As we approached graduation from the School for Education, our teachers coached us on how to respond to this standard interview question.
“Your answer should always be, ‘Yes.'”
Sure enough, in one of my first interviews for a teaching position, the assistant principal asked me, “Do you love your students?”
I knew what I was supposed to say. It’s like a game, right? You respond correctly and open the door to your classroom and career.
But I hesitated.
Thronging through my brain were thoughts about how the ancient Greeks used more than one word for love. Certainly “eros” — a word with sexual connotations — was not a word that administrator would want me to use in relation to his students and was one that could get me in big trouble. Perhaps I could admit to agape (spiritual love), or — even better — “philia” (mental love) for my students.
Today, I do not recall clearly what my answer was to that interview question. There are only two things I do remember clearly. First, I avoided enveloping my answer in layers of etymology. And, second, I did not get the job.
At home that night, I was stewing about the interview, struggling to understand my stubborn refusal to do as I’d been coached.
“Seriously,” I asked my husband, who is an attorney, “do lawyers have to claim to be in love with all their clients just to get a job?”
He laughed. Derisively.
That response started me wondering why other professionals — doctors and engineers, for example — are not expected to be in love with their clients.
What is different about the teaching profession?
Then I realized the major difference is that most teachers are female. Stereotypically and historically, women were supposed to be more emotional than men, more prone to outbreaks of strong emotion overruling their minds, making them unfit for work outside the home. To use another Greek word, women were supposed to be prone to fits of “hysteria” — a cognate of hysterectomy. Women were thought to be ruled by their wombs.
Teachers were either spinsters or young women expected to leave the … I hesitate to call it a “profession” now … but, expected to leave the profession in a few years to start families of their own. A pregnant school teacher was a scandal.
Not only were teachers’ jobs literally ruled by their wombs, but qualifications to teach were slender. Back in the day, most teachers boasted only degrees from two-year teaching colleges. In many cases, four-year colleges and universities — those that trained true professionals — would not admit women.
Today’s teachers hold at least bachelor’s degrees. Often they hold master’s degrees and doctorates. They consider themselves to be professionals, people of advanced skill in a particular type of work.
Yet interviewers still ask, “Do you love your students?” And professors in Schools for Education still coach prospective teachers to answer in the affirmative if they have any hope of being hired.
You know what our response should be to all of them?
“As a professional, I refuse to answer that question. Now, let me tell you about my qualifications for the job.”
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