Maya Angelou has said, “Many people say that I am a writer who teaches, but I prefer to think of myself as a teacher who writes.”
I admire teachers. In the interest of full disclosure, I should begin by confessing that I do consider myself a teacher; however, I have chosen to teach at the college level rather than face the challenges of teaching in public school.
I became an educator because of the impact great teachers have had on my life. When I was in high school, I realized that education changes lives, and that if I became a teacher, I might be able to play a small part in helping others change their lives.
At first, I wanted to teach in a small, rural school because these schools usually receive the least in terms of resources, and I felt that I could make the biggest difference there.
As I was completing my BA and getting ready to finish the requirements to obtain my teaching certification, I became aware of the challenges faced by teachers in public schools. Classroom decisions tend to be made by people who have limited classroom experience — politicians who run for positions on school boards as a step in their political careers, or legislators and administrators who have had little or no actual classroom experience.
I saw enthusiastic and dedicated teachers being beaten down by a system that not only didn’t support them, but often attacked them. Even today, when I find myself in discussions about public education, they usually begin with an attack against teachers. It seems that everyone has a story about a teacher they didn’t appreciate, and they almost always claim that the teacher was “terrible” and shouldn’t be in the classroom. When I find myself in this type of discussion, I’ll usually ask how many teachers that person has had in their lives. It seems to me that the system may be working better than we give it credit for if, out of more than 30 teachers, we can only think of one or two to complain about.
Add to that the slim possibility that part of the responsibility may lie on the students’ shoulders, along with the fact that teachers, like other human beings, may have other things going on in their lives that affect what happens in their careers, and I have to believe that our schools aren’t doing as badly as we might like to think.
Anyway, I’m a firm believer that if you see something that needs to be changed, you jump in the middle and start working on it, but when it came to teaching in public school, I felt overwhelmed. I still wanted to teach, but I didn’t want to be involved in a constant battle to prove that I was worthy of teaching.
I chose to go on and get my MA in English so that I could teach at the college level. Until recently, college faculty are still given the respect they deserve, and they still get to make decisions about how to address the needs of their students.
I have to say that I admire those who have had the courage to pursue careers as teachers in our public schools. They put in long, hard days and usually have to take their work home with them. They arrive at school early and stay late so they can meet with students and parents, and they often add extra-curricular activities to their workload in order to give their students more opportunities and positive experiences. They walk into classrooms that are filled past their capacity and somehow manage to get to know their students as individuals. They not only accomplish this with little or no support, but they often find themselves under attack.
And yet, they continue to serve their students and touch their lives.