I hate to admit this, but I used to think teachers had it pretty easy.
Sure, there were a few difficult students, a handful of demanding parents and pretty dismal salaries, but it seemed obvious that teaching's relative job security and summers off more than made up for those negatives.
I know I wasn't alone in this belief. After all, how hard can a profession be if the most common aphorism used to describe it is, "Those who can, do, and those who can't, teach"?
The answer, class, is really, really hard. (And thank you for raising your hands before responding.)
After seven months of brain-exploding teacher certification coursework, five months of classroom observations and three four-hour state tests, I now believe the aforementioned should be rewritten to read: "Those who can, do, and those who can and explain exactly how to do what they can do to fidgety 6-year-olds and hormonal 16-year-olds well enough that those students can demonstrate knowledge via observable measurements, teach."
I know it's wordy, but it is the most accurate statement of the reality of teaching.
Journalists tend to think they're pretty smart. I was no exception, and so I naively thought entering teaching would be manageable. It took me about two weeks to realize that it is one thing to know how to do something well and quite another to be able to teach that something to someone else.
To do the former takes knowledge, perseverance and skill. To do the latter takes knowledge, perseverance, skill, a creative mind, the patience of Job and hours and hours of lesson planning - not to mention a ton of caffeine and the work ethic of a carpenter ant.
Think I'm exaggerating? Try this: Pick a simple task such as baking a cake or hitting a grounder in baseball. Now, write down every step involved, and notate how you would explain it to someone who has never seen a kitchen or a baseball. Then, modify those steps so a student with autism, one who is blind and three who can't read this sentence can understand what you are teaching while you are teaching the "regular" students rounding out your classroom. Now imagine repeating that sequence six hours a day, with two to six different subjects, 36 of the 52 weeks a year.
Still sound like the definition of "Those who can't, teach"?
Teaching is the profession upon which all others depend, and yet so much of what happens in an effective classroom is invisible to the public. I believe this invisibility is what leads many of us to generally underappreciate the teaching profession. It's as though we think students learn to read, write and compute by osmosis. But they don't: They learn from teachers who spend untold hours outside the classroom - during their evenings, weekends and that summer "vacation" other people envy - preparing for what has to happen inside the classroom so children learn.
Our educational system isn't perfect; there's much to fix in an overburdened, underfunded structure. Increasingly, teachers are faced with children who have never seen a book before entering kindergarten and teens whose parents deal drugs out of the back bedroom - and could care less if Johnny does his homework. Indeed, considering what many schools are up against, it's a miracle any learning takes place.
But it does, due to the dedicated men and women in our classrooms who not only can, but do.
Renée Schafer Horton is in the post-baccalaureate teacher preparation program at Pima Community College. She is the former higher education reporter for the Tucson Citizen newspaper. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org