By Jan-Lois Burroughs, SED 2015
While these names are recognizable to many nationwide, teachers too have the power to be just as noteworthy in someone’s life.
Teachers are celebrities of a community. We mentor, we care, we educate, we connect, we influence, and we empower. Parents, guardians, and students alike entrust us with these responsibilities. With this, we are always under the close observation of society. Just like celebrities from the athletic or entertainment industries, we too develop a reputation that can take years to build, but can take seconds to change completely.
There is something so, so intriguing about a celebrity’s personal life, whether you want to know it or not. I can read about Justin Bieber’s run-ins with the law, or make guesses about the reasonings behind Zayn’s recent departure from One Direction, and comment about Taylor Swift’s dating life. We know celebrities’ professional work: we recognize their music, their scores, their companies and positions, their awards, and yet, we are fine with knowing so much more.
People’s skills and abilities can lead us to place them on a pedestal. They become “robotic” and “godly” – untouchable. This is natural. Yet, we are interested when we hear about what they do outside their professions; what else they’re passionate about. We find ways to make them seem more human.
This applies to teachers too. We are familiar with stating how “good” or “bad” a teacher is in the classroom, but there is a tendency to be interested in knowing seemingly minor facts such the teacher’s age, a significant other, what he or she was like as a student, or better yet, anything we find if we were to ever encounter a teacher’s social media profiles.
Simultaneously being both a college student and a student-teacher has revealed to me the connections between being a celebrity and a teacher. As I take notes, I sometimes randomly wonder what my professors must do once the class is over. As I teach, I sometimes face a barrage of similarly personal questions from my own students.
We need to be aware of this power.
My second grade teacher told us that she was cousins with my gym teacher.
My Algebra 2 teacher told us that she auditioned for “The Amazing Race.”
My fifth grade teacher told us that she had a crush on Legolas from “Lord of the Rings.”
My chemistry teacher told us about the pranks he played on his friends at college.
Many teachers told us about their kids or the sports teams they liked.
The content learned in these classes has (mostly) stuck with me today, and yet oddly enough, so have these personal facts about these teachers.
One of my high school teachers told me about her struggle with depression when she was younger.
One of my math teachers has a same-sex partner.
Another teacher told me about her frustrations with school administration.
In some communities, personal facts such as these can be used to even further connect with certain students. In other locations, knowledge of these facts can lead to backlash. Especially, with the advance of social media in the last decade alone, both our professional and personal lives are under the microscope more than ever before.
Our responsibilities as teachers are great, but our status is even greater. I want my kids to know that I care about them as lifelong learners and human beings, but I also want them to know how I too am a dork who loves dancing and traveling and has overcome challenges of his own. Many celebrities work hard to separate the professional from the personal, but for us, our professional requires the personal. In our aims to mentor, care, educate, connect, influence, and empower others, teachers must demonstrate that we too are human. This the fine line we must walk on, a line we are entrusted to stay on, a line we need to know exists.
Jan-Lois Burroughs is a 2015 graduate of the School of Education with a degree in Mathematics Education