My Thoughts on Being a “Teacher”

The professional title of teacher has many connotations, and to be honest, in the past I’ve tended to avoid it. I prefer: educator, mentor, leader, instructor, coach, learning facilitator and any number of alternative terms. The problem with being a teacher is how negatively we’re viewed by society. That looking down the nose hurts.

The closest equivalent term to teacher is, in my mind, lecturer. They are both nouns derived from verbs, and the verbs are not constructivist. Although most of my alternate names are similarly derived, the verbs have a better tone. An educator has a broader scope; an instructor has specialized knowledge. Perhaps even more importantly a teacher teaches knowledge. A coach coaches people; a mentor guides people; a leader supports people. The terms refer to the youth, to the students, rather than the act of knowledge transmission.

So, am I partial to being a teacher? No. But I recognise that the term won’t change. Furthermore, I’m committed to garnering the respect that any leader of youth, any mentor, any (*shudder*) teacher deserves. So I’ll work hard under this title, and do what I can to change the connotations.

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11 thoughts on “My Thoughts on Being a “Teacher”

  1. I find it interesting that you try to avoid the connotations of being a professional when it comes to teaching. I understand where you are coming from, and teachers are treated poorly by other professions, but I have always felt the need to uphold the fact that we as teachers are in fact professionals.

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    • I don’t want to hide from being a professional – I think it’s really important that we recognize the professionalism of our career choice (while simultaneously questioning what that professionalism means.) Rather, my issue is with the title of “Teacher” and what that word means to people. For many, it summarizes in one word all of the terrible experiences they felt while going through adolescence. I’d prefer some other word, to separate our profession from those negative connotations.

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  2. Interesting – these common sense connotations have power – at the bargaining table, at the bar, in public… ‘teacher’ can be dismissed for lots of reasons. Is the term redeemable? Professional Educator? I also think that this power is not just to dismiss the work of teachers. Think about a room full of parents, waiting for their child’s teacher to address them. They know – they are silent, their memories of school and of teachers flood back and they easily fit into the structures that they remembered from youth. It may not be fully redeemable, but teacher is a powerful word.

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    • I don’t know if the title redeemable or not. If it is, it’s a battle for the decades, not the years. A battle worth having? Almost definitely.

      The power you reference is real. And, through our profession, we have access to it. But I think we need to reflect, long and hard, if we want that power. I’ll use an example from my sail instructor life. There are a couple of older coaches who have been around for years. The younger coaches and sailors hang off every word they say, and accept it as gospel. I spend a lot of my time working with the younger coaches, convincing them to question everything they know about the sport, and about teaching. To build up their own knowledge and beliefs from arguments that make sense to them. From first principles. I explained this to one of the older coaches who responded by saying “You know, I’m okay with them listening to whatever I have to say.” I told him that I never wanted to be in that position, where people believe everything I have to say without critical thought – I know how many mistakes I make! I don’t need people following in those footsteps unquestioningly.

      Do we as teachers really want that power over our students, and even their parents, thirty years later? If that the kind of institutional force that supports community, cooperation, transparency, and continuous development? Think of Uncle Ben – this great power comes with great responsibility.

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  3. I agree that being a “teacher” isn’t always construed positively – but do you think that engineering a change in our titles, perhaps to “educator” or “facilitator”, might actually change people’s attitudes towards our profession?

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    • You’re right of course. Changing our title won’t fix our problems. In the same way, changing our curriculum hasn’t changed our racism. But titles, words – these are important. They can represent powerful ideas. Take for example eastern Ukraine. If you call it Eastern Ukraine, you’re saying something VERY different. So, will a title change our profession, no. But do words matter? They do. They are extremely powerful and we need to be cognizant of the weight that “Teacher” currently bears.

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  4. Zachary I can not agree more with you. For my entire grade twelve year I would avoid talking about my plans for university and often say, “at the moment I’m just going to the university to test the waters.” Looking back on it now I have to laugh that I was that worried about what certain people thought of my life choices. I have to question if there is a chance that teachers will ever be seen as professionals or will we always be stuck in the shadows of other professions such as nurses.

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    • I’ve felt very much the same about my degree! When people say to me, “Oh you’re studying to be a teacher?” I have to bite my tongue or I’ll respond, “Well, I’m taking my Bachelor of Education which will give me the qualification required to become a teacher, yes.” The social pressures I feel as an aspiring teacher are huge, and I often don’t know how to address them.

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  5. Pingback: Community of Learning? Isn’t that Just a Fancy Term for “School?” | Jordan Stewart

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