During The Faculty Room's last cycle, contributors responded to claims that teaching is an overrated career. Greg Farr titled his rejoinder "The Greatest Calling of All." Gerry Kosater opened with the line, "A career in teaching is more meaningful than any other profession."
This refrain isn't new. Neither is my opposition to its Hollywood incarnations, but my reaction has reached a boil and I really have to ask three questions:
Is It True?
Is this the noblest, greatest, most meaningful profession? The impossibility of measuring nobility aside (much less ranking nobility) hypothetically, is teaching noble?
Maybe. But the reasoning in both posts — that every successful person was, at one point, taught — is thoroughly unconvincing. Can't we say the same of every thief, rapist, and murderer? And how many people have succeeded in spite of their teachers? Are we claiming we're the noblest on average? That the Escalantes balance out the Letourneaus? How can we perpetuate the absolute nobility of a job in which so many people freely perform ignoble deeds?
What Good Is It?
Perhaps this incantation serves as some compensation for those teachers who elected this job out of self-sacrifice, social obligation, a "calling," or another emotional impetus which — I point out in full disclosure — I almost certainly do not share.
In short, for a lot of teachers, the refrain feels good to say. It feels good to hear.
What Harm Is It?
Lots, where I work, where I aim at professional work in a job which doesn't demand professionalism. Daily, I leap at and sometimes clear a bar which exists only in my head, in the work ethic I have self-imposed, a bar which in reality hovers shin high. Can I tell you: the friction between what my job asks of me and what I ask of myself is spectacular.
I want teaching to be a viable option for professionals — for people motivated more by the challenge this job offers an intelligent, persistent worker than by noble aspirations1 — and, towards that goal, these refrains are an impediment.
Because professionals do not issue bulletins proclaiming their nobility. Professionals proclaim heightened standards of care and increasingly rigorous self-critique. Professionals fight for and maintain their public's trust.
Tell me how we earn that trust when we protect the worst among us from oversight, when we shun professional standards even in the abstract, when we then sing this nobler-than-thou hymn on the doorstep of the same white- and blue-collar workers who pay our salaries?
These poems and platitudes give the impression that we are fine over here — further recompense unnecessary — content in our cloud of self-importance. But I am not fine. I need more from my 60-hour work week, more from my career, and more from my job than poems and platitudes.