I often say that I never really chose to be a teacher; more that it feels like teaching chose me. I’ve always felt it was a calling much more so than my occupation. I’ve known since I was in second grade – thirty years ago! – that I wanted to be a teacher. And even after I came to lead a school, I most of the time describe myself as a teacher when asked. It means something to me. It means a lot to me. It means every day I can make a difference to children and their families – and to teachers and staff too.
However, the sad truth is that while it means a lot to me – and certainly to the people I teach and lead with every day at Pinecrest School, and to the many friends and family who are also educators, and most definitely to the teachers and professors who had a profound influence on my life from elementary school to graduate school – it does not mean a lot to everyone.
I know this for a few reasons. The first time the world told me that teachers didn’t matter was when I was graduating from high school. I remember many people reacting to the news that I was going to study education in college with comments like, “You’re too smart to be a teacher” or “Those who can do and those who can’t teach.” What?! I remember knowing then that these people were very mixed up. How could they think the professionals shaping young minds and hearts every day should not be smart?!
Then, once I started working, my compensation also told me that teachers didn’t matter. And then there’s the long hours, the work and planning during personal time, the comments from people who don’t get it about having summers off, and how you can never, ever turn your brain off when you’re thinking about a student’s well-being, or reflecting on a lesson or an exchange, or planning the next creative, hands-on, interactive learning experience. And this is to say nothing of how much parent interaction and struggle there is on a regular basis, how you can’t go to the bathroom when you want, or how you are literally “on” every second of the day as soon as you walk into your school.
So, all of these things are messages about our profession, and we internalize them, and we are no doubt affected by them, but we keep doing this work. We keep showing up, every day, to make a difference. Because we believe it matters. And it does.
But, today is the day that I know for sure that the world thinks teachers don’t matter. Today is the day that 50 Republican Senators and the Vice President of the United States of America voted to confirm into office someone who has no experience being a teacher or a school leader, someone with no formal education in the area where now she’s going to lead. Betsy DeVos did not even attend public school – nor did her children – and yet now she is rising into a position that will oversee every public school in the nation.
The Senate voting to confirm Betsy DeVos as the next United States Secretary of Education is so disheartening, and so unfortunate. But, to me, the real confirmation from today is that our culture does not value educators or schools. I can’t think of any other profession where people who have no skills or experience in that field think they should make decisions for it or be leaders of it. I don’t believe someone else so “uniquely unqualified” (as many of the Democratic Senators accurately described Betsy DeVos) would ever come to lead any other government agency. Would Secretary of Defense ever be someone who never served in the military? Would the Surgeon General be a carpenter? Would the Attorney General be a teacher? No, I don’t believe these scenarios would ever happen.
I am too smart for that.
Despite the disappointment of today’s decision, there are 46 Democrats, 2 Independents and 2 Republicans who should be recognized for showing up for students, teachers and schools in the Senate today. To Senators Baldwin (D-WI), Bennet (D-CO), Blumenthal (D-CT), Booker (D-NJ), Brown (D-OH), Cantwell (D-WA), Cardin (D-MD), Carper (D-DE), Casey (D-PA), Collins (R-ME), Coons (D-DE), Cortez Masto (D-NV), Donnelly (D-IN), Duckworth (D-IL), Durbin (D-IL), Feinstein (D-CA), Franken (D-MN), Gillibrand (D-NY), Harris (D-CA), Hassan (D-ME), Heinrich (D-NM), Heitkamp (D-ND), Hirono (D-HI), Kaine (D-VA), King (I-ME), Klobuchar (D-MN), Leahy (D-VT), Manchin (D-WV), Markey (D-MA), McCaskill (D-MO), Menendez (D-NJ), Merkley (D-OR), Murkowski (R-AK), Murphy (D-CT), Murray (D-WA), Nelson (D-FL), Peters (D-MI), Reed (D-RI), Sanders (I-VT), Schatz (D-HI), Schumer (D-NY), Shaheen (D-NH), Stabenow (D-MI), Tester (D-MT), Udall (D-NM), Van Hollen (D-MD), Warner (D-VA), Warren (D-MA), Whitehouse (D-RI) and Wyden (D-OR): THANK YOU!
And to the Senators not listed here, I hope the voters remember this day and your lack of integrity when you are next up for re-election. (You can find their names and re-election timelines here.) I am not from any of your states, but I won’t forget and I look forward to contributing to the campaigns of your opponents.
Nicole McDermott is in her twelfth year leading Pinecrest School, a small, independent preschool through sixth grade school in Northern Virginia. As it should be, before becoming a school leader, she taught kindergarten, second grade and third grade. In addition, Nicole has extensive experience working with high school student leaders through her community service work with Kiwanis International, and she spends a week each summer volunteering at Camp Sunshine, a retreat in Maine serving critically-ill children and their families from all around the country. Nicole prioritizes building connection and community, supporting people she loves and causes that are important to her and continuing to grow into a better version of herself. You can read more of Nicole McDermott’s written work on her blog.