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There is one dumb question: What do you teach?

May 6, 2022 @7am CST

I am an educator by nature and by trade. 🍏I have been teaching in unofficial ways forever, and varying official ways since I was 14. 🤓During the last 15 years, I’ve become increasingly aggravated with the most common question to teachers, “What do you teach?”  😩As I’ve absorbed myself into “mindfulness practices,” like many teachers trying to be well in unwell conditions, I noticed how strong of a reaction my body had to this question, so I had to “get curious” and “turn to wonder.” 😅 Having proceeded in this inquiry for a while now, I’ve discovered the root of my dismay, “what do you teach,” is a dumb question.

My entire life, I have been of the school of thought that there is NO dumb question. Wholeheartedly believing that anything one asked because they did not have the answer, and because they were wise enough to seek the answer, was valuable. As a learner and teacher, I considered every question a gem.💎…until this vary morning, when I declare, “what do you teach?” to be a dumb question. I declare that every human should be offended when we hear it, offering just correction and certainly from this point forward, we should consider ourselves dumb if we ask it again. 😂🤣

Okay, I know I am being a bit dramatic here, but dive a little deeper into this with me. 🌊

When the question, “what do you teach?” is asked, what exactly is it meant to capture? Generally, it is meant to be answered with a grade level or subject matter. And while this is information that can be answered simply with “2nd grade,” or “History”—I think the answer sought over simplifies, misplaces the value of education (at least K-12), and is therefore invaluable and dumb. 🫤

Let’s explore a little more. 🌊🕵🏽

I believe my disdain for the question, “what do you teach?” (and perhaps this why I’m making it a deeper issue), is because since the beginning of my professional career answering it in the way the speaker intended was by design complicated for me. My training is in special education. So when someone asks “what do you teach”—9.9 times out of 10 a special education teacher can not answer with one grade level. Only in one of seven schools, in 17 years, did I ever teach less than 3 grade levels at a time, and never have I ever, even in high schools, taught less than one subject. So, imagine me, in easy conversations, for example at a comedy show where the comedian asks, “are there any teachers in the room,” I clap or raise my hand, then they follow up, pointing, “what do you teach?” Here I am, 🤯. Like, what do I say? One time I said, “everything.” 😅😳🥹 Then, I learned people prefer, I answer with, “I teach special education.”  🤦🏾‍♀️ In most cases, people presume what that looks like and respond with, “bless your heart,” “wow, it takes a special person,” or some story about how they know “a special needs person;”🤬 always making me wish I hadn’t acknowledged that I was a teacher.

So, sitting in those experiences, with my many questions on my feelings about it. I decided that the next time someone asked me, “what do you teach?” I would boldly declare, “the more important question is who do I teach, I teach individuals!” 🎤This my dear friends is where the magic lies. 🦄

Follow me on this road a little longer.🚸 Teachers of school-aged children truly do teach everything; not just reading, writing and arithmetic, but so many of the most important things to being a human (like kindness, forgiveness and hygiene). Children's experiences with us isn’t limited to our subject matter expertise, and all the best things that we teach them are seeds that continue to root, bloom, blossom and spread beyond their days at any one grade level. And while there are plenty of teachers that only focus on teaching their subject matter, blind to or blatantly disregarding the complex identities of our children, children learn a lot from their experiences in those spaces too. That said, the very essence of the job, even when the crafted nature minimizes it, is to teach individuals to go into the world better prepared to take on the world than they were when they came into the world, in whatever stage of development we meet them. Now, given that mission, we are all teachers, and the world is the classroom. Still, on this here Friday of teacher appreciation week 2022, please do all trained teachers a favor, remember that the value of education, the value that comes through an educator to the world is through the people she/he pours into, not the content that she/he pushes out. You never have to ask a teacher, “what do you teach?” It’s an empty question. You have now been made aware that good teachers teach individuals; we teach everything and anything they need to know to maintain, survive, heal or thrive in any given moment. It’s much more meaningful recognizing who we teach, because with that you’ll better understand all of what we teach.🌎🌍🌏 In the future, if you truly want to know our subject matter expertise, or our age group of focus, ask that specifically.

And fellow teachers, I implore you, when someone asks you, “what do you teach,” blow👏🏾their 👏🏾mind👏🏾, tell them the FULL truth, “Everything and anything my students need to maintain, survive, heal or thrive in any given moment.” Thank you for your service, HAPPY TEACHERS’ APPRECIATION season! 💐

Teachers are amazing--the product of our work is you.😉

Constructive conversation welcome

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