We’ve all been there. We’re at a party, family gathering, or any social event, and someone asks us what we do for a living. We proudly say, “I’m a teacher!” but we’re also bracing ourselves for the inevitable responses:
“I hated math in school.”
“I never understood science.”
“English was so boring.”
“What is the point of history class anyway?”
I know just how frustrating it is to hear these comments. As teachers, we’ve heard them countless times, not only from people outside the profession but from our fellow teachers too. We know not everyone loves every subject in school, and we know some people just view these comments as friendly banter. But it’s hard to know how to respond when someone trivializes the value of something you’ve chosen to do for a living.
Science educator Marianna Ruggerio summed this up perfectly in one of her recent Tweets:
Inspired by Ruggerio, here’s why we need to get rid of the “I hate your subject” talking point:
It’s not helpful.
When someone tells us how much they hated our subject in school, what should we do with that information? Change content areas?
In fact, these comments can actually be harmful. When students hear these comments, either from parents at home or from their teachers, it primes the pathway for them to hate the subject too.
Teachers are vilified enough as it is.
Teachers have unfairly been made to feel a collective sense of responsibility for the challenges in education. In an educational climate where teachers are charged with making learning entertaining, a casual “Oh, I hated that subject!” can sound more like an indictment.
Do we meet a surgeon and say, “Ugh, I hate modern medicine.”?
Do we meet a judge and say, “You know, the pursuit of justice has always seemed unbelievably boring to me. I don’t know how you do it.”?
If we don’t think to immediately tell these people how much we hate their area of expertise, why is it OK to do it to teachers?
So, what should you say instead?
Instead of telling teachers how much you hated their subject in school, try one of these responses instead:
“That’s cool! What do you enjoy most about teaching?”
“I always found [subject] challenging in school. I wish I could audit your class and give it another try.”
“I have so much respect for teachers. Thank you for all that you do.”
“Which unit or topic is your favorite to teach?”
You might be surprised at how interesting the subject is when you approach it with an open mind. You might even learn something new.
As teachers, we can be better prepared to navigate these comments too. We could ask what they struggled with specifically, or if they have suggestions for making the subject more engaging or accessible for students. There’s also nothing wrong with pausing, taking a deep breath, and wishing that person the happiness they need and crave.
We don’t expect everyone to love our subject. But we teach knowing that the practice of learning is in itself one of the most valuable lessons.