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The Lookout | February 28, 2021

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Robin’s Rant: I want to be a teacher

Robin’s Rant: I want to be a teacher
  • On March 31, 2020

By Robin Morales
Associate Editor

Before he became a Pulitzer-Prize winning author, Frank McCourt taught for 30 years in four New York high schools. He wrote the following passage in his memoir, “Teacher Man.”

“In America, doctors, lawyers, generals, actors, television people and politicians are admired and rewarded. Not teachers. Teaching is the downstairs maid of professions.”

Almost everything I saw in high school reflects this:

* The parents emailing teachers demanding to know how their brilliant child is somehow underperforming in class;

* Parents asking if there is any extra credit available so their student can keep his or her precious four-point and go to Harvard;

* The state standardized tests spitting in the face of pedagogy;

* The inadequacy of teachers’ wages.  

Even the vocation of teaching is made into something of a joke. I’ve been told, “Oh, those poor little teachers aren’t paid anything and, who in their right mind wants to wage war every day with students?”

I do. Me. I’m going to be a teacher. I’ve wanted to be a teacher since I was in elementary school. There’s nothing else I want to do. Nothing anyone says will change my desire to be a high school teacher.

Now, it would be dishonest if I said that was always true. I wish I could say that I was always so bold and self-assured.

The truth is I wasn’t confident until I got to college. In fact, I used to be embarrassed to say I wanted to be a teacher because adults, friends and family members would ridicule me.

Most of the time it was subtle. The ridicule could be little smirks, as if what I said was cute or unimportant. Or it could take the form of suggestions to get a doctorate and be a professor, something “good enough.”

It’s impossible not to internalize these things. I imagine students who are actors, painters, designers and so on understand best. When people would tell me all the reasons that being a teacher was a bad idea, I believed them. It seemed like they meant well and didn’t want me to have a career full of disappointment and hardship.

It took me a while to see that they missed the point. I’ve known that teaching is one of the most underappreciated, underpaid professions. I know that I have “no idea what I’m getting myself into” (does anyone?). I know those things. And I don’t care.

When I was finally honest with myself, that drive, that passion, that unrelenting desire to be a teacher was still there. It always has been. I just had to say yes.