Saturday, July 14, 2007

Job Title: Teacher

This is the third in a series of posts about job titles, legitimacy, and calling. The first was Job Title: Artist, and second, Job Title: Editor. This is Job Title: Teacher. And perhaps when I'm done I'll be able to examine using the job title of "minister" after being ordained by the Universal Life Church. But back to teaching and the title of teacher for a moment.

My Own Perception I worked as a math teacher at a private school for Indians in Santa Fe for two years. I didn't have much trouble thinking of myself as a math teacher based on the fact that students came into my classroom every hour, we did stuff together with numbers, manipulatives, graph paper, calculators, and exercises, and then they left. I didn't feel called the work, but I did feel all right using the job title to describe my daily practice of teaching.

The General Populace's Perception The national rhetoric pretends that it respects teachers, but if society truly did, teachers would be decently paid. So it always seemed to me to be a difference between how individual people treated me as a teacher (well and with respect, especially parents) and how society treated me (fairly poorly and if I deserved to starve).

Note: While teaching, I also noticed that the title "teacher" often implied an age range for students (K-12). For example, professors in a college do not use the term "teacher" to refer to themselves.

We also don't call a lot of people who teach "teachers." Like parents, for example. I've never heard, "I'm a stay-at-home teacher" rather than "stay-at-home dad."

Other Teachers' Perception Much like with editing (and art), there is a hierarchy in teaching. Public school teachers expressed to me that I was some sort of a wimp for teaching at a private school, as if I had a cushy gig (I did not). They were doing the "real" teaching. And later I found that teachers in urban areas regarded their own teaching as "real" teaching, and the rest of us in small cities or rural areas had no idea what the "real" problems were. Even within the private schools, I found that my private school had a less than stellar reputation. I couldn't be doing "real" teaching there.

Academia's Perception Once becoming a teacher and teaching on a daily basis, I found I needed a zillion courses for a teaching credential according to local universities and the state department of education. According to academia, I was only a "provisional" teacher.

So, in short,

  • I perceived myself as a teacher because it's what I did as a daily work practice;

  • The general populace perceived me as a teacher because of daily practice and the fact that a school hired me;
  • Other teachers established my (low) ranking quickly in teacher hierarchy; and

  • Academia decided I "provisional" until I had completed their courses and had the right sort of certificate from the state department of education.