Pity Party

Though I have lived here for six years, I have not yet found a reliable place to get my eyebrows waxed. Last week, I went to a new salon, the Aveda in Georgetown. It is a bit pricier than other places, but I was hoping they would do a better job and then I wouldn't have to deal with the eyebrows for a while. I am not a fan of eyebrows or the waxing of them, for the record. Anyway, the loquacious waxer was asking me about myself, and I mentioned that I was a teacher. This elicited THE STANDARD TEACHER PITY PARTY. I don't know how to respond to this. (Other teachers out there, any ideas on how to be assertive without sounding defensive?) Would she stand for it if I said, "Ew, waxing, don't you just have to touch people's nasty skin all day and make small talk?" Or, if we think about the other (nether) regions that people want waxed, "How do you do such a foul job all day, and why do you succumb to the beauty industry's notion that less hair means more allure?" My guess is that these questions would not sit well with her.

So why do people keep asking teachers how they stand to be with teenagers? Or tell them how wonderful it must be to have the summer off? Or tell us that we must have a lot of patience?

First, we see the all the possibility in teenagers and actually do enjoy spending time with them. We value this important period in their lives and know that they need us to provide structure and models for them. Second, we don't just sit around all summer, at least not the motivated teachers. We recuperate from expending incredible amounts of physical, emotional, and mental energy for the past 10 months and prepare for a new year. We attend conferences that we pay for ourselves. We work on curriculum. We read. Third, patience isn't some gift that we were born with. We work at it. We understand why our students struggle and we meet them where they are. We don't expect them to already know everything and we don't expect it to be easy to teach them. But that is the challenge. That is why we need to work so hard.

So I'm tired of people who haven't taught thinking that it's easy, that they know what it involves. Or that they have the one answer for how to improve education in this country. Or that teaching is a back-up career. Or that it's possible to be a good teacher with only a summer of training. Or that works ends when the kids leave school in the afternoon. Or that smart people don't become teachers. Or that someone is too smart to be a teacher. Or worse, that the best teachers should become administrators. These insidious myths reveal only ignorance in those who hold them to be true.

Most of us are constantly learning because our education classes didn't prepare us well enough for all of the challenges that we have to meet. Don't think it's cute or rewarding to teach. There are rewards, sure, but I don't do what I do just because I like a modest salary and a fuzzy feeling. I do what I do because I think it's the most important thing I can do.

P.S. This Alexandria teacher has taught for 55 years. Awesome! But notice the hint of condescension in the reporters' voices.