Things I Know 341 of 365: We are not doctors or lawyers

Life is filigree work. What is written clearly is not worth much, it’s the transparency that counts.

– Louis-Ferdinand Celine

When people hear “teacher” two things happen, they think of the teachers they’ve had and they think of all teachers. If they are parents, these people also think of the teachers their children have or have had in class.

Teacher pulls in images of the specifically personal and the generally vague.

Often, teachers find themselves working to elevate the prestige of the profession to the level of doctors, lawyers and other similarly regarded careers. I understand the comparison and the temptation to make it.

Teachers aren’t doctors or lawyers. They do not enjoy the same social distance as those professions.

The regard given medical and legal practitioners comes from the foreign nature of what they do. Though average Americans might know and be related to a doctor or lawyer, they do not spend the first 13-17 years of their lives in courtrooms or operating rooms. They know enough to understand the role of each profession in society, but not enough to feel as though they understand the minutia. If forced, the average person would likely feel comfortable running a classroom. They wouldn’t, I’d wager, feel the same sense of comfort if forced to defend or prosecute someone on trial or perform a surgery.

Thanks to television, they would have the jargon, but not the level of comfort appropriate to the moment.

Teaching is familiar. It is accessible through our memories.

We have spent hundreds of hours watching teachers. We’ll just do what we saw them do. What we did not see, we cannot know to do.

The familiarity of teaching keeps it from aligning with other practices similarly dedicated to the furthering and preservation of society. Teaching is visible, participatory and engrained in the lives of citizens. This works against the profession as it attempted to elevate itself.

Teaching must become wholly and completely familiar rather than working away from public access.

I received this horrendous email from today about a mother who arrived at her son’s school to find him tied inside a bag meant as therapy for his autism. What the teacher did was unconscionable. It is also what the public of Mercer County and anyone who hears the story will know of Mercer schools. This will be the practice of Mercer teachers when they come up in conversation. Few will know or speak of the thousands of moments of kindness, care, professionalism, and wisdom that happened the same day and every day that follows at Mercer schools.

The gross familiarity with schooling has long been the handicap in elevating the profession. Let us then reverse that. Make all of teaching and schooling public. Make transparent the pieces children and parents did not see as students. Show the complexity of practice inherent in moving a diverse classroom of students toward learning, and esteem and regard will accrue. Respect for the work of teachers lies not in the further drawing of the curtain, but in the opening of it.


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