Am I a teacher?

“Do you consider yourself a teacher?” This question was posed to me by a colleague standing in the door of my office earlier this week. My first thought was, “Um. Yes, don’t you? That’s why we’re here isn’t it? To teach biology?” I think I muttered some sort of intelligible reply, but the question left me deep in thought. Am I a teacher? What makes me qualified? I don’t have a degree in education. I have no formal training. I have a PhD in biomedical science. I am trained to be a scientist, not a teacher. My graduate school coursework taught me the inner workings of the cell. I learned how to critically evaluate scientific data and I worked long hours in the laboratory learning research techniques. I had three days of “training” during the first week of grad school on how to be a graduate teaching assistant and that is about it. My primary experience in the world of education has been as a student, although when you spend as long as I did in school you should be an expert.

So what makes someone a teacher? Here is the definition of a teacher from

1: one that teaches; especially : one whose occupation is to instruct

Ok, so what does it mean to teach? (also from

1 a : to cause to know something <taught them a trade>
b: to cause to know how <is teaching me to drive>
c: to accustom to some action or attitude <teach students to think for themselves>
d: to cause to know the disagreeable consequences of some action <I’ll teach you to come home late>
2: to guide the studies of
3: to impart the knowledge of <teach algebra>
4 a: to instruct by precept, example, or experience
b: to make known and accepted <experience teaches us our limitations>
5: to conduct instruction regularly in <teach school>

When I think about the word teacher I think in terms of stereotypes. For me that means Catholic nuns and older, somewhat severe women like the ones that I encountered during elementary school. But really, everyone is a teacher. We can all fit within that definition. Every day have opportunities to share knowledge and instruct others.  As a parent I can see this clearly as I teach my children simple things like picking up their toys and brushing their teeth. As a scientist, I feel like sometimes we can view the label of “teacher” with some disdain, like it is somehow less worthy than performing laboratory research. In reality, the opposite is true. Teaching is the MOST IMPORTANT job of a scientist. All of the scientific discoveries in the world are meaningless if we cannot convey that information to the general public. I see it every day in the misinformation on vaccines, global warming, evolution, etc that is perpetuated on the internet. We have not done a good job as scientist teachers. We must do better.

I get paid to impart knowledge to my students. But its more than that, teaching is my vocation. I feel like it is what I am meant to do. Yes, the students drive me nuts at times, but I love what I do. Teaching gives me a sense of purpose. I feel like I am making a contribution to this world by expanding my students’ knowledge. That is enough to keep me motivated to spend so much time working on my classes, making videos, writing study guides, coming up with active lecture activities, etc. So yes I am a teacher.