Today, I discovered something about myself. I have a very difficult time calling myself a teacher! While at the local copy store this morning, getting my third grade writer’s circle student newspapers made from the mock-up, the clerk said, “You must be a teacher.” She was looking at the student work on the 11 x 26 inch double-sided page I had given her in order to obtain ten copies. It was more of a question than a statement in the way she asked me. I was taken aback by my response.
“Well, I’m really a nurse who likes to teach,” I replied, before realizing what I was saying.
What?! My brain silently screamed, as I stood there looking back at the clerk. A nurse? You phony! You haven’t been a nurse in almost twenty years!
Then, I realized that I almost said, “I’m a wanna be teacher.” That much at least would have been true! I have wanted to be a teacher as long as I can remember. Believe it or not, there were no available teaching jobs when it was my time to go to college in the early 80’s. Tenured teachers were being laid off. Who wants to spend four years in college to not have a job when you are finished? Instead, I chose nursing; there were jobs.
But, you know, I am a teacher. I have taught hundreds of elementary students over the last twelve years as a garden club leader. I now have thirty-six students who have participated in writer’s circle with me over the last six years. I am a teacher. Why can’t I tell a stranger that?
It must be some weird adherence to the social norm of what a “real” teacher is. A real teacher has a license, a real teacher has a classroom, a real teacher grades student work, and a real teacher is not told they need 3 years of additional undergraduate work (on top of baccalaureate and master’s degrees in nursing and another half-finished graduate degree in environmental education) to be one. A real teacher gets a paycheck (although, some would argue that it is not enough). No, I don’t have those things. So, I must not be a “real” teacher. I cannot say that I am.
But, wait a minute. I have students who are not assigned to me by administration, but elect to come to my enrichment groups. I have students who do the work I ask them to do and give it to me to receive my feedback. I have students I care about. I have students who care about me. I have loads of people who think of me as a teacher. Then, why can’t I say it?
My response this morning was a revelation for me. It was a kind of personal wake up call. If I do not say I am a teacher – then, I am the one thinking I am not one. This stops today. I should not define myself by another educator introducing me as a “parent who does a lot of things.” I should not define myself by the lack of a license. I should not define myself by the lack of a formal classroom or title. I know what I am; I am a teacher! The next time some stranger asks, that is what I will reply.
And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go meet my writer’s circle students. We are celebrating the creation of their third grade newspaper and I am their teacher!