I’m a fan of the “mini-series”– covering a topic over a series of blog posts for a short period of time. Every Monday in the month of February I’ll blog about a topic related to #education (at least tangentially). This week I want to examine the history of teaching as a profession. I’m a school-based speech pathologist with a teaching certificate so I’m not the prototypical example of “teacher” so….I’m going to go back in time and dig up my own past: my parents were teachers…
1973: My dad, a biology teacher, is in the middle of this picture holding two dead, frozen rats that he is getting ready for dissection. Another biology teacher is on the left and a lab assistant is on the right.
When I was born, both of my parents were teachers. My dad was a math and science teacher while my mother was an art teacher. They met while teaching at the same school — it sounds quaint and almost normal until I explain that they were teaching at a school in Geelong, Australia. My father is Australian and my mother is American — in fact, in the 1970’s she went all the way from Wisconsin to Australia to fill a teaching vacancy at Matthew Flinders Girls School. She is one bold woman.
It may surprise you that I have never mentioned this before, but I really am a private person. I am by nature this way and that is part of why I was able to eat and blog my way through a year of school lunches without anyone raising an eyebrow: I don’t sit around talking about myself and I am not interested in showing off. I virtually never reveal that I’m half-Australian to anyone because I worry that they view me as “different” or “special” — labels that make me cringe. That said even though I rarely discuss it, I do consider myself to be bi-cultural. Although I was raised in the US (and I have a pronounced Wisconsin accent), I understand Australian culture on a gut level. How could I not growing up with my dad?
Australia 1973: My dad holding a lizard for some students while on a field trip
My dad was the eldest of five in a working class family in a small city called Bendigo. My grandfather left school at the age of 14 due to poverty and started working as a salesboy in a department store. Grandpa worked his way up, only with a brief absence to fight in WWII, to manager. My grandmother stayed home with five kids under the age of five (I cannot imagine). My dad was the first person in his family to go to college, even though they didn’t have money for university tuition. My dad was lucky to be selected to receive a “studentship.” That meant that he could go to college to become a teacher at no real cost, but that my dad would then have to teach for three years to “repay” the government. My dad loved science, in particular botany and zoology, and so he became a high school math and science teacher. He really, really loved it.
On a completely different continent, my mom was growing up in Wausau, Wisconsin. When her high school held a “career fair” (in the 1960’s), the boys and girls were sent to different rooms. My mom walked into the room for girls that had three tables: one for teachers, one for nurses, and one for secretaries. Luckily for my mom, my maternal grandparents were both college graduates (my grandpa went because of the GI bill and my grandma went through sheer determination and hard work). They expected my mom to go to college. My mom decided to become a teacher and chose art as her specialization. My mother is a painter.
Teaching as a profession is changing. My parents are perfect examples of what teaching used to be. For my dad, teaching was a ticket into college and out of a career consisting of low wage work. For my mom, teaching was a socially-acceptable job for women who didn’t get married straight out of high school. Teaching is in flux — I see it at work, but also in the media. A major shift is underway and I hope that what is happening with the profession will lead to more respect for those who instruct future generations.
Mt Buller, Australia 1974: My parents (and yes, it snows in some parts of Australia)
I believe that teaching as a profession saved both of their lives to some degree. My father spent several years teaching in Australia (I was born there) before moving to the states with my mom and starting medical school. He is now a physician. My mom worked on and off while my sister and I were young when we needed the money, sometimes as a substitute teacher. Sadly, my parents divorced and, after which, my mom started her own business (a coffee shop, which ended up going out of business — I touch on some of this in my book, actually). Finally, in her fifties, my mom went back to school for a Masters degree as well as her JD. She is a lawyer now and works as public defender for the state of Wisconsin. My parents are without a doubt lifelong learners and I admire them for their resiliency and determination in life. I couldn’t be more grateful that they are my mom and my dad.