Thursday, March 27th, 2014...9:19 pm

You’re Too Smart

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Every time I pass the billboard on a nearby highway that asks “Want to Teach? When Can You Start?” I want to cry. I want to get out of my car and climb up the ladder and tear that sign down. The implication is that any old person can teach. That training and intelligence are afterthoughts to signing up for (what I consider) one of the most important and difficult professions. Just because we were all students once, many assume that is qualification enough to lead a class (have you read the really great article by Sarah Blaine in the Washington Post about this same topic? You should. It’s pretty awesome.) .

There are many ways that I find my profession insulted in the media and in common conversation. My least favorite thing to hear from my students or from friends is that “I’m too smart to teach.” I wrote the following in the fall and originally published it on my old blog, Toddler Summer. Since I’ve heard this statement again from students more than once this week, I thought I’d republish it here.

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“You’re so smart,” he said, nonchalantly. “What else did you think about doing aside from teaching?”

“Yeah. You’re too smart to be a teacher. You should be something bigger. Something better.”

They say it as a compliment.

I see it as a reflection of so much that is wrong with how our society views education.

Education. The key to success. The path to knowledge. The foundation of the American Dream.

If we all really believed that? No one would call me “just” a teacher.

A few weeks ago I gave a guest lecture on Old and Middle English to a group of bright and interested seniors. As part of my Master’s Degree in English, I took a course on Beowulf in Old English and a course on the Canterbury Tales in Middle English. I took both courses at Harvard (though my degree is from Middlebury College), from experts in their field and I learned so much, became fascinated with language and its evolution. Once a year I put my language knowledge to use when I go and present to seniors. I read them the first 18 lines of Beowulf in the language that sounds completely foreign. We discuss the way language evolves, the sounds of the letters that no longer exist in our language. I read and translated Middle English from the prologue to the Canterbury Tales, explained the history of languages in England and talked about the high style that Chaucer created.

The students were fascinated, asking questions, wanting to learn.

And then they told me I was too smart to “just” be a teacher.

I’ve heard that same statement multiple times each year since I began my career fourteen years ago. I’ve heard it from students, parents, colleagues, friends.

And at the same time, I’ve felt strangers make judgments about my intelligence just moments after I tell them that I teach.

In a perfect world, teaching would be a profession where intelligence is assumed. Where the learners in the school are not just the students, but the teachers too. Where students go each day to be part of a learning community, not just part of a testing factory.

In a perfect world, teachers would be a more respected part of the educational system our society says it values. Yes, maybe this would look like material value – put your money where your mouth is. But it would also look like conversations about teachers as intellectual beings, as learners, as people who think and create and mold and coach and inspire and write and read and and and.

In a perfect world, no one would ever say I am “just” a teacher.

Too Smart

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