Bless Your Heart (and other things teachers hear way too often)...

Monday, September 26, 2016 / 2 comments
Do you ever think about the way the teaching profession is viewed by those who don't teach? I do, and I'm not always thrilled with what I see! | Teacher Politics |

When talking with new people (on airplanes, at parties, in the check-out line at Target, etc.), I usually tell them I’m a teacher. This makes sense. I am a teacher. 

What always interests me, however, are peoples’ responses. Inevitably, people react positively to finding out I’ve spent the last 13 years or so as a public school teacher. And that makes sense. After all, teachers are considered fairly trustworthy in national polls.

I’ve noticed, however, that peoples’ initial responses, while positive, often include some comment that indicates that my job, while respectable, was…cute. Nice, but ultimately, more of a “touchy-feely” job than a truly interesting profession worthy of further discussion. In other words, I heard a lot of: 

Bless your heart. It takes a very special person to work with those students...
(Whenever I revealed that I taught students with learning and emotional support needs for over a decade)

Wow, I don't know HOW you do that. I could never deal with THOSE kids all day...
(After I tell them I teach/taught middle-schoolers, high-schoolers, "at-risk" learners, Special Education)

Summers off must be awesome though, right?
(If I made the mistake of complaining about any aspect of my profession)

The Simpsons lisa simpson season 4 episode 1 doctor
If only I had Lisa's confidence level...

It was actually these types of conversations that first got me interested in blogging. Why is it, that a job people seem to think so highly of when polled, seem to illicit such patronizing responses? Or, was I just overreacting? (A distinct possibility, I'll admit.)

With that in mind, I decided to begin a completely unscientific experiment. I started telling people about the other things I do when they asked about my profession. 

My experiments were definitely as scientific as whatever the Science Guy is doing here...

Experiment #1: Holiday Party at Husband's Office:
Husband's Co-worker: So what do you do for a living?
Me: I'm a freelance writer.
Husband's Co-worker: That's awesome! People pay you to write? That's seriously amazing. What do you write? Where could I see your work?
Me: I write for a few educational websites. I'm a teacher primarily, so I write about education issues, I write book reviews about educational books, that sort of thing.
Husband's Co-worker: That is SO great. Good for you. I bet your husband is so proud of having a published author as a wife.

Now, this was my first time telling someone I did anything other than teach for a living, so I thought it might just be a fluke. That being said, I'd be lying if I said that I didn't enjoy the enthusiastic response I received. It was fun to have people genuinely interested in my work. It didn't even seem to matter when I told people that I wasn't "making a living" as a writer and that I still was teaching for the majority of my salary. Just the fact that someone other than a family member was actually paying me for my writing was impressive. I had never experienced such enthusiasm for my work as a teacher.

Ok, I thought, but that was just one time...what if I wasn't getting paid for my writing?

Experiment #2: Conversation with a Pharmaceutical Sales Rep on a flight to Disney World:
I took the spot next to the stranger on the way down to Disney World with my family. He didn't look thrilled about the prospect of sitting next to small children. Still, he was very polite and eventually struck up a conversation while passing me my bag of peanuts.

Sales Rep: I'm heading to Orlando for a conference. I'm in pharmaceutical sales.
Me: Oh, that's great! My husband did pharmaceutical sales briefly. Obviously, we're headed to Disney World. I'm a writer.
Sales Rep: A writer? That's great! What do you write?
Me: Um, actually...I'm half-way through my first novel. It's a historical romance novel set in Regency England.  (Totally true, by the way. It's pretty good, actually, if I do say so myself. Maybe I'll let you read it when I'm finished.)

I braced myself for a quick end to the conversation or at least some goodhearted mockery. After all, I had just claimed that my "profession" was an unpublished romance novelist.

Image result for on a plane
Truthfully, when I fly I usually just put on headphones and hope no one talks to me.

Sales Rep: You've written half of a novel? That's great! Romance is a really popular genre too, isn't it? I bet you'll be able to get it published without any problems.
Me: That's would be wonderful. As crazy as it sounds, romance novels are the most widely published of all genres...
Sales Rep: Really, that's interesting.

What followed was one of the most enjoyable conversations I've ever had on a plane. Truly! He told me a lot about what went into being a successful sales representative for a pharmaceutical sales company. I told him all about the world of romance publishing. It was a fun conversation. 

From what I have observed doing this experiment numerous times - sometimes telling people I'm a teacher, sometimes a writer, occasionally someone who creates and sells educational resources online, I have found that when I say teacher, people respond very positively. They compliment me for having the heart, the patience, the stamina to put up with kids. And then the conversation ends. When I tell I'm a writer or a creator of educational resources, they're interested, intrigued. They want to know more. 

Ok, maybe not THIS interested, Angela Lansbury, but STILL....

If you're a teacher, I encourage you to give this a try. Do you blog? Tell people you're an educational blogger before you tell them you teach and see what they say. If you sell teaching resources on Teachers Pay Teachers or some other site, tell them that. I'd be interested to hear if you experience the same thing.

As I continue to write here, you'll undoubtedly see me grappling with various versions of the same question:

If everyone agrees that teachers are SO great,
why does it seem like we're struggling so hard for the respect we deserve?

I don't claim to have all the answers. I might be overreacting to what I see as the huge problem of undervaluing education in our nation...but if, like me, you've ever felt like teachers aren't given the respect they deserve, I hope you'll come back and visit me often. I'm looking forward to beginning this conversation with you.


  1. A colleague recently posited that this lack of respect is really OUR fault. He feels that we need to start behaving more like other "white collar professions" and stop being so afraid of the people who say that if we ask for higher salaries or better working conditions we aren't really "in it for the kids." What do you think?

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