Sarah Brown Wessling
It was a declaration to remember. My 6-year-old daughter assertively walked into the kitchen after school one day: “Mom. I’m going to be a teacher. Not an English teacher like you, but a P.E. teacher like Mrs. Rocque. She’s the best!” I smiled. Not a condescending, “that’s nice dear” kind of reaction, but a beam that I felt in my toes. A kindred spirit in the making. And then I remembered my friend Ann. Her son had told her the same thing, once and she confessed cringing and hoping that he would make another choice. “There are just too many misconceptions about the profession,” she lamented, “and I don’t know how to change them.”
Changing a country’s perception about the teaching profession is no easy task. Admittedly, I’ve been skeptical it could be done. But then I went to Japan. I walked in a school and as I customarily took off my shoes, I was greeted with deep bows. Not just the polite bend, but ones of humility and respect. It nearly brought me to tears, realizing the ways in which teachers were seen as people of great wisdom and purpose. And then to Finland where I was “the teacher.” Again, there was a reverence not for me, but for the work teachers share.
And I wonder if it’s possible that my daughter could teach in an environment like this. In fact, I have to believe that we can. But a few things need to happen first.
Teachers must be able to expose all the “invisible” work we do. People don’t know what they don’t know. And unless we continue to find ways to turn the isolated nature of our schools inside out, teachers will be doomed to misperception and misunderstanding.
Those who aren’t teachers must be willing to find new paradigms. Most of what the general public understands about school comes from the lens of their own experience. We can’t settle for having a “good enough” system. The adage that, “it was good enough for me, it’s good enough for them” will only cement outdated thinking of what teaching and learning can look like.
We must continue to support the endeavors that elevate the profession. Whether it’s by cultivating teacher voice, getting policy makers into classrooms on a regular basis, supporting NBPTS and other professional teaching organizations, or just hesitating the next time someone suggests teachers get their “summers off,” we’ll all create a place in which my daughter will someday say, “I’m proud to be a teacher!”
Sarah Brown Wessling is a high school English teacher at Johnston High School in Johnston, Iowa. She is also serving as TCHr Laureate for the Teaching Channel and was the 2010 National Teacher of the Year.
The opinions expressed in Teaching Ahead: A Roundtable are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.