Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Do You Really Want to Teach?

As an educator in touch with many of my former students, I feel as if I'm on a constant wave of memories - most positive, some surprising, a few sad ones - but nevertheless, very rewarding.  And I don't mean that lightly.  I've been happily connected to Annie Hank for over a decade now.  Really?  It's been that long?  Once my 7th grade student, still our on-call babysitter, and now an educator herself, it's been so fun to watch her come into her own.  Here she reflects on her lifelong vision of being a teacher and what's coming to pass as she marches down the road with a sure-fire sense of self.  Enjoy this!  

Do you really want to teach?

Scene: It was my first day of class at Madison College. My teacher entered the classroom and
immediately noticed a middle-aged woman, who we soon learn through their not-so-private
conversation was a former student some twelve years ago. As the two catch up in front of the
whole class, it is revealed that the woman has returned to school because her previous plan of
working as a teacher had not turned out as she would have hoped. Cue the teacher bashing.
In an attempt to make the woman feel better I suppose and generate some laughter in the
classroom, my teacher proceeded to joke that she had a daughter who thought about being a
teacher. Said teacher asked daughter, “Wouldn’t you rather be a street walker or drug dealer?
They get more money and respect.” The rest of the class laughed. Fade out on me, shrugging
my shoulders and once again mustering up some reassurance that I had indeed chose the right
career path. End scene.

Throughout my pre-service teacher training and now as a licensed, but unemployed

(soon to be substitute) teacher, I’ve faced similar scenes as I found myself in last week. During
my experience in the field as a student teacher, the questioning often came from teachers
themselves. Disheartened by the political climate, the loss of collective bargaining, the looming
threat of accountability based largely on standardized test scores, and not to mention the day to
day pressures of being in the classroom, teachers sometimes questioned my decision to enter the
profession in this current state. I remember attending one of the early February 2011 protests,
standing on the steps up to the capital, listening to Mary Bell speak to what would later seem like
a small crowd. She recalled how she recently spoke to a group of pre-service teachers and had
a hard time looking them in the eye. She, the president of WEAC, was questioning my decision
to become a teacher. Couple this with the constant public attacks from the Rush Limbaughs,
the Scott Walkers, and the Average Joes of the world; it was a strange time to be a teacher-in-

As a girl who idolized teachers like her peers idolized sports figures and boy band

members, this was an unexpected question. Growing up in the liberal bubble that is Madison,
teachers, at least in my view, were always regarded with esteem and respect. Now, I faced
having to defend my decision to become a teacher. Although surprised to have to defend this
choice, I was experienced at responding to this sort of questioning. Growing up on the east side
of Madison, I had to stand up to loaded questions that went something like “You go to
Sherman?” or later “You go to East?” These were not so subtle jabs at what many outsiders
considered “ghetto” schools. These questions were often followed up by even worse insinuations
like, “do you feel safe there?” Outsiders never looked past the negative stereotypes to see the
beautiful diversity and life buzzing in these schools of mine. My eastside pride has amounted in
an appreciation for the underdog, the scrappy fighter; facing the outside bashing and
misunderstanding of the trials and challenges of the profession, becoming a teacher is just a new
part of my life that I am proud to defend.

Do you really want to be a teacher? Yes. Through all the questioning, I have never lost

confidence in my decision to become a teacher. Teaching remains the same at heart, no matter
how much others work to change and belittle the profession. Teaching, to me, is the opportunity
to connect with youth; the possibility of making a positive impact on their journey to adulthood,
the chance to help guide them along the way and help mold them into compassionate, accepting,
questioning citizens of the world. Teaching is a profession in which I find value, fulfillment, and
undoubtedly, challenge. I think the latter is the most common misconception about teaching; that
it is an easy job. Having just emerged alive from student teaching, I can tell you it is one of the
most demanding and testing professions. It’s not something you can pick up in a week or two or
that you can master in a year or two. I enter the profession knowing I have nothing on veteran
teachers for experience is so invaluable. I am hungry to grow and mature as a teacher through
time, reflection, collaboration and constant learning.

As hungry as I am, it is yet to be determined when I will get my first shot at the job. Just

having graduated from UW in May, I currently find myself in a limbo year. Committed to
working in the community where I myself was a student, I only applied to the Madison
Metropolitan School District. Due to the competitive nature of finding a job in Madison
combined with the fact that my license, Early Adolescence to Adolescence History, has turned
out to be somewhat insufficient, I have turned to plan B. For the time being, I will be subbing for
the Madison schools and working on credits at Madison College in order to attain my Broad
Field Social Studies License, which is more marketable but still a dime in a dozen. I have
channeled my optimism into my plan B. Although my favorite part of teaching is forming
relationships with students and watching them grow, as a sub, I will have to focus on my own
growth and development. I hope to transform myself into a fly on the district wall and take note
of great classroom plans, tools, and strategies so I can improve my own teaching. When I enter
the next hiring season, I plan to be a little more seasoned and well rounded through an additional
year in the classroom(s), added coursework in Social Studies, and more life experiences in
general. Until then, I remain confident in my decision to become a teacher and put all my eggs in
the MMSD basket. Hopefully someday soon an employer will reaffirm that decision!

Annie Hank is a native Madisonian and proud east sider who loves lazy mornings, gathering with friends, and retreating up north to camp or for a stay at her family’s cabin. She graduated from the UW-Madison this May with her teaching certificate and aspires to have her own history classroom that focuses on social justice issues, both past and present.


  1. From one Annie to the next, I just wanted to say how wonderful for you, Vera, to have your student enter your profession and for so many great reasons. Good to see Annie's comments about East and Sherman. My son got a good education at East High and it does get a bad rap. I also like your plan B attitude. I've always heard "It is a mark of leadership to adjust." Hang in there and good luck on the continuing job search.

    1. I thought the same thing about Annie's "Plan B" attitude. She has always been an optimist.