I had a conversation with a friend over the weekend about her fears of going into the teaching profession because she felt she would be doing something “too stereotypical” and abandoning her potential role as female professional. I avoided the K-12 arena for a long time for somewhat similar reasons. My mother was a teacher and I pretty much avoided being anything like my mother. Which is too bad for me, actually, because I might have had a longer, stronger career path in this area had I not still been in some kind of rebellion mode.
I told my friend that at least in STEM areas (both her area and mine), I felt like a role model for my students and not like I had copped out of an industry job by becoming a teacher. It’s sad that teaching doesn’t have the clout it should have and that teachers, male or female, are not seen as role models. This article from the New York Times that circulated widely among educators over the weekend explains the situation well.
When I look back–way back–at what I wanted to be, I always wanted to be in education in some way. I avoided teaching K-12 not just for the rebellious reasons mentioned earlier, but also because (being a child of the 70s) I wanted more and I sensed that teaching was not a respected profession. The pay was low (I could tell that even as a kid), the hours were long, and there was that stupid saying, “Those who can’t, teach.”
Would I have liked to be Catarina Fake? Sure. But the way I look at it is that I’m doing more than that. I’m creating (potentially) hundreds of Catarina Fakes. I’m planting seeds that will hopefully grow into gardens and forests that will prosper in this complex world.
Women gravitate toward teaching for a variety of reasons, some of which have to do with the very practical needs of parenting. Certainly society encourages pursuing teaching as a career for women, often over more “rigorous” careers in industry. And women are encouraged to be nurturers, a role they can take up quite readily as a teacher. What I wish people understood is how difficult teaching is, how you really have to be on your toes, be learning constantly, be ready for almost anything, be constantly thinking not just in the classroom but outside of it. And I’m not even talking about the class prep or the grading. I wish people didn’t see it as a cop out. I personally feel that my students see me as a role model and respect me. I only wish that the greater society did as well.