Just a Teacher
By Shawna Metcalf, CSTA President
“I am just a teacher, there is only so much I can do.” How many times have you heard a colleague say this? Have you said it yourself? For me, the phrase became “I am just a Teacher Specialist.” It wasn’t until I had an opportunity to hear Dr. Stephen Pruitt speak at the California Science Education Conference a couple of years ago that I realized just how self-deprecating statements like that actually are and the harm it does to our profession. Yes, as educators, there is quite a bit out of our control, but what we do control is where we find the most rewards. I would like to take a moment to focus on the impact we have through a couple of snapshots of our profession I have experienced firsthand.
There is a girl in second grade who has been a UCLA fan for the entirety of her seven years. It was just expected that this would be the school for which she would cheer and aspire to attend. That all changed because of her second-grade teacher, an avid Arizona Wildcat. This teacher has spent seven hours a day, five days a week, since early August with her students. For many of her students, she spends more time with them while awake then their parents are able. She is the predominant adult in their young lives. She wields this position of power with energy and a passion that resonates with her students, sparking curiosity, fostering a love of learning, believing in her students, and teaching them to believe in themselves. She plans out her lessons, stresses over getting everything done, takes work home, and often feels like there is still so much more she should be doing. Not all of her students are successful, but she has made a difference in the life of at least one young girl who, much to her parent's chagrin, is now aspiring to be a wildcat. I asked this second-grader why her teacher is special and she went on and on about how her teacher helps her be a scientist. This teacher is not the exception to the teaching profession; she is NOT just a teacher. She is A TEACHER.
There is a nurse in the oncology ward of a local hospital. Last year, she saw the first initial and last name of a patient fighting metastatic breast cancer who had been admitted the night before. She got emotional because she had only seen that last name once before; it was the name of her high school science teacher. Even though it was not her patient, she went to the room to see if her suspicions were correct. She knew immediately that the woman in the bed was not her teacher, but asked if they were related. Turns out, she was talking to her teacher’s mother. She told the patient that before that teacher, she thought she hated science, but it was hard to hate science when your teacher loves what she does. She said it was the “easiest hard class” she ever had because her teacher never gave up on her and always “made it real”. When she finally ran into her teacher, she was surprised that after six-year with over 180 students per year, her teacher recognized her, remembered her, and was proud of her. In less than 186 hours over the course of a school year, this young woman’s life was changed for the better because her teacher loved her profession and believed in her students. This teacher is not the exception to the teaching profession; she is NOT just a teacher. She IS a teacher.
Even though from the outside it may look easy, what we do as educators is not easy and not without challenges. So much of what we deal with on a daily basis is completely out of our control, yet we still manage to make an impact on those we teach. We do this through the relationships we build, sharing our passion for science, and simply being there for our students. You can ask any adult out there who their favorite teacher was and they will have an answer. They probably won’t even have to think about it. If you asked them why I bet they would not say “they were just a teacher” so why shortchange ourselves. I for one, will no longer look at a problem out of my control and say I am just a teacher. Instead, I will focus on what I can and will accomplish and the difference I can and will make. I am so much more than the word just; we all are. We are TEACHERS!