In 10 years, the public perception of teachers will be held by the students we teach today.
Students watch us, want to know about us, and want to know why we teach.
To me, that means that how I represent the profession in my daily practice will greatly influence my students’ future perception of teachers—even more than the media and our elected officials.
Mr. Merz, do you like being a teacher?" "Do you like people telling you what to do?" "No!" "Have you ever seen my boss tell me what to do?" "No." "That's what I like about being a teacher: As long as I do what I'm supposed to, I get to do things the way I want."
This embarrassing exchange suggests two things have never been true: 1) That I aim low—as long as I don’t bother my boss, she won’t bother me; and 2) That I’m a functionary with no role to fill beyond my classroom walls.
In the future I’ll reply more appropriately, something like:
I love all the challenges that teachers face—keeping up with new developments in my subject, finding creative ways to make difficult materials accessible, learning how to meet the different needs of each student, and working with colleagues from around the country to improve the profession—I can't imagine work I'd rather do."
Yet this is reactive. How can we proactively use good instruction to reveal all that it is to be a teacher?
We face a paradox. Just as expert athletes make it look so easy, so do expert teachers. Only by trying a new sport do you realize all the technique that must be mastered. Then you have a new appreciation when you watch the pros.
So, one concrete way to reveal the complexities of our craft, while authentically teaching the content of our subjects, would be to let a class participate in planning a unit. Together we would delve deeply into our content while discovering the need to create a plan that addresses learning styles, scaffolding, prior knowledge, outcomes, benchmarks, assessments, and so forth.
It’s a small step, but if done well, students may gain a peek into what we do daily and a new appreciation of teaching that would last far beyond 10 years.
August (Sandy) Merz III, a National Board-certified teacher, teaches engineering and algebra and sponsors MESA at Safford K-8 International Baccalaureate Candidate School in Tucson, Ariz.
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.