Recently, I was asked why I “felt qualified” to select texts for my students to read and who gave me “the authority” to do so. Deep breath.
This question wasn’t posed by a student – a 12th-grader
suffering from a slight case of cynicism and a touch of senioritis – no, it was
posed by a community member.
I calmly replied: I
have a degree in Literary Studies and graduated at the top of my class. As a
teacher certified in ELA 8-12, G/T, and ESL education, I have pedagogical
knowledge on which I base curricular decisions. I am an avid reader, and I
continue my research on literacy and the education of literature, from the
canon to Young Adult content. I attend more training sessions than required, by
far, to stay current on best practices and strategies. In preparation for the
AP exam and a well-rounded education, I consistently update my curriculum with
new information from the AP exam, feedback from AP essay-readers, and other
experienced AP teachers. I also consider student feedback and offer them choice
when possible. The 12-page AP syllabus I painstakingly wrote for my course
details the breadth and depth of the content we will explore, and I believe
that the essential questions listed with each anchor text provide adequate
information about why reading that text is important and offers insight into
what my students can glean from the reading. Ultimately, as my syllabus was
approved by the College Board, they provide my credibility.
I stopped there. There is a line between asserting one’s
proficiency and plain ol’ bragging. I couldn’t help feeling immediately
defensive, however. I mean, how often is one asked so pointedly to defend his
or her credentials? I mean, really. Why did I feel I was qualified? Who gave
me the authority to make decisions regarding my career? Deep breath again.
I understand that most of the press concerning teachers is
bad press. Teachers-gone-wild types of stories. I understand that parents and
community members want reassurance that the people who spend so much time with
their children are educated professionals. The point is: we are! Are there bad
apples in the profession? Sure. Show me the profession where there are none.
The teachers I know, myself included, get up every day and head to work solely
to improve the lives of students in some way. We are their advocates. We are
their mentors. We are their voice of reason when needed and their support
system when they’re down. We are teachers. We have trained for this, and
continue to train. We know our content, and we know it well. We are
enthusiastic about our subjects, whether they have to do with DNA (thank you,
Mr. Reichle) or a literary masterpiece. We make decisions that are the best for
our classes based on our love and skill in our areas. So yes, we are qualified.
I guess what really bothers me is the lack of respect for
this profession. Can you imagine walking into anyone else’s place of business
and asking them what made them think they were qualified to do what they do?
Why is there an almost universal assumption that anyone could do what a teacher
does? Worse than armchair quarterbacks are those who think they understand the
complex career that is teaching because they were once students. I’ve been to
the doctor many times, and I have a good deal of lay medical knowledge, but it
does not mean I’m ready to go into practice.
I’ll end this with a simple plea; please assume that each teacher you meet is a highly-skilled
professional who has earned the authority to make decisions in his or her
classroom. Just as you assume your mechanic can fix your car or your nurse
can take your blood pressure, assume that teachers can teach.