What Else Can They Do (in Life)?
De-escalate a smoldering racial problem before it erupts into volcanic force; explain how algebraic problem solving is important to kids who can Google anything; lead a pack of terrified kids out the door to safety, in a crisis; conduct a wildly disparate orchestra of young who are all at different ability levels; produce order where there is none; engender trust in children who’ve had no positive adult role models…..
Such are the acquired skills of the good, career teacher. But I am not herein referencing Teach for America members, of whom fewer than a quarter remain in teaching after five years.
I’m talking about long-haul teachers, those stoic types who continue at the profession some 28 years or more.
If a teacher “does it right,” she can use her acquired skills and go on to a plethora of later occupations for which she’ll be amply prepared, for she’s a true expert in optimizing human potential.
And even Ronald Reagan’s “Great Communicator” skills pale in comparison to those of successful career teachers, for his audiences were polite adults invested in what he said.
A teacher’s audience is composed of squirming, hormone-riddled adolescents who owe no allegiance.
My husband has a good ol’ boy brother who’s lived in Arkansas from birth, and whenever we visit, he marvels that I can make sense of that brother’s mumbled, backwoods dialect, while my husband remains clueless, wondering if indeed they’re even related.
Philip (the brother) drops whole syllables in the midst of weighing in on a host of topics. My husband asks: “How do you know what he’s saying?” I answer: From years of deciphering adolescent responses, garbled as they are with secreted wads of gum, a sneaked Gummy Bear, or adolescent shyness in responding when they’re put on the spot.
This talent means that if given a syllable, I can probably predict the word the person is going for.
And like animals in the jungle with heightened senses of hearing and smell, I’ve developed those abilities too. This means I’m acutely attuned to someone’s surreptitious unwrapping of gum and I can smell it too, from 10 rows of students away.
Ten other professions that could use those acquired skills?
Undercover agent/store detective comes to mind, as sleuthing is required to get to the bottom of a problem. Teachers are expert at deciphering body language, such as shifty-eyedness and sleight-of-hand maneuvering.
Many teachers go on to become lawyers, for the similar skill set of preparation, compilation of data, and performance (their success often hangs on their delivery).
Realtors teach their clients how to buy and sell property, successfully, which explains the heavy representation of former teachers in that career (I was a successful realtor for eight years, following retirement).
Tour guide agencies are filled with former teachers, who can plan an itinerary (similar to a lesson plan), get up before a group and regale their audiences with interesting stories interwoven with facts.
Mediator. Today’s teachers are skilled in negotiating so that their behaviorally challenged students don’t move misbehavior to the next level — violence.
Cruise ship entertainer … A successful teacher ramps up student interest via a strong, compelling delivery. She can later translate her honed skill to an audience on a cruise ship whose adults will be far kinder.
Minister (man or woman of the cloth) … Despite intense and daily interaction, successful teachers don’t swear at rude and unruly kids and they don’t hit them. If folks are honest, they’ll admit: Good teachers are darn near saints.
Financial adviser … It’s easy to adjudicate a six-figure salary, determining where you’ll save and spend. It’s far harder to live well on a teacher’s modest salary. If a teacher is successful here, he/she should guide others in financial husbandry.
Parent … Although success in teaching doesn’t gainsay success in bringing up one’s own children, it definitely helps.
Writer … A teacher’s window on the world of young humanity means she’ll have a rich repository of subject matter to harvest. In other words, she’ll never suffer writer’s block.
Colleen Kelly Mellor (colleenkellymellor.com), a monthly contributor (to Providence Journal’s Op-Ed pages,) is a retired teacher who taught for 30 years, from kindergarten through grade 12.
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