Friday, October 23, 2015

N is for new definitions

A guy recently told me that he admires what I'm doing because "teaching is a noble profession". And I know this is a common perception, but I can't for the life of me figure out why teaching would be any more noble than, say, being a doctor or a nurse. They help people too, don't they? What about customer service representatives and sales assistants? Or receptionists and tour guides? Or... you know where I'm going with this.

But even more than that, I feel like a fraud when people say this to me, because I don't think of what I do as anything noble or particularly admirable. My main goal was to do as the proverb says: "Find a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life." I wouldn't be teaching if I did not enjoy it, so my choice is entirely self-serving!

I sometimes feel that we need new definitions. So what if teachers are "moulding the next generation"? We need mechanics and plumbers just as much as we need teachers. It's just like how some people snigger at geeks for being awkward and "uncool", but what happens when your computer gives you the Blue Screen of Death? Or your hard disk crashes and you lose all your data? Or your printer just won't print? Whom do you call in a blind panic? Why, precisely those IT geeks you were so disdainful of.

I feel that everyone has a role to play and we all need each other. Why hold up some professions over others? Is my office cleaner's job any less noble than mine because she vacuums our floors, empties our wastepaper baskets and scrubs the restrooms? Her work is more demanding than mine, yet she is one of those I privately term 'the invisible ones', people often overlooked or taken for granted. People who quietly do their jobs with dedication, but are rarely recognised for it or even thanked. Yet we rely on them in so many unconscious ways.

The polarisation that comes with stereotypes is equally bad. At a conference early this week, I was listening to one of the presentations when it suddenly struck me how unfair we have been to a certain ethnic group in our country. This ethnic group is often considered lazy or incompetent, but at the conference I met so many teachers of this ethnicity who clearly worked hard at their job and were good, dedicated teachers, seeking to improve their skills and discover the best ways to help their students. I came away with a new respect for them, and a reminder to myself never to take stereotypes at face value.

One's job, one's skin colour... these things do not define who we are inside. My job is part of my story, as is my ethnicity... but they are not the ONLY stories, and may even be the least important ones.

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