Opinions

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_x000D_
that you can draw only if you went to college, suggesting the job requires some_x000D_
amount of proper training and higher education. In real life—yes, the thing we_x000D_
are living right now—the idea that four years of college, with any major, is sufficient_x000D_
to begin a career as a professional teacher is growing more and more popular._x000D_
After all, we all went through primary and secondary school to get here, so how_x000D_
hard can it be to teach it?

Surprise: Teaching is hard. Extremely hard. A teacher must not only be a_x000D_
master of the material but also an effective communicator, quick problem_x000D_
solver, constant innovator, social organizer, occasional therapist, and much_x000D_
more besides. It takes energy, ingenuity, insight, knowledge, and most of all,_x000D_
patience to lead a classroom full of kids. You must decide if you want 80 percent of_x000D_
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_x000D_
blackboard and start over. Teaching has been described as one part preparation_x000D_
and five parts improvisation, and the preparation alone will take hours.

If_x000D_
teaching is mostly improvisation–making it up on the spot–don’t most teachers learn in the_x000D_
classroom? Of course: Teaching is no different than any job in that must be_x000D_
perfected in practice. However, this is not 21 Choices, and a teacher’s bumpy_x000D_
learning curve leaves an entirely different kind of bad taste. The stakes are_x000D_
higher than most cases, and many teachers are presumably guided by the desire_x000D_
to effectively educate children. Why, then, do they not take every possible_x000D_
step to ensure that the learning curve is as smooth as can be? Thus, it must depend on who_x000D_
they are teaching for, student or self.

I suppose I_x000D_
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_x000D_
major who wants to teach secondary English literature or English as a second language. Since Pomona College does not_x000D_
offer a degree in education (which is, in my opinion, the only time life should_x000D_
mirror the board game), I have been applying to residency and master’s programs,_x000D_
all of which would lead me to a degree, certification, and more than two years_x000D_
in the classroom. I have also spent four summers teaching middle school-level_x000D_
English with the Breakthrough Collaborative in Manchester, N.H.

At sites_x000D_
across the nation, Breakthrough gives high school and college students a way to_x000D_
dip their toes into the waters of teaching and actually teach a class. Seven_x000D_
students made up my largest class, and the oldest student was maybe 12._x000D_
Easy, right? Breakthrough is the hardest thing I have ever done. A week and a_x000D_
half of workshops prepared me for the first five minutes of class, and every_x000D_
summer was hours of revising lesson plans, talking with other teachers, talking_x000D_
with the professional staff, trying new things, and staying up late only to_x000D_
wake up at 6:00 a.m. to do it all again. Teaching is hard, and it is a_x000D_
highly skilled job that, for various reasons, we are now handing out to people_x000D_
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_x000D_
might slip through the cracks—at least these college graduates are teaching!

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A recent_x000D_
op-ed by a college professor made this point far better than I have, so I’m_x000D_
going to steal from that. (Teaching is also two parts stealing, according to my_x000D_
eighth grade science teacher; no one can do it alone.) This particular_x000D_
professor has stopped writing recommendation letters for Teach for America for_x000D_
students who did not major in education. As she explains, you would not write_x000D_
medical school recommendations for students who have not taken biology classes, because they are completely unprepared for the operating room. Why, then, do we_x000D_
think that anyone without hands-on educational experience is prepared for the_x000D_
classroom? 

Teaching is a profession, not a job. Sure, teachers are underpaid_x000D_
and overlooked. The hours are long and the obvious benefits are few. You have_x000D_
to steal supplies from home to bring to work, only to have them stolen again._x000D_
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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