Once, a guy on an airplane asked what I do for a living. I said, "I'm a teacher." "What grade?" he replied. When I answered "Er, college," he asked, "Why'd you say you're a teacher, then?" Not the only time that's happened.
I used to teach high school, ninth and tenth grade. When I decided to leave that job and return to higher ed, it never occurred to me that I'd stop being teacher in some people's eyes. I've always seen teaching as my profession, both when I was Mrs. Biniek and now that I'm Dr. Lynch-Biniek. But I've come to understand that many among the general public believes the titles doctor and professor put me in a different class. Once, at a gathering of my husband's family, I overheard a cousin telling his son, "She's a professor," in a hushed, awed tone.
Images of me, sitting in a leather chair, making a thinking face.
Having come from blue collar roots, I get this. Professor is a status marker, an indication that I had the means [and student loans] to get a degree. I have studied and written a lot. But am also remarkably frustrated that elementary and secondary ed teachers, whose job is far, far more difficult than mine, don't get the same respect. My Dad taught high school English for 35 years. My husband teaches high school chemistry and theater (what a combo, I know.) They work more hours and deal with far more challenges, than I do.
Oh, my job is challenging, for sure, But when I briefly taught high school (lasted three years), no one ever learned of my chosen career and said, "Wow, you must be smart." Nope. I got, "Why can't these damn kids read?" or "You must be a glutton for punishment."