Sunday, April 1, 2012

Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite

The French had it right when they decided that "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity" should be the goals of their Republic. I believe that teachers, also, benefit when we interpret these ideals for ourselves.

I often lament the thing that most frustrates me about my particular job, and that is the inordinate amount of correcting I must do. Before I settled down today to grade quizzes, reader responses, active viewing charts, and unit projects, I weighed my teacher bag. 17.2 pounds. The equivalent of a 6-month-old baby. I should have bulging biceps by now (I don't). But that baby is mine, mine, mine. I chose to have that baby. So I really shouldn't complain too much, right? I really shouldn't so vociferously discourage those in teacher prep programs to avoid my discipline, right? I really should buckle down and just do it, right? Right. Same goes for complaining about my pay (we should get paid what others with our equivalent degrees get paid), or my too-early wake-up time (it's inhuman to rise at 4:45 a.m.), or having to dress professionally (I'd wear jeans and a t-shirt every day if I could). Sometimes it feels good to complain, and sometimes the complaining is necessary. But I also need to remind myself often that I. Chose. This.

Something that's always bothered me about this profession is the odd division between us - between elementary and secondary teachers, between disciplines, or between classroom teachers and specialized personnel. Somehow, we get to thinking that our jobs are the toughest, or someone else's is the the easiest. We assume that PE teachers have an "easy gig," English teachers claim they have the most correcting, elementary teachers "get to play all day," high school teachers "have so much prep time," specials teachers' classes don't count, and the list of (misguided) comparisons goes on. But I know that we all have requirements and standards and burdens and struggles that not only do we all not fully grasp, but that make each of our jobs difficult in different ways (and let's not forget that the rest of us didn't choose those other areas for a reason - most likely because we couldn't hack it there).

Most importantly, though, we are a union, some of us by formal definition and membership, but all of us by the labels of "teacher" and "educator." We are a  fraternity (you'll pardon the gender-specific word choice, I hope). Whether we teach private or public, young or old, struggling or gifted, core or specials, humanities or sciences, rural or urban, our common denominators are our passion, our devotion, our concern, our commitment, and our love for this work. We want to preserve our rights, fulfill our obligations, and do what is right and good for our students, always. There's no argument there. We can debate about reform, we can respectfully disagree about methodology and pedagogy, we can discuss the merits of merit pay. But when we do, we must remember that we are first brothers and sisters in this work.

And so, to all (other than high school English) teachers, I can say only this: I don't know exactly what it is you do, or even how you do it, but I know I could not do it. I do not have the desire, energy, talents, or skill set that is required of your work. I appreciate your dedication and your drive, and I am grateful to labor beside you and amongst you and call you my colleagues.

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