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On the Way We Treat Teachers

Teaching is hard. It is so much more difficult than anything I have ever done. I fail at it constantly. We ask our teachers to be brain surgeons. We give them a group of kids that is completely random, a set of standards that rarely make sense, ask them to teach kids important life skills like writing and then hold them accountable to tests that don’t measure their ability to do those life skills, we give them no resources and ask them to act as counselor, teacher, friend, mentor, and sometimes parent, as well as all of the other bureaucratic responsibilities they have. We change, at will and seemingly randomly, policies and ask teachers to adopt fads created by people who have never taught, and then we blame them when they can’t overcome poverty, which is an issue we never address systematically. To be a good teacher, is incredibly difficult. You have to not only have a deep of knowledge in your subject, but you also have to understand how kids develop and work, be able to respond to those kids as individuals, and still meet all of your requirements. I am not complaining. I love this job, if I wanted to do something else I would have done it. Notice I didn’t even bother mentioning pay. And, yes, we do work during our “vacations.”

Teaching is just as hard as being a lawyer, as being an entrepreneur, as being a doctor. I work way more and do far more challenging work than most of my friends in tech. My job isn’t any less cognitively challenging than the job of the engineers I know who actually make things. And we have none of the benefits of that work. We aren’t paid well, we don’t have flexible hours, we have to respond to a million different people’s demands. But the biggest difference is that we get none of the respect. No one trusts us to do our jobs. I would never ever walk into my engineering friend’s work and tell them how to do their jobs. Despite this, I have to have an argument with someone at least once a week about what they think is best for kids they have never taught, have no interest in teaching and that they have developed an opinion on from reading New York Times articles by people who showed up and spent one day at a school and bought the sells pitch.

This happened recently, and I was told that my degrees and experience (and it is minimal for a teacher, but my more experienced teacher friends get the same treatment) was irrelevant. This person was in business, I wonder how they would feel if I told them their experience in their industry was irrelevant. I wonder how they would like it if I showed to their office and started nit-picking because I read some business research on my lunch break, and by research I mean I read someone’s agenda on teaching which pretended that there was research to support it. Everything I do in the classroom is backed up by research, I am not just making this up. There is instinct and talent sure, but I also have a master’s degree from Stanford and if I didn’t I wouldn’t be as good a teacher. I’d be fine, I’d figure it out, but it would take me a really long time.

Everyone thinks they are an expert in the schools because they have been to school and because we have de-professionalized the teaching profession. This is what happens when you tell recent college grads with a cursory and missionary interest in teaching who have no intention of sticking around that they are better than the trained professionals, which is backed up by no evidence anywhere. The good friends that I have in TFA who are good teachers would be even better if they had gone through ed school and they wouldn’t have been in hell for their first year. But the vast majority of the people doing this do it exactly as I described. One of them is an ex of mine, we broke up for many reasons but our fight over this issue is illustrative of why we didn’t need to be together. He called me shortly after breaking up and told me he was doing TFA, I was in STEP at the time. I explained to him why I thought that was a bad idea and he said “teaching is fine for you, but I don’t want to be a teacher forever and I want to move up in the ranks of liberal politics, and it doesn’t make sense for me to take out loans for grad school when I have no intention of staying.” I assume he said this in his interviews too, since TFA encourages this kind of behavior. In fact, one of their stated goals is to train future leaders. In fact, this ex had told me that teaching was beneath him. He ended up trying to do the same job I did as a para, he was terrible at it. When he tried to teach a small summer school class, he failed and that was with advanced kids and my attempts to coach him. The fact that he thinks he is more entitled to his voice in the education field makes my blood boil. He is one example but I have seen this over and over again.

Or we could, you know, make it possible for trained professionals to have opportunities to actually use their experience to contribute to the dialogue. No, not going to do that? Would rather have finance dudes running the medical system than doctors (to be fair, we probably do, but we also have massive problems in health care and people would be outraged if they were aware, this happens in education out in the open and is praised). This is incredibly insulting to teachers. It is also classist, and it is reflected in how we pay teachers. Teachers are not longer considered intellectuals in society, they might as well be blue collar for how we pay and treat them. You want better teachers in the classroom? If you are serious about this goal, then you need to be serious about ending these attitudes and problems.

There is also some latent sexism in this. I hear this from men more often and men are disproportionately represented in the highest seats of power in education. We have fewer men to begin with but the few we have who do teach, teach for a few years and then move up or out. I have had a lot of men say “teaching is fine for you.” As far as I can tell the only difference between us is that I am a woman. In our society the careers that get the most glory and pay are dominated by men. It has nothing to do with the difficulty of teaching, teaching is hard, most people can’t hack it. For the most part, men don’t go into teaching because we don’t value teaching, but if they go into education, or if they are business people who decide that education is their pet project, they assume they know more than the women on the ground doing the actual work. I can’t help but feel like some of this issue is just more mansplaining. But either way, I wanted to lay this out, if you haven’t taught, you have no business thinking you know more than the teachers you meet. They’ve read all the research you have, plus. They live it every day. Shut up and listen. In fact, in most things in life, it is best to shut up and listen before you open your mouth. You have the right to say whatever you want and I would defend to the death your right to say it, but you are never going to learn anything if you don’t hear what other people are saying to you. Trust me, I know, there is research and I also teach.

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3 thoughts on “On the Way We Treat Teachers

  1. Pingback: Which part is mine, and which part is yours? | Adventures in Education

  2. I was publishing my own post about a teacher who recently passed away, and noticed yours in the suggestions. Trust me, I wholly agree to what you said about being a teacher not a teacher, but a mentor, and a guide all the same.
    An eye-opening write. 🙂

  3. Pingback: Call test scores for what they are: irrelevant |CommonCored.us

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