Teaching is a Profession, Not a Job

Teaching is a profession. In The Game of Life—yes, the board game—teaching is one of the few jobs
that you can draw only if you went to college, suggesting the job requires some
amount of proper training and higher education. In real life—yes, the thing we
are living right now—the idea that four years of college, with any major, is sufficient
to begin a career as a professional teacher is growing more and more popular.
After all, we all went through primary and secondary school to get here, so how
hard can it be to teach it?

Surprise: Teaching is hard. Extremely hard. A teacher must not only be a
master of the material but also an effective communicator, quick problem
solver, constant innovator, social organizer, occasional therapist, and much
more besides. It takes energy, ingenuity, insight, knowledge, and most of all,
patience to lead a classroom full of kids. You must decide if you want 80 percent of
your students to understand 100 percent of the material, or 100 percent to understand 80 percent. Sometimes you end up with zero percent understanding zero percent and you must go back to the
blackboard and start over. Teaching has been described as one part preparation
and five parts improvisation, and the preparation alone will take hours.

If
teaching is mostly improvisation–making it up on the spot–don’t most teachers learn in the
classroom? Of course: Teaching is no different than any job in that must be
perfected in practice. However, this is not 21 Choices, and a teacher’s bumpy
learning curve leaves an entirely different kind of bad taste. The stakes are
higher than most cases, and many teachers are presumably guided by the desire
to effectively educate children. Why, then, do they not take every possible
step to ensure that the learning curve is as smooth as can be? Thus, it must depend on who
they are teaching for, student or self.

I suppose I
should take a second to lay out my personal connection to teaching, as my opinion is that of a singular person with a specific set of experiences. I’m a senior English
major who wants to teach secondary English literature or English as a second language. Since Pomona College does not
offer a degree in education (which is, in my opinion, the only time life should
mirror the board game), I have been applying to residency and master’s programs,
all of which would lead me to a degree, certification, and more than two years
in the classroom. I have also spent four summers teaching middle school-level
English with the Breakthrough Collaborative in Manchester, N.H.

At sites
across the nation, Breakthrough gives high school and college students a way to
dip their toes into the waters of teaching and actually teach a class. Seven
students made up my largest class, and the oldest student was maybe 12.
Easy, right? Breakthrough is the hardest thing I have ever done. A week and a
half of workshops prepared me for the first five minutes of class, and every
summer was hours of revising lesson plans, talking with other teachers, talking
with the professional staff, trying new things, and staying up late only to
wake up at 6:00 a.m. to do it all again. Teaching is hard, and it is a
highly skilled job that, for various reasons, we are now handing out to people
who simply seem like they’ll have the energy for it. They’ll figure it out: Look how well they did in college! So what if it takes two years to become a decent teacher, not a good or even proficient one, and a few kids
might slip through the cracks—at least these college graduates are teaching!

A recent
op-ed by a college professor made this point far better than I have, so I’m
going to steal from that. (Teaching is also two parts stealing, according to my
eighth grade science teacher; no one can do it alone.) This particular
professor has stopped writing recommendation letters for Teach for America for
students who did not major in education. As she explains, you would not write
medical school recommendations for students who have not taken biology classes, because they are completely unprepared for the operating room. Why, then, do we
think that anyone without hands-on educational experience is prepared for the
classroom? 

Teaching is a profession, not a job. Sure, teachers are underpaid
and overlooked. The hours are long and the obvious benefits are few. You have
to steal supplies from home to bring to work, only to have them stolen again.
You have to give everything and expect nothing. And that takes more than just pure energy: it takes a solid foundation on which to build so that improvisation and learning in the classroom can happen productively.

Brendan Gillett PO ’14 is an English major planning to engage in a career in classroom teaching after further schooling.

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