Why is it that America hates teachers so much?

This question was posed on Facebook by one of my favorite professors.  It’s jarring, and it demands an answer.

My answer: I don’t know.

It makes no sense to me that the people who have been entrusted with the intellectual and social development of our children are so wantonly demonized.  The only reasons I can imagine is that either many people have carried their disdain for teachers all the way from their school days to adulthood, which seems rather childish and ignorant, or some staggeringly erroneous myths have been perpetuated to the extent that they are accepted without question.

Let me be clear about one thing – teaching is HARD.  Now, I’m not implying that it requires the physical strength of crab fishing or the careful dexterity of neurosurgery.  But, it does require a breadth of knowledge and constant dedication to one thing – teaching students.  And not just any students. Students who sometimes come to school hungry, or without warm clothing, or students who go home to a family dynamic more terrifying and spirit-crushing than you can imagine.  Or students who have anger management issues, or learning disabilities, or physical challenges.  And there are 25-30 per class: all different abilities and personalities and attitudes.  A teacher is required to be an expert in everything they teach, a motivator to every student they teach, a mediator, and a social worker – at the very least.

They face a public that views them as leeches on the taxpayers.  Is any other occupation so universally demonized?  (Maybe politicians and lawyers, but they get paid WAY more than teachers – and have much better benefits)

They face school boards, administrators and politicians who are determined to evaluate their effectiveness through a standardized test of their students, as if teaching a child is the same as producing a widget on a production line.

Are there poor teachers?  Yes, there are.  How do I know?  Because I was one of them.

A poor teacher does not have the dedication and drive to provide what is best for their students.  They lack the organization necessary to juggle the long hours they must spend preparing for their students and the demands and desires of their personal lives.  A poor teacher refuses to sacrifice their free time unless absolutely necessary.  A poor teacher does not engage in professional development outside of what is required by the school district. (Actually, I really liked professional development – I was a bad teacher, but I loved learning)

How many teachers fit that description?  In my experience in teaching, I can count the number of teachers that fit that description on one hand, and that’s counting me.  When I think back to my 13 years in kindergarten through high school, I know of exactly two teachers that I had that I would consider poor teachers. I had only one professor in college that I would consider a poor teacher.    And I don’t believe I was just lucky enough to get all the good ones – I think that is a pretty accurate percentage.

I have never, in 40 years of life, ever heard of anyone becoming a teacher because it guaranteed job security or because it offered good benefits or because you got summers off (I still haven’t met a teacher who had a free summer or break with nothing to do).  I can’t speak for anyone else, but I went into teaching because I loved the subject I taught.  Others I know have gone into teaching because they genuinely LOVED the act of teaching, of seeing that moment when a kid “gets it”.  I have to admit, that is a real rush and a hugely rewarding experience.  Others really love kids and relish the opportunity to help them grow.  And the work that it takes to be a good teacher takes ALOT of time.  I have much more free time now than I ever had as a teacher, including summers.  I almost never take my work home with me now.

But, to hear the loud group of people who appear to hate teachers, you would never guess that 95% of teachers are good teachers.  No, they insist on focusing on the 5% like me, who lacked the drive and dedication to be one of the 95%.   What other occupation is judged based on its bottom 5%?

Ah, they say, but teachers are overcompensated for what they do!  Really?  How much do you pay a babysitter to watch your kids while you go out? $3 an hour maybe?  And that’s usually a high school kid with little or no training.  With no intention on devaluing or demeaning teaching, let’s  say we pay teachers the going rate for babysitting.  $3 an hour times 25 kids (Many teachers would be overjoyed to have only have 25 kids in their classroom!) is $75 per hour.  Multiply that by six class hours per day for $450.  Multiply that by 180 days per year (the minimum mandated in most states) and that brings our total to $81,000.   So, teachers should be making a MINIMUM of $81,000 (I mean, teachers are at least worth the same amount as a high school babysitter, right?  Right?), but yet we hear people bemoan the fact that teachers make an AVERAGE of $51,000.

So, why the hate?  Because politicians and those who hate public education have become expert at playing working class citizens against each other.  They bemoan the fact that we are spending money to play those charged with educating our children, but meanwhile refuse to repeal tax breaks for corporations that don’t pay their fair share of taxes (GE?  Hello?) and continue to spend record amounts for defense, a portion of the budget so filled with pork that it is hard to determine where the contractors end and the government begins.  They point out falling test scores (is there a less valid measurement of teacher effectiveness than a standardized test?) as a failure of teachers, but do nothing when bailout funds are funneled to the very CEOs who ran our economy into the ground.  They demand accountability from teachers, but fill their cabinets and advisory teams with businessmen whose primary accomplishment is avoiding taxes (GE again!!).

Yes, that teacher who taught you the importance of playing nice, who showed you that its easier to add 2 plus 2 than count out four individual things, who helped you realize your potential or at least showed you a way to get there, who opened your world to different perspectives, who showed you why thinking is as important as knowing… yes, that person was a real jerk, huh?

Why does America hate teachers?  Because “Americans” (the group – not individuals, who are generally good people) revere ignorance and convenience and hate is a stupid and easy emotion.

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About bgm1969

This blog is updated by a guy who’s overweight, silly, Liberal, spiritual rather than religious, infatuated with beauty and grace, musically blessed, and always changing.

8 thoughts on “Why is it that America hates teachers so much?

  1. Well I don’t hate you. You would have been my favorite teacher. I love your blog. Very insightful and so honest.

  2. Those who hate teachers have never had to teach. For a time I was a substitute music teacher and that was a thankless job. I ran into principals who were so whipped by parents that they ONLY advocated for them, not the students or the teachers. Before someone complains about what teachers are getting paid, please watch a teacher for a week: spending money out of their pockets for supplies, advocating for their students and often at the same time trying to raise their own children and keep their marriages strong. Those who do it well are NEVER doing it for the money, because the money is not worth the aggravation they face every day.

  3. I’ve wondered the same thing. The reasons I see are politics and poor parenting. Teachers are under fire because of political whims driving the privatization of schools for one. Supporters follow the party line, and that is to hate teachers. If you don’t hate the teachers and they aren’t terrible then why would we need privatization? Poor parenting is a factor. So many parents today do not teach their kids proper values. They expect the school to, but when their child does anything wrong it is the teacher’s fault, not theirs – its those terrible teachers. I’m not saying there aren’t some problematic teachers, but there aren’t that many. I can only think of two in our three kids school lives (4g,7g,9g). Thank you for the article.

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  5. I have worked with more than 500,000 students and teachers in 39 states, Europe, and New Zealand. Fully 97% of the teachers with whom I have worked are highly competent and care deeply about their students. The experience has filled me with admiration for teachers and has made me acutely aware of how demanding their work is. I have high energy all day while I am working with students, but when I get into my car and close the door at the end of the day, I am completely and utterly exhausted. I compare it with someone letting the air out of a balloon. I wish every teacher well in his or her important work in the new school year.

  6. I am a teaching assistant and having lived through my children’s education in my school district, I see both sides of the fence. The thing I will take away is that MOST of these teachers have enormous hearts for helping their “children” learn and become excited about being in their classroom. There will always be those few, and I mean few! , That run out the door to hurry home, but generally those are the ones who arrive 1 to 2 hours early to prep for the day…… I have seen them in tears at the news of a student’s broken family life. I have seen them overjoyed at making headway with a difficult student. I have heard it said we don’t do this to get rich. We will never be rich financially on a teacher’s salary. The riches that sustain a teacher will come in the student-teacher connections. Thank God that we are given those opportunities, because the respect for teachers in the public domain is at an all time low! The students remain the purpose.

  7. The correct answer is union busting. The radical right wing has determined the way to win elections is to win the money. They have seen to it that corporations are people and only have the ear of the ultra rich. The next step to elk ate opposing money. Unions, especially the teachers unions, have traditionally contributed to the Democratic Party. If you eliminate the union, or it’s membership, you kill opposing money. So while I believe the top members of the radical right don’t really care about teachers, they spread the word demonizing teachers, a message your average, brain dead tea-party member eats up. The Republican Party… The anger party…. Is losing voters because of their stance on gays and hate toward immigrants and the poor (all growing demographics). They cannot win based on their views and platform, so the must resort to controlling the cash. If a few million teachers get in the way…, who cares.

    • Agreed, somewhat. Union-busting but more fueled by short-sighted misguided response to the fiscal crisis that is public education. Short of adequate funding, district administrators do the math and wrongly conclude they can more easily afford to staff schools with throngs of newly minted teachers, which is not good for students. I wish they would do the complete calculation and realize what this means for themselves later in life when cheaply educated children are in charge of their care in the nursing home.

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