Want to Be a Surgeon? Start Today! is a billboard that people would cringe at should they be posted all around their city. So why is it any different when the billboard targets teaching? How many careers would be okay with the general perception that it doesn’t take much to join their professional field today if they just show up? Can you imagine if a brand new doctor, with only a Bachelor’s degree, walked into the ER and was handed the same load as a veteran, without being given the experiences of an internship of any sort? Um, I’ll pass should it be me with the broken leg. So why is this experiment okay for our nation’s children?
Let me be very clear—I do not have a problem with alternative certification programs. As a matter of fact, some of the best teachers I know are alternatively certified. They ask guiding questions to lead students to understanding, they structure their lessons for engaging, mindful experiences, and they care to develop professionally and personally. Conversely, some of the worst teachers I have known are not alternatively certified, but rather prepared by traditional education colleges, and yet they base all of their lessons around students listening to lectures and copying notes mindlessly; and they do not seem interested in growing their personal or professional dexterity. This blog is not a comment on alternative certification; it is an attack on the perception that teaching is something you can start tomorrow, without any preparation or internship experience.
Teaching is, in my opinion, part skill, part science, part art, part heart, and a LOT of practice. As a teacher, you must be able to keep up with sometimes as many as eight different class preparations and lessons while meeting the needs of all learners from the seven types (bet you didn’t know there were that many!) to those on the autism spectrum to the child prodigies to the darlings that haven’t eaten in twenty-four hours. You must humbly meet with parents and love their child as much as they do; and you must respectfully report to the school district on what and how you are crafting a plan to ensure success for every student, no matter how demanding the challenge for the student and their dedicated educator(s). The teachers I know are warriors in their quest for life-long learning and we take our craft very seriously. The teachers I know don’t take summers off—they spend all summer either teaching or attending professional development so that they can evolve as educators. If you are not completely called to teaching, rethink it. I’m here to tell you, it’s too hard. If you are thoughtfully and voraciously committed to education, then welcome! You are in good company.
It is hurtful to see a billboard that implies that anyone could take on your career, a career into which you have invested lots of time, without missing a beat. If we value teachers, one step we could take is to not talk about teaching as though it is second-best, easy, and/or something one can “float” in and out of on a whim or “fall back” on. Instead, speak of teaching as a profession where one constantly has to evolve. Treat teachers like any other respected profession. When you meet a teacher at a party, don’t tell them they’re “cute” or that their students must love them because of how pretty they are (both true stories!). Students love teachers because of how they engage them in the wonders of the world, because they treat them like human beings and thoughtfully guide them through education and life’s challenges, and because they have expectations for success. And not just the expectations, but the skills and practices necessary to take their students to greater depths and to lead them to finding their future pursuits. Never ever tell a future teacher that if they go into teaching, they are “wasting their potential” or that they could do something “better,” like go into medicine or engineering (also true stories!). They could and they know it, but the true teacher thinks, “I could be a doctor, or I could inspire fifty more doctors to come into being.” And they’ve already started.