When seeing the word teacher, we are likely to hear in our mind a pejorative tone such as the elementary-school kids’ calling the word out while “tattling,” or making a sing-songish request, or hoping they get chosen first with a smart-aleck answer. We also hear in our memory the snotty-sassy kids, us included, saying hello to a substitute teacher. Ready to “taunt” them, and misbehave. I still remember in the late ’60s answering when “hey teach” was called out to me with a smart “hey pupe” quickly in return. Society itself has held teaching in a less than positive tone, particularly when determining dollar value for the profession. I have heard it used recently in a totally new tone.
When I think of jobs I’ve held, a partial list includes: mail boy for the Netherlands information service, ice-skating rink supervisor, microfilm copier, house painter, carpenter, artistic director, foundry and factory worker, christmas tree cutter, and turkey coop shoveller. i.e. I’ve been identified in these jobs while by title wearing many hats and tools. Sometimes the hat of “teacher” hasn’t been the most complimentary of titles, (nor have some of these others).
People I know well include: lawyers, osteopathic surgeons, social workers, political consultants, dry-wall installers, scenic designers, actors, directors, playwrights, novelists, haberdashers, directors, musicians, cooks, mechanics, and maids. i.e. All sorts of people are considered idiots or champions because of, or in spite of, what they do.
The new tone for what I do has been that I have been recently called “teacher” by refugees from Somalia, Djbouti, and Angola. The open calling out of “teacher” is because they consider it an honorific, to be used rather than a familiar surname. “Hello Teacher” is said by these students as a term of collective respect. You’re my teacher, and I value what you think or how you would help me in speaking English. This use is a rare and quite different tone from what I have heard during over 50 or so years of teaching. It is almost sounds Biblical, as we heard disciples in the time when Jesus taught asking “Rabbi,what is it that you say?”
Not to be self aggrandizing in any way, but hearing yourself addressed in this tone is inspiring. It makes me proud and want to do better for them. The fact that English is so new to them certainly effects their use of term and word, but it also comes from a world of respect for the classroom. One of my early students of the ’60s, when speaking to me all these decades later, upon initiating a conversation with me or saying farewell has used a term he cultivated while studying dressage. He calls me maestro. First time he said it, it almost stopped me in my tracks. I’ve suddenly remembered, the Hungarian fencing instructor at Wayne State University Istvan J. Danosi. Everyone called him maestro, back when I knew him in the ’70s. He deserved it, and brought Wayne State Fencing to national prominence. Maybe there’s something to be learned in being called “teacher” in the sincere tone in which it is used by these”new” students. A strange new name to be to be earned in 2018 from people eagerly learning.
What joy to be called: “my teacher!”