Saturday, April 2, 2011

In praise of teachers, Part 1

When I was growing up, I wanted to be a teacher. All of the adults I most admired were teachers--not only my own teachers, but also my parents and my aunts and uncles. I was raised to revere education. My parents sent all three of us to private preschool and kindergarten when it was not required by law...and I'm sure they made financial sacrifices to do so as we were a one-income family at the time. They believed it was important before the rest of the world acknowledged this. They both started their careers as teachers but then became a social worker and a counselor. My dad has two master's degrees and my mom has one. They didn't push college down our throats, but I always knew I'd be headed there myself. I wanted to get an education, and college was the best part of my educational experience.

For several years in high school, I actually wanted to teach emotionally disturbed children (that phrase is probably politically incorrect now). I loved to shadow my dad on his job in the inner city schools. Part of why I chose PLU was the university's excellent education department. As a freshman, I started taking the required courses for an education degree. Intro to special ed was one of the first courses I took. Getting certified in Oregon took a lot more coursework than in Washington, so one summer I took three or four classes at PCC so I would be able to graduate in four years.

Then came the fall of my junior year when I had to do a practicum in an elementary school. I shadowed a third grade old school teacher who had no control of her classroom at all--she spent most of her time yelling at them. Then I was with a kindergarten teacher who was much warmer and more connected to the children, but I will never forget the day she told a student which colors to use in a drawing. I was also disillusioned in my education coursework, because most of the classes were pass/fail and interminably boring. The most interesting ones were the teaching methods classes, specifically math and music.

Then I took an advanced composition class and the prof (who was notoriously challenging and grumpy) encouraged my writing and suggested that I consider majoring in English. That suggestion was like a spark inside of me. During the same semester, I took feminist theology and combined, those courses changed my world and my life. Even though I had no idea what I would do with an English degree, I changed my major just like that. I followed my gut instinct--not the first time I have done that! Fortunately I was able to combine my English degree and interest in teaching when I went to Japan to teach English. And as a manager, I have always enjoyed the coaching and mentoring aspect of my job.

If I had shadowed different teachers in my practicum, perhaps I would not have given up my education major. But I don't think I would have been happy as a teacher. I would have loved many things about it, specifically working with creative, engaging children. But the teaching profession requires such patience, diplomacy, and skill...and in particular, the ability to be "turned on" the entire time...that I don't think I could hack it.

That horrible saying, "Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach..." is pure bullshit. I know I don't have what it takes, and that's why I admire those who do. I'm much better suited as a writer/editor. Here's my personal motto:

"Those who can teach, do. Those who can't teach, write."


  1. I like your personal motto. But what if you an overachiever and can teach, do, and write?;)

  2. Are you describing yourself, perhaps? :)

    I didn't intend to put myself down, because I do enjoy teaching with certain limitations (and think I'm good at it in certain capacities). I just know I wouldn't have the patience to do it every day, year after year.