Because I teach at the secondary level, almost all of the teachers are experts in their field. Our APUSH teacher has a master’s degree in history, for instance. Not only that, but he has rich life experiences including world travel that allow him to share real-world examples and his passion for the subject with his students. Our Mock Trial coach studied and practiced law before dedicating his life to teaching. His real-world courtroom experiences help him instruct the students about the realities of the legal system. These are just a couple of examples from my hallway, but I could go on and on. Clearly, teachers can “do” what they teach. I don’t mean to neglect elementary teachers here; they must know a great deal about child development. Middle-school teachers have their own set of expertise as well.
When I had the epiphany at 30 that I belonged in the classroom, I wasn’t sure what grade-level I wanted to teach. I knew I had a knack for writing curriculum because of homeschooling experience, and I knew that I worked well with kids because of my large and successful Girl Scout troop. I was idealistic. Teachers had empowered me to overcome obstacles in my life; I wanted to do the same for others. The love of particular content isn’t really what drove me because I felt successful and passionate about everything from biology to band to creative writing. So I headed back to college, uncertain of my path, and studied the humanities. After all, this combined many of the subjects I love: art, history, music, architecture, and literature: all of the things that reflect and inform us of our humanity. I knew I would get to discuss important issues with my students and help them to become better people through exploration of these areas. At first, I thought I would teach history: the one subject I didn’t enjoy in high school. I always had that coach who didn’t actually care about history but had us read the textbook, color maps, and take tests. I found a love of history on my own, and I wanted to present it to students as exciting and relevant, so they would love it, too! In the process of my humanities degree, I took several literature courses. It wasn’t until Dr. Ed Garcia told me I was an English teacher that I realized what direction my path would really take. He even purchased an anthology text for me because he said I would need it when I taught literature. I insisted I was a history teacher in the making, but he reminded me that I already was an English teacher. Through class blogs, peer-collaboration and revision, and creative writing assignments, he said it was clear that this was my calling. And so this is how what I could “do” led to what I teach.
Since that time, I have been determined to continue to hone my craft. I read as many books as possible throughout the year and share them with my students. I write as often as possible – on my own, in front of my students, on long-winded blogs... This past summer, I spent the first month participating in the North Star of Texas National Writing Project. We wrote daily, published several pieces, completed a research inquiry project, taught mini-lessons, and read several texts. Then we wrote some more. We are still writing because we believe that teachers of reading and writing should actively and regularly read and write. Clearly, teachers can “do” what they teach, and do it well. I also firmly believe that teachers who continue to “do” are better teachers.
So here’s a shout-out to all the art teachers who craft on the weekends, the journalism teachers who publish articles in their spare time, and the band teachers who perform in their local symphony orchestras. Your students can sense your passion and knowledge, and enthusiasm for learning can be contagious. Let’s actively fight against the idea that teachers teach because they didn’t “succeed” in a given field. Teachers teach because they are committed to perpetual growth and demonstration to others of the importance of a chosen field.