Friday, September 19, 2014

Why I'm Qualified

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.