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I remember being in a grocery store line when someone noticed my basket full of snacks and asked if I had a daycare. I smiled and replied, “No, I am a teacher.” The stranger’s smile turned from a friendly smile to a semi-frown, full of what seemed to be concern and pity. She proceeded to touch my arm (which transparently has always made me uncomfortable with strangers) and said sadly, “Oh, wow, a teacher? Thank you for your service.” Service? I felt like I was in the military! But then, I began to think about how people often viewed teachers. Now mind you, this was pre-pandemic, but the perception of teachers pre, during, and post-pandemic has always been a fluctuating relationship of love/hate, praise/punishment, admiration/pity. After all, we have been through in the last two years; I question why anyone in their right mind would want to become a teacher!
“God ordains strength out of the mouth of babes…” – Psalms 8:2 (King James Version).
I had always had students who told me they wanted to be teachers when they grew up, but this has become rarer and rarer as of late. Be that as it may, I still have a few who want to enter this tumultuous and unpredictable world of education bravely. I want to highlight a conversation with my senior, Justin T.*, who wants to be a high school music teacher. He is a member of our school band, choir, multiple clubs, holds two jobs, and is a Student Trustee on our District School Board. This young man is goal-driven and multifaceted, thus my desire to dive into the life of someone who has seen and experienced so much in his young life and still wants to become a teacher.
Can you give me a little about your background? Family, ethnicity, culture, languages, siblings, etc.?
I was born in the [the Bay Area, California] and live with both my parents and my younger sister. My dad was born in Oaxaca, Mexico, while my mom was born in [the Bay Area, California]. I moved around quite a bit. Moving many times made me appreciate the importance of stability and downtime.
Did you always want to be a teacher growing up? If not, what did you want to be? If yes, when was your earliest memory of this desire to enter education?
Growing up, I never knew what I wanted to be. When I was younger, I didn’t have many friends. This led me to talk to adults more. Adults just seemed more interesting because they would actually listen to me. I found teachers specifically to be really interesting. They had a certain sense of humor that I understand to this day.
Has your family encouraged your desire to become a teacher?
My parents always told me, “I don’t care what you do, as long as you go to college.” When I told them I wanted to teach, they supported it since to teach; you most definitely need to attend college. The only issue they had at first was the pay. Teachers don’t get paid very well starting out, and living in the Bay Area as a teacher would be difficult. An aunt of mine is a teacher herself, and she was one of my biggest supporters when I told her what I wanted to do. She taught secondary Special [Education] and gave me advice on options for college to become a teacher.
Who was your favorite teacher in elementary or middle school, what made them a great teacher in your mind, and how did this influence you wanting to become a teacher?
My favorite teacher in middle school was probably my music teacher-he taught me what made playing music so great, playing with others, and challenging each other to do better. What made him a great teacher was how he talked to us as students. He didn’t treat us like we were in middle school. He never once made me question my worth as a music student and gave me room to grow. He let me try out different things and took my recommendations.
Without using specific names or subjects, what were the characteristics of your worst teacher, what made them stand out as bad teachers, and how did this influence what you would NOT do if you become a teacher?
I think a bad teacher does not listen to their students. They feel they always know what’s best and don’t try new things. While I believe favoritism is inevitable, I should not know if a teacher has a grudge against me. Teachers should not hold grudges against students. We are in the developing stages of our lives; we change. I am not the same person I was last year. Not just for teachers, but I think people should generally self-reflect often. If something isn’t going well, find out why. It may not be you. But if it is, you can change that.
How did your love of music influence your wanting to be a teacher?
My love for music inspired me to want to teach. I considered just performing music for a while, but that didn’t seem like the right option for me. Just performing music is not a stable job. Halfway through my sophomore year, and it seemed like things slowly came together. I began hearing the things I wanted everywhere. Hearing things like “you can make a living as a musician,” “community college is an excellent option,” and even an opportunity for a student teaching job….I began to have a clearer idea of what I wanted to do.
How does giving back to the community and/or influencing younger generations play a role in your decision to enter education?
I would like to have a positive impact on younger generations as a teacher. I think it’s important for teachers to be great learners themselves. I think all teachers should evaluate things often. If something doesn’t work, it’s okay to admit you’re wrong. My favorite teachers are the ones who make an effort to understand the [younger] generations. Many teachers of all ages learn one way to operate a classroom and stick to it their entire careers. I don’t want to be that teacher. I want to hear my students out and evaluate what I’m doing wrong.
How has being on the school board made you change your views or made you aware of things in education that you didn’t expect?
I joined the school board because I heard about the position and thought it would be interesting. I had no idea students could participate in politics, which I thought was cool since I was interested. I also wanted to do something different that not a lot of people do. I was already watching the meetings, and I was surprised by the intense drama and decided I wanted to be a part of it since I had a lot to say. When I began, I began to see a lot of issues in our district with textbooks and teachers not having supplies and things in the district budgeting programs that were worse with Covid.
The experience on the school board has made me want to be a teacher even more. I didn’t have a focus before. Now I want to be an advocate for education. What happens in education affects everything else. The people who have gone through the education system grow up and or aren’t given the right resources to be able to succeed or aren’t provided with information as to why things are the way they are. We are just told things are the way they are, and we have to accept them. As a teacher, I would make sure my students know what’s going on because they deserve to know the “whys” instead of the “just because.”
What advice would you give current teachers who are thinking about leaving the profession?
To those who want to leave teaching as a profession due to being exhausted, I would say to think about it more. I could not express the number of important teachers has in this world in one interview. While students may not appreciate you now, they will in the future if you appreciate them in the present. There is so much more to being an educator than there is in the job description. Don’t be afraid to speak up. Advocating for yourself and others is part of being in education. Whether you’re a student, parent, teacher, or community member, nothing will happen unless you speak up. If you feel your voice is not enough, teach others to use their voice. People always talk about student’s voices but I [sometimes] feel like just a token to check a box. I would make sure students have a true voice that actually means something. Give your students the resources they need to speak up. Let them form their own opinions. We need more transparency in education.
What would you say to those who question why in the world anyone would want to enter such a thankless profession?
Being a part of education is one of the most important parts of the future. Education influences every aspect of life. Teachers are more influential than celebrities/influencers, in my opinion. While yes, a celebrity can popularize a certain hairstyle or fashion trend, teachers are there for the most important stages of our lives. We learn the things we consider basic as we get older from our teachers. Our teachers influence what we want to do growing up. Maybe someone who has an excellent physics teacher will go on to become a physicist or physics teacher. One will lead to another, and in the end, we have a society full of people with all sorts of interests.
The world of education has as many flaws as anything else does. The only difference is education will affect everything else. Countries with great education systems prosper. While being an educator can be very thankless, it’s the most important job in a functioning society. The jobs that make the world go around will never get the recognition they deserve, and that’s just a part of life.
“‘Listening is the most difficult skill to learn and the most important to have.”
I listened, I learned, and I began to fall in love with the idea of teaching, as well as the impact and power of education, all over again. Thank you, Justin. I can’t wait to see the positive impact you will have on generations of students in the future!