Coming out of the education closet

Teacher talk

Posted: Friday, May 30, 2003

Recently someone walked into the Floyd Dryden library, leaned across the circulation counter, looked up at me and asked: "What do I need to do to have your job?" I didn't miss a beat: "I have a master's degree in library and information science from the University of California at Berkeley."

There was no verbal response. The person who had made the inquiry just straightened up and walked away.

This incident has reinforced an idea that I've been chewing on for a while. I think that all of us who are employed by the school district should display our diplomas or, at the very least, a banner from our alma mater. Students, parents, school board members and community people who use the buildings after school should all know what letters we have after our names and where we earned them.

A colleague has disapproved of my idea, thinking that some parents would be put off, possibly thinking that we were elitist. When I am sitting impatiently in the doctor's office wishing that someone would turn up the heat because the paper dressing gown provides no warmth, I am reassured by the framed diplomas on the wall. I'm happy to learn that my physician attended an accredited medical school. When my mouth is numb and I am hoping that the dentist will get the dreaded procedure over with, it is somewhat calming to glance over to the wall and view the diploma. And even though I take my glasses off when I have my hair cut, I know that the paper on the wall is the beautician's license to practice.

I do not think of these professionals as elitist. On the contrary, I am glad to know that I am being cared for by people who are trained and educated in their chosen field of expertise.

Do I think these people are better than me because of their diplomas? No. These are folks with whom I play sports, people who I sit with in church, fellow shoppers in the grocery aisles. Do I think that I'm better than others because of my graduate degrees? No. My father, Charlie, made sure of that. He never made it past the eighth grade. I worked summers in factories because he wanted to make sure I valued my education. Years later, while watching Jeopardy with him, he would chide me: "What do you mean you don't know the question? You have two master's degrees!" He was a humble, hard-working, loving man and there is no way that the letters after my name make me a better person than he.

My guess is that next fall during parent-teacher conferences a diploma on the wall very well may help break the ice when a parent realizes the two of you have something other than the student's education in common. "Oh, I see that you too were a Husky" (Duck, Eagle, fill in the blank with the mascot of your choice), and the conversation could flow from there.

Our students deserve to know how we earned our positions in their lives. We are role models and if a student wants to be like any one of us, she needs to work toward it, to earn it. This summer as you go back to school to get those credits, or work that second job to get the necessary income to help your child get college credits, take a few minutes, go online, shop at the alma mater store and buy a banner. Next, go through those boxes in the garage and dust off the diploma. There's a perfect spot in your classroom to hang it.

And the next time someone wants to know what she needs to do to get your job, all she need do is look up at the wall.

• Pat McLear is the librarian at Floyd Dryden and the 2002 recipient of Dryden's Silver Bull Award.

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