August 5, 2014

I’m “Just” a Teacher. ~ Julie A. White


Not a day of my life goes by that I don’t stop for a moment, take in an invigoratingly deep breath, and thank the universe for the fact that I am a teacher.

The moments that I stop to reflect joyfully are often ironic; for example, when I’m crawling under tiny tables collecting broken crayons, or when I watch my little first grade students burst into joyful sprints, laughter echoing as they reach the school playground for recess.

When I arrive back to my empty and quiet classroom to find writing, drawings, crayons, markers, erasers, puzzles, books, and games haphazardly sticking out from every possible wrong spot, it fills me with gratitude. In the most chaotic moments of the day, I remember that this learning in progress, and the future of our world is in a teacher’s hands, and I feel blessed to work in the field of education.

Quite often, I feel the need to drink in the beauty of the universe, give thanks, and exhale positive gratitude to be part of such an exceptional field. My hope is that this sense of gratefulness, reverberates back into the universe, and hope is provided to those who may be struggling. Perhaps, in an essence, this bigger picture notion—about giving and receiving—is often what fuels me to dedicate my life toward making our future a brighter one.

When people ask me what my profession is, and I respond that I am a teacher, I receive mostly positive responses that fall into the “how sweet” category, or “I don’t know how you do it” category; but, rarely have I ever received the ignorant, infuriating, and insulting response, “you’re ‘just’ a teacher.”

At least, not until recently.

The first time I heard these words, it felt similar to when I deeply sliced my finger open while cutting an up apple (please excuse the teacher and apple correlation). I watched the knife accidentally slip and cut through my index finger deeply; but, it was seconds before my nervous system began screeching and sounding its alarms, the blood spouting out into the kitchen sink.

The day I heard someone mutter in judgment that I was “just” a teacher, it felt like a roundhouse kick to my heart.

I processed the thought between my head and my heart for several moments before my internal alarms began shrieking with pain, infuriating anger, and such an overwhelming sense of injustice, that I think my body went into shock at the crashing wave of disgusting ignorance. It has taken time to reflect upon such a disturbing comment, but like all wounds and injuries, it is imperative to think about the situation and extract the important lessons to be stronger, smarter, and better for the future.
Dear People Who Think Teachers Are just Teachers,

Let me tell you a little bit about what it means to be an educator.

Every day I walk into school with unconditional love for what I do, and inspiration. I have magic in me, you see, because I have a very special job to do. Innocent, precious, and uninhibited young people come to school with something special, too, and that is called hope. Sometimes, the hope that students carry to school is the only thing in the whole world that they own.

Imagine for a moment, students who come to school with the same, filthy clothing day in and day out. Imagine students who don’t have toys and books at home, but instead sleep on a small, crowded mattress with more than 4 children at once. Imagine children coming to school hungry, and when they leave – you’re not sure if they will eat again until they come to school the next day. Imagine little people living in such conditions, yet they are still filled with hope anyway.

Each day, I look into my students eyes as I teach them about the world, and what it means to be kind and a decent human being (not that I would expect you to understand, of course, reflecting back on your commentary), and I see that I have exactly one school year to help these children as much as I possibly can. Doing everything I possibly can means to me that I spend every waking moment creating lessons and exciting activities that will engage my students to expand their minds and broaden their horizons past the judgmental ignoramuses of the world.

Since you were so quick to judge that I am “just a teacher” I’m sure you are well aware that teachers aren’t millionaires in monetary terms by any stretch.

That is one of the concerns you had, wasn’t it? My pay scale on paper isn’t up to scale for you? A teacher’s salary doesn’t earn you bragging rights? I’m sure you will be further distressed to learn that teachers like myself spend every possible spare penny to make life better for their students. Each year I spend more money on my classroom and my students than I ever do on myself, and while this is a personal choice, I feel pretty confident that investing in our future is a solid cause. Why do I do this, when I’m so “poor” you are probably thinking?

I invest my life in education, because like my students, I have hope. I have hope for a brighter future. I have hope that I can instill respect and kindness for our future generations.

I have hope that I will be able to help eliminate prejudice and ignorance, which have so clearly blinded you and caused such disgusting commentary to come spilling out of your mouth like toxic lava.

I want to thank you, for what my esteemed colleagues and I like to call “a teachable moment.” Some might call moments like these, looking on the bright side of things, and believe me, I am. I am so looking forward to, and hoping for a day when there are less small-minded people like you polluting our world, because teachers worked so hard to eliminate such poisonous thoughts in the world.

Thank you so much for reminding me of how grateful I am to have a hand in brightening future generations, while you continue cast shadows and insults from your dark, hideous of the corner of the world. A good educator would recognize the teachable moment in this situation, that there is even hope for someone like you. Being a teacher reminds me to feel hopeful for you, and to not suffer along with you, rather, I pray that one day maybe enough love and light will soften you.

So pardon me while I continue being grateful to be “just” a teacher, because there is no greater reward to me, than feeling partially responsible for shining hope and light onto this world that so greatly needs more teachers.

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Editor: Renée Picard

Photo: elephant archives

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