not-so great teachers wear dresses or suits each day. By no means to clothes makes the man/woman, but IMHO, one part of being treated like a professional means dressing the part.

Your thoughts?