Kool Aid worth drinking: the respect and admiration for the noble profession of teaching

“Every great poet is a teacher; I either wish to be considered as a teacher or as nothing.”

William Wordsworth, loc 914, Six Centuries of English Poetry

A teacher or nothing? What is this profession of which poets aspire?

What office is there which involves more responsibility, which requires more qualifications, and which ought, therefore, to be more honorable than teaching?

Harriet Martineau

Anything more honorable than teaching? Oh, there are many honorable professions, I think. It wouldn't make sense to elevate one profession by putting down others. Being a good parent is an honorable thing for upon the family societies are built, or sadly, crumble. But the classroom is also a foundation of society. It is also a place where future generations walk and are inspired or angered. Truly, the great tread upon these halls, so walk slowly, look them in the eye, and talk warmly as you encourage the greatness among you.

Yet, are we just baby sitters? Is school where kids go so they have something to do during the day? Let it not be!

“The true aim of every one who aspires to be a teacher should be, not to impart his own opinions,but to kindle minds.” F. W. Robertson

Kindling minds? Is that what we are doing? Oh, I'm so fortunate, I feel I get to do that. Right now, however, I'm doing SAT prep which is far from mind kindling. I'm teaching them how to “beat” a test and outsmart the test makers to elevate themselves above other test takers. It feels important – to their future and lives — but it isn't the spark kindling, mind blowing, excitement inducing lessons that they run to class for. This too shall pass, thank goodness. I can only imagine what I'd feel if all I did was test prep. God be with us! It would be not only awful, but sad. But I think the reason the students listen to me is because even amidst our least favorite material, they know that passion based learning is coming back on Monday. Oh yes, we'll be back.

Teaching is not a lost art, but the regard for it is a lost tradition.

Jacques Barzun

So, we know what we do is noble. We know that there is certainly an art to teaching. We know that there are not only some good teachers out there but there are great teachers out there. Then, why, then, tell me, do so many teachers feel that the ire of society is looking down upon them? Why do many feel unsupported, unappreciated and criticized? What is this toxic Kool-aid of looking down upon teachers that society has drunk?

I'm not drinking the kool-aid. While the media is required to give equal time to political candidates, it is not required to give equal time among the positives and negatives of a profession. Teachers make easy targets. There is always a 1% fool factor in any profession – those who do foolish things with power or take dumb paths. The fools among us are not only the greatest of fools but the most despicable of humans because they are working with innocent, malleable children. When a teacher messes up, it is most repulsive, especially to those of us who do it every day. And being such a large profession, there is always some of the 1% available to tar and feather in the media and give another instance of a profession gone wrong.

But do you know, there are lawyers who do wrong – where are they? How about the garbage man who does something wrong or the secretary with sticky fingers who steals money? It is because when a teacher goes wrong, they have a living breathing victim and no one emotes, or should evoke more sympathy than an innocent child. They are our greatest treasures and should be treated as such. Of course, news of the victimization of one of these children spreads like wildfire, causing people to turn on the news – who, desperate for viewers, they will report on things that elicit responses and nothing does more so than a teacher gone wrong.

But I'm still not drinking the kool aid. The 1% fool factor is not going to determine what I think of a noble profession. It is not. And it shouldn't for you.

See the reporting and the misunderstanding for what it is. Teachers are an easy target. And say that we have not messed up but a parent says that we have, they can make up anything they want and take it to the media and we are bound by confidentiality, much like doctors or lawyers, except even more so. Because we are not at liberty to formulate our own responses because our districts and schools have lawyers who are out to protect the “system” not necessarily the “teacher.”

Yet. I'm still not drinking the kool-aid.

Teachers, you are noble. I'm not going to let a waning media convince me otherwise. I'm also not going to entirely blame the media. There are things fundamentally WRONG in education. There is a mismatch between how students learn and how they are being taught in many schools. But there is also a mismatch between what teachers are being asked to do and what they know is the right thing to do.

Fundamental changes need to happen in many schools who have forgotten the main purpose that they exist. We are here to kindle. We are here to inspire. We are here to encourage. A child may not have a reason to get up every day, but something should be so exciting at their schoolhouse, that they can't wait to get out of their house and head there. There should be at least one class, besides study hall, that kids are excited to get into. Not because we entertain them, but because we have captivated them. They are excited.

Learning should be fun. It should be a blast! Students should be excited. Teachers should too. But I refuse to believe all is lost. Sometimes, you can be lost in a bad neighborhood but are just one block over from your destination. Many schools have taken a wrong turn and leadership will get them back in the right place.

But let me tell you, the wrongest turn for you as a teacher is to let suck-y things sour your attitude and your perspective on the bright, wriggling hope sitting in those seats before you today. We cannot let the frustrations and injustices of life keep us from admiring and respecting the profession that is most noble.

Remember your noble calling teacher and let the respect of this profession rekindle in our hearts and minds as we know and recognize that who we are and what we do is vital to society's future. Whether society itself recognizes or appreciates us or not, we are here as watchmen on the wall and will do our duty to guard these children, cast out the 1% among us who are fools and shouldn't be teaching kids anyway, and we will do our best every day whether anyone notices or cares.

We love our students and are giving our lives every day to help them love learning. And that, my friends, is kool aid worth drinking.


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Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis is a full-time classroom teacher and IT Director in Georgia, USA. She is Mom of three, wife of one, and loves talking about the wise, transformational use of technology for teaching and doing good in the world. She hosts the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast which interviews teachers around the world about remarkable classroom practices to inspire and help teachers. Vicki focuses on what unites us -- a quest for truly remarkable life-changing teaching and learning. The goal of her work is to provide actionable, encouraging, relevant ideas for teachers that are grounded in the truth and shared with love. Vicki has been teaching since 2002 and blogging since 2005. Vicki has spoken around the world to inspire and help teachers reach their students. She is passionate about helping every child find purpose, passion, and meaning in life with a lifelong commitment to the joy and responsibility of learning. If you talk to Vicki for very long, she will encourage you to "Relate to Educate" or "innovate like a turtle" or to be "a remarkable teacher." She loves to talk to teachers who love their students and are trying to do their best. Twitter is her favorite place to share and she loves to make homemade sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls and enjoys running half marathons with her sisters. You can usually find her laughing with her students or digging into a book.

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Vicki Davis writes The Cool Cat Teacher Blog for classroom teachers everywhere