The Composition Of Self Worth As Seen Through Teachers Eyes

Do Teachers Lack Power and Self-Worth?

By Anthony Cody

Over the years I have been fortunate to have friends from many walks of life, many career paths/meanders and people who truly embody a sense of living with grace. Some of these people I met when I stepped away from the ‘educational’ career path for a bit, some while volunteering in different activities which made my heart sing, some from Peace Corps, some from government functions – some from book groups.  Listening to other people and their goals, desires, dreams, hopes, etc. is inspiring and re-inforces positives for me, helping form my internal self worth – I am the sum of the parts of what I do at work, play, family member, friend, community member, pet owner, letter writter, scone baker, gardener, etc. plus what all the other people in my life bring to the world.

All this has also led me to find that teachers (not all, but the majority) tend to be less fluid in their thinking about who they are, their self worth. Many teachers feel they are as good as the grades they give, the class they are able to keep focused,  the magical lessons that teach concepts on four levels, their pay.   Teachers, as a whole, tend to embody their self worth in what they ‘produce’ each year – the fruits of their labors if you will.  This sense of self worth is almost inherent in the profession in order to survive as the profession is difficult, not well respected in America and certainly teachers are paid less than their equally educated counterparts in the corporate world.

As I read the article above, I reflected on the times I willingly left education (which I call talking with my feet).  Each time I parted ways and did something ‘different’, people around me acted as if I had either committed an extraordinary sin against education gods and goddesses or clearly had a wild hair or, worst of all, was throwing my talent away to the wind – and how would I ever survive, out there, beyond the classroom. 

Each time I left education I was fortunate in meeting wonderful new people, learning many new aspects of myself, new ideas, new ways of thinking and had wonderful, inciteful experiences; my composition of self worth grew.  I realized I was more than a classroom teacher.  I could help others learn about the financial world and ethics within it (yes, some exist – I have been present to witness), I was able to provide insight into how benefits help you and your family and how to become more savvy about using said benefits, I learned how incredibly creative people think (and it is very, very different from the math/science brain I hold) and held their hand in crossing the imaginary boundary of creativity to the  more constricted work of writing about the idea.  I ‘translated’ classroom to Silicon Valley wonks/wonkettes and political types.   My ego did not increase – rather, I became more and more excited about learning/experiencing these other ways of being – which then made me see education in a very different light and my self worth in a different way. 

Over time I realized my ‘net worth’ was a sum of all those experiences and the ability to share them with students.  I had fostered a true apreciation of what others do and contribute and could make strong connections to why Algebra and the sciences are so important.  In giving up my attitude about perfect spelling and grammar, I opened my mind to Maker Faire.  By allowing students to turn in homework, even if it was on a dinner napkin from a burger place, I had creative/cognitive dissonance amidst the logic of math and opened a window to how Einstein and other ‘way out there’ thinkers operate. 

Some of the rules I still follow when I teach – put a heading on your paper, however, the reasoning is different. I want to credit that student with their incredible thoughts, ideas, insights, inspiration – it is not about me being organized or the student being neat and tidy.  I expect work turned in on time because it is a matter of self worth/self respect to set a time of completion and do your best to that point.  My self worth is not about my students grades – it is about their success.  It is kind of like the saying about living your life –  Living is not about how many moments you can pack in a day; Living is about the moments which take your breath away, the ah-ha moments, the smiles. 

My self worth is often qualitatively ‘different’ than many of my teacher colleagues because I had the courage and determination to walk away from stability and take the lumps.  If anything, I have opened the doors to what could be for colleagues and students.  I want students to think broadly about their lives/dreams/opportunities and not have fear.   Deep down I want education to be empowerment, a creation of self-efficacy so strong that nothing can tear it down. 

I want to give my students something that we as teachers are often powerless to have – the dignity of self worth.