One of the joys and challenges of our UWB program is that we are already starting to set standards for ourselves as to what kind of teachers we will be. We have to uphold these standards for ourselves and I think we are beginning to expect that the rest of our cohort will be doing the same for themselves. Beyond our cohort, we should be able to hold our future co-teachers to similar standards and the moral, ethical obligations we hold inherent in teaching. We should be able to rely on each other for support the way I know my dad relied on his fellow Airmen during his time in service, the way my brother relies on his fellow firefighters and the way my artist boyfriend relies on his artist friends. This is not just friendship, it’s a mutual understanding of the work, the struggle, and the deeper call to participate in that particular field. If we are going to take up work like the work Lisa Delpit advocates, then I want to know that my work is being supported in the classroom next door and the teacher there and the teachers across the country have similar feelings of moral obligation to our students and to each other. Simultaneously, we have to share our success and failures and works-in-progress with each other and make our profession–the hours, the effort–more visible to the public. If we demand that the public treats us better and change popular opinion about our stature as a “real” career, then perhaps we should begin behaving like one as a whole.
I once attended a lecture given by Geoffrey Canada, and I remember specifically his opinions on one of the first steps we should take to improve schools in America–treat our teachers like the professionals we expect them to be. We do not expect doctors and computer scientists to run the same gamut year in and year out. We expect them to be innovative and try new things and take (acceptable) risks. And they get paid a corresponding salary. Why shouldn’t this be extended to teaching? We would never allow doctors to practice medicine or lawyers prosecute criminals without the appropriate credentials and experience; why should we allow teachers teach without proving dedication to this “role orientation” described by Buchmann:
“role-oriented teachers…placed themselves within a larger picture in which colleagues, the curriculum, and accountability figured in some fashion. They looked outwards rather than inward…[T]hey felt bound by obligations; the personal element in their responses was framed by a sense of the collective” (536).
It seems that while our work is easily ignored, we are highly susceptible to quick criticism and judgement. It seems unfair to me that people can freely insult what I do, think that my career choice is due to some personal failure, yet expect me to achieve the results promised to them by politicians and/or other well-meaning member of the education discussion, without paying me for the time and energy required by innovation. And it is easy for them to do this because the effects of our work are not immediate and definitely not immediately measurable. It is not life or death or life and imprisonment, but we are the difference between a thoughtful life and an unfulfilling life. Maybe this is overreaching, the bright-eyed optimism of a preservice teacher to think teachers have this kind of power and efficacy in an individual’s life. But if us teachers as a community want our profession to receive the respect we know it deserves, we should work to elevate its status by agreeing with each other that competency is a requirement, just like any other profession.
The more time I spend with this cohort in this specific program, the more complex my feelings and understanding of the profession become and I am asking questions just as fast as the information is coming in. Although I think that is one of the best benefits of having this cohort, I have to wonder how much push-back and hesitancy we are going to receive when we are out there as certified, practicing teachers. But I do feel encouraged that coming out of this cohort, I will not be the only advocate.