Tuesday 1 May 2012

Why Are You Just a Teacher?

One of my students asked me that the other day. With particular emphasis on the "just". It's quite insulting really, although I think they meant it as a compliment.

I had just told the class what I had got in my gcses and A-levels. I'd like to point out that they did ask me, I wasn't just showing off. I told them my results, and they were suitably impressed. As usual they found it hilarious that I managed to get nine A*s and one D. They found it even more funny when I told them the D was for art. Now whenever I draw a diagram on the board they make snide comments. Anyway, after hearing how well I had done at school, one of the pupils asked, "If you got such good results, why are you just a teacher?"

The thing that immediately struck me was that the pupils in front of me (set one, as it happened) did not see me as a successful person. To them, I was "just" a teacher. Not a dentist, a doctor, or the owner of a business, just a teacher. You don't have to be "bare clever" to go into teaching, unlike dentistry or medicine. Nor do you earn a lot of money (to them, a lot of money means considerably more than my £21k, which to me still feels like I'm winning the lottery every month). They don't see teaching as the sort of job a high achiever should aim for. This does not make me feel good.

I found myself justifying my career choice to a group of precocious sixteen year olds. I shouldn't have to! Teaching should be a well-respected profession. Teachers should be seen as the cream of society. I was talking to a colleague about this, and she told me that her grandfather was a teacher, and was the most looked-up-to member of the village. The whole village turned up to pay their respects at his funeral. This is how it should be. We deserve as much respect as dentists, at least. The job title should carry as much clout as "solicitor" or "executive". Students should assume their teachers have amazing exam results, and look up to them as beings of superior intellect and moral fibre. Students should aspire to be teachers. I'm fed up of hearing "I want to be a lawyer/dentist/doctor, but if that fails I'll just be a teacher". It should be:  "I want to be a teacher, but if that fails I'll just be a PE teacher". Ha ha. That was a joke. Please don't beat me up.

Maybe this attitude just applies to students from my school, where the student demographic is mostly Asian. If you'll allow me to stereotype wildly: Asian parents often push their children into medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, etc perhaps to the exclusion of all other careers? Maybe this accounts for this attitude.

Do you know what your students feel about teaching as a profession? Ask them, but be prepared to be offended!

Emma x x x