The College is known in large part for its School of Education. We’ve been hailed as one of the finest teacher training programs in the state, and about a quarter of our students are seeking some kind of education degree. Given this legacy, students here should be proud of our education majors. The College should also be a safe haven from the atmosphere of Gov. Chris Christie-era New Jersey, where teachers are too often scapegoated anddemonized.
Unfortunately, it feels as though students at the College have adopted these ideas. For some reason, there is a pervasive belief that anyone who passed third grade is capable of teaching it. It’s not uncommon to hear snide remarks about how stupid education majors are or how easy education classes must be.
As an education major myself, I’ve been the recipient of more than a few negative remarks about the relationship between my intelligence and my chosen major. A friend’s boyfriend once told her that he had thought I was smart until he discovered that I was an education major, and I’ve been forced to listen to more than one acquaintance who thinks I’m wasting my time and talent by going into teaching.
People seem to feel that there’s no way that working around children can be as hard as conducting scholarly research or working in an office. People act as though I wouldn’t want to teach if there was something else I could be doing.
These attitudes are offensive, not only because they insult the hard-working and talented students in the education department, but because they undermine the legitimacy of our profession.
Like any field, teaching attracts professionals for a variety of reasons, but I have yet to meet an educator who chose to teach because it was the only job he or she was capable of doing. The worst part, though, is that anti-teacher attitudes are more than an obnoxious nuisance for education majors. They’re the philosophical underpinnings of legislation like Chris Christie’s tenure reform bill, which targets teachers’ job security under the assumption that teachers are stupid, selfish and indifferent to their students.
Talk to any education major and you’ll find this isn’t true. Talk to students in the Deaf or Spanish education programs, who are required to be bilingual. Talk to elementary and early childhood majors, whose boundless creativity and patience is essential for keeping students interested in school before they grow cynical and disengaged. Talk to secondary education majors, who are skilled in topics like physics and grammar that many people struggle with in high school. Talk to music and art education majors, who use their artistic vision to spark students’ creativity, or to urban and special education majors, who reach out to students who are most likely to drop out.
Talk to anyone, student or professional, who works in the field of education, and they will tell you that good educators are anything but stupid, and what we do is nowhere close to easy. And we do it not for money or prestige, but because there’s something profoundly worthwhile about the hard, demanding work of inspiring our countless students.
Teaching is a profession that’s all about respect. It’s about seeing the best in your students and pulling it out of them, even when the work seems daunting and the rewards are scant. As education majors, we’re not asking for big paychecks or extravagant compensation. All we ask is for is respect — a little recognition of the good we’ve chosen to do with every day of our careers.