How to React When a Stranger Says You Look Like a Teacher
By Sarah Fish
Sarah Fish is currently serving as a peer evaluator with the Empowering Effective Teachers initiative in Hillsborough County, Florida. Prior to this role, she has served as a reading and writing resource teacher (K-5), instructional consultation team facilitator (K-5), and preschool special education teacher. Sarah began her teaching career in 2001 and has worked in both Virginia and Florida. She is a member of the Hillsborough New Millennium Initiative.
A few months ago I was showing our rental property to a potential tenant when she asked me what I did for a living. After I told her, she replied: "I thought so. You look like a teacher."
I was wearing my best sweatpants, a clean T-shirt, and sneakers. My hair was pulled up in a loose ponytail. I was immediately offended! I look like a teacher? More like I was ready to do yard work. What exactly did she mean by that? Later that evening as I recounted this conversation to my boyfriend, he asked me the million-dollar question: “Why are you so offended?”
Was I offended that she presumed to know the look of a teacher? Or was I embarrassed that from looking at my yard-work attire she could guess my profession? Six months later, I still can’t tell you the exact reason, but I think it must be a combination of both. Someone shouldn’t be able to guess that I’m a teacher just by seeing me dressed in workout clothes. That isn’t how I want my profession viewed--a profession that’s constantly under the microscope to begin with.
I'm concerned that society doesn’t consider teachers to be professionals or give us the same respect shown to doctors, lawyers, and stock analysts. How were this woman’s perceptions formed? Is she basing her opinion on personal experience, or things she has read or heard others say? I wish I had asked her what she meant by her comment. Because when I look at teachers I see such a variety–different genders, classes, ethnicities, personal experiences. But does society share this woman’s view of teachers and, if so, why?
This experience has led me to two conclusions. First, as professionals we need to step up and share our experiences and expertise. Then other people will begin to understand why we need more respect. It’s up to teachers to paint a picture of what we look like, not let others do that for us.
My second takeaway is that I shouldn’t be offended when someone tells me I look like a teacher because...I am a teacher! I love what I do. When I first started teaching eleven years ago, I worked in a preschool special education setting. Every day I knew that my teaching would have a significant impact on my students. I helped them learn their names, how to speak, how to interact with others, and basic self-help skills. These skills allow students to feel successful in their own lives and proud of their abilities.
Now I have the pleasure of observing my peers and providing feedback to them about their teaching and their students’ learning. I love the impact that we can have on one another–to see how an outside perspective can really improve our own practices. I have helped teachers see things about their lessons that they might not have seen on their own. Likewise, I have observed teaching and learning that I would normally be too scared to try. My bucket gets filled every day with new strategies I learn from my peers. These are aspects of my job I wish more people knew about. I think it would change their perception of teachers-and how we look.