This summer, I spent a lot of time thinking about the role of law enforcement, which has definitely been a nation-wide conversation the last couple years. It got me thinking about what the job requires, and it also caused me to start contemplating the role of my own job as an educator, and what makes a good teacher and what makes a bad teacher.
September rolled around, and I am back in the classroom again, adjusting to the pace of an unpredictable 7 period, 150+ student interactions a day lifestyle. I definitely felt burnt out after these initial weeks, but it doesn’t take long to jump back into the energetic rush of a high school building.
One day, I asked my students if anyone was thinking about going to college to be a teacher, and two students raised their hands while the rest of the class moaned, “Why would you want to be a teacher? People disrespect you and don’t listen.” But it is still my job to serve those disrespectful students and most of the time in my classroom, I genuinely do feel like they listen to me.
Anyways, we have probably all had a bad teacher. Right? Several names come to mind as I think about teachers that I never formed a connection with for various reasons: these teachers were not very approachable, didn’t explain concepts well, were lazy, never learned my name, had boring classes, did the same thing over and over again, handed out busy work, yelled a lot, only viewed things one way… you get the picture. It’s hard to respect these teachers because you know they don’t care about you. There are some “bad” teachers out there.
It’s a funny job really, because most of the time it is incredibly difficult work, the pay is pretty terrible compared to what some of my friends make, and teaching really does require you to make sacrifices all the time, of yourself, of your plans, of your family, etc. in order to serve your community of students.
I can never just leave work at work. These students’ stories travel home with me, and I am thinking about them at random times. And this is the quality that I lean into to defend that I might actually be a pretty good teacher. 🙂 I refuse to be ignorant about what is happening in my classroom every day. It’s my job to be reflective.
I think about my really good teachers. These are teachers who: built relationships with as many students as they possibly could, knew me well enough based on conversations with me to support me the way I needed, considered my story, my race, and my family situation in how they approached me, mixed up how they delivered instruction to keep learning engaging, de-escalated potentially awkward or inappropriate situations, spent time in class promoting dialogue about things that are actually important, invited me to participate in the learning, and at the same time challenged me to work harder and to lean into the hard work before me.
You can’t be that miracle teacher if you are not thinking about how you are teaching all the time. Without reflection, you’re just a teacher, not a good teacher.
Which leads me to the larger theme of thoughts circling my brain this summer. Could this be true for all jobs? While being a teacher is an honorable choice for a career, that doesn’t make all teachers honorable.
Take a moment with me to consider cop culture. Being a police officer is an honorable choice for a career. They are asked to make sacrifices all the time. They are asked to go to work expecting an unpredictable day serving their communities, where some people are not always grateful for your help. Like my students said, “Why would you want to be a teacher? People disrespect you and don’t listen” sometimes. For police officers, it is still their job to serve these individuals. A “bad” teacher throws this student out of their classroom and seeks consequences. A reflective teacher tries to get to they “why” below the surface. What would it look like for people in authority to lean into being reflective of the choices they make while in power? What would it look like for an officer to be trusted because he/she has earned respect? What would it look like to replace my list of qualities that make a good teacher with qualities that make an effective police officer? Obviously, there are stark contrasts between the two callings as well, namely that teachers rarely are in the presence of weapons and violence.
I’m challenging all of us to begin to interrupt the way our subconscious brains work with bias. As a white female educator, my instinct is to teach the way I was taught. I am trying to interrupt these patterns.
Being a teacher is not bad, but some teachers are bad at their job. Being a police officer is not bad, but some police officers are bad at their job. This post does not mean to disrespect those of us in the professions of education or law enforcement, but it does ask us to consider reflection within our roles.
We have a new school year before us. What are the stories that will be told?