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.