The Nobility of Teaching

noble |ˈnōbəl|: having or showing fine personal qualities or high moral principles and ideals:

A couple of months ago I was selected as a finalist for Durham Teacher of the Year. As part of the process I was given an intense packet of questions to answer. The question over which I sweated the most went something like this, "If you are selected as Durham Teacher of the Year, what will be your message to teachers, legislators, and parents?" You would not believe how much time I spent agonizing over this question. I knew what I wanted to say, but not how my message would be received. A singular thought kept materializing in the back of my mind. Though the thought seemed so nebulous and idealistic that it was difficult to give it the verbal weight that it deserved. A series of blog posts written this week by a friend, Erica Speaks, has prompted me to revist my answer.

Had I won Durham Teacher of the Year my message to educators, legislators, parents and anyone else who would listen would have been as follows. Teaching is a noble profession. As idealistic as this sentiment sounds, I believe in it whole-heartedly. In an age where teachers are looked down upon as those who "cannot do" this belief has me at my desk at 6 am, staying until 4 pm, running down professional development anywhere, networking with anyone, and drawing inspiration from everyone. Backing up, I guess the more important question is why I believe that teaching is a noble profession in the first place.

If I am to start at a simple surface level, there are precious few professions where you can legitimately say that you play an active role in shaping the future. Take a moment and think about how much time students spend with their teachers. In many cases we have more contact hours with, and more influence on, students than do their parents. It is teachers that help students understand the world around them, teach them to think critically, ignite their curiosity, and prepare them to operate as informed citizens. Often teachers are the ones that spend time cleaning up the pieces of broken relationships, teaching students to fight fair, and letting them know that they can succeed. Teachers are the ones who cling fervently to the belief that all students can succeed. We are the ones that tell students that they can have a better life for themselves. We are the ones who help them, maybe for the first time, to believe in themselves and speak out for that which they hold dear. In short we take one of society's most active roles in helping the future find itself.

With regards to our economic value to the states in which we teach ... let's be honest, in many ways the future of states hinges on the classroom. Legislators, you say that you want to create jobs, ignite innovation, and charge towards the future? You're not going anywhere without a workforce that is prepared for the jobs you want to create. Whose going to get that preparation done? The teachers. Wouldn't it be a wonderful thing if teachers were compensated/respected in such a manner that the best and brightest graduating from top universities in your state were drawn into your schools. A team of 100 incredible teachers in a high school will turn out 1000 well prepared students per year. Seems like an impressive return on investment to me. Yet teachers labor on as seemingly disposal parts of a giant machine.

We teach in an era where there is sustained public outcry for a better educational system. Where legislators want to turn out students ready for 21st century jobs. Where classroom sizes are getting bigger. Where the eyes of the country are constantly on us and never satisfied. Where we are asked to prepare the country for the future with slashed budgets and stagnant salaries. You think other highly educated professionals would endure such conditions? So teachers, never forget that our profession is a noble profession. In the face of crushing expectations and meager resources we soldier forward with the knowledge that the future is in our hands and a slight smirk on our face because we know that those launching barbs wouldn't be able to do so had it not been for a teacher.