I Am A Teacher

I am a teacher. By choice. Why? Because I love learning more than little kids love candy… and helping others learn makes me incredibly happy. teach_inspire

Too altruistic? Too sappy? Sorry, but it’s the truth, and it’s been that way since I was in 2nd grade. At the age of 8, I knew I wanted to be a teacher.

(This is another one of those posts I had to start and then put away for a little while. Too much emotion to write rationally. Reader, beware.)

There have been several articles I’ve read recently about education- education reform, how to improve schools, public vs. private vs. charters…. and so many of these articles include a perception of teachers that really scares me. And angers me. And frustrates me.

Perhaps no article I’ve read all year has provoked as many feelings as this one- Saving Oregon Schools: Targeting the wrong areas for budget cuts. Actually, the article on its own was not really the issue- I don’t agree with all the suggestions the author contributes (especially cutting extracurriculars), but the comments attached to that article? Wow. I know that comments sections are not always a true gauge of how people feel. Comments can provide an arena for flame wars to begin– the anonymity allows some people to go a little overboard. Par for the course, right?

Many of the comments to this article attack the Oregon retirement system for educators. There are many who believe teachers should not be allowed to retire with as many benefits as they do. I’m not writing this specific post to argue that point one way or the other. Teaching is a profession, where in most states, you are required to continuous professional development and graduate classes, advanced degrees… essentially life-long learning and full-time service to children throughout your career… but I’m not going to open that topic for this blog post.

Instead, it’s the perception of teachers that pervades many of the comments that has me so upset. If you don’t take the time to read any of them, let me just provide a few excerpts here. I’m not going to list the names of the commenters- feel free to go back here to read them yourself, if you wish.

“If you cannot do, teach! That’s so true. The smartest students in college go for real jobs, and the incapable became teachers. Right now there is an over-supply of new teachers. Why? Because these people were laid off and couldn’t land other jobs! These low-ability people shouldn’t earn this much of my tax money! Cut teachers first before cutting other resources.”

“This has been a problem for far too long and we’ve allowed the tax eaters, that is, teachers unions, to fleece the American public into thinking that more spending, which ultimately ends up in their members’ pockets, somehow equates to better outcomes.”

“I don’t think teachers pay is the issue, it’s the value we receive as a community supporting our public schools. We don’t receive “value” from what we spend our education dollars on. For what we invest in our Public Schools all of our Teachers and Administrators should hold Doctorates, work 20 hour days and graduate 99% of their students, who should easily ace there [sic] SAT Test.”

“I Hate to Say This, But Califonia [sic] found the Answer! The Governor rolled back Salaries to Minimum Wage Levels for all State Employees!!! What a Great Idea!!! In Oregon, that would mean No Lay-Offs and we could fund PERS…. Now That’s a Win, Win, for the State!!! Come on Ted, Let Get With the Program!!!!!!”

I don’t even know how to respond to these comments. I’ve battled the “those who can, do” statement for years, along with people outside of education who think I have my summers “off.” Teaching, apparently, is not a real job.

The teachers I know spend their summers attending more classes, workshops, and conferences to help them grow as teachers and learners- usually all summer. Additionally, they work extra jobs to help pay for tuition, they teach and/or tutor in summer programs, private schools and/or studios. The only time I can remember having a true summer vacation is when I worked in a corporate job and could take two weeks off without any other obligations.

There were several other commenters who railed against teachers’ unions that protect tenure and incompetent teachers. Are the unions really to blame? or is an inadequate evaluation system more the problem? Personally, I know a few teachers who have been dismissed for incompetence. It probably doesn’t happen as often as it should, but it does happen.

I didn’t write this post thinking I would be arguing with these comments. Instead, I had hoped to outline a bigger problem which is the perception of teachers. How do we as educators change the public view of what we do in the classroom?

If we leave it to outsiders, we’re not going to get anywhere. We have to be more proactive. We have to take action ourselves. I’m tired of hearing the negative stories in the media about the bad things happening in school and with kids. I want the media to see me- to see other teachers like me- to learn about all the amazing things happening in our schools!

My action plan is not that complicated:

  1. Contact the media more often. Invite them to my classroom (again). Share, through multiple methods, what it is we’re doing.
  2. Bring parents into the classroom more. The parents in my school are already welcome in my classroom, although not many of them take our offer to visit. I want them to share their expertise in my classroom more often. Side note- I actually have really great and appreciative parents in my school, and for that, I am extremely grateful.
  3. Bring more attention to other teachers and students who are doing great things. Not every teacher has a powerful network where he/she can share successes. I have a great learning network of people who love to share ideas, collaborate, and celebrate with each other.

I am a teacher. By choice. Not because I was incapable of doing anything else, but because I couldn’t imagine doing anything else that would make me as happy as teaching does. I forgot that for a while. I left the classroom for “bigger and better” things. Corporate jobs. Bigger paychecks. More prestige. I was really successful… and really unhappy. Now I’m a teacher again. A really happy teacher who needs to help others see the real reasons why we teach.

What are YOU doing that allows your community to know about great things in your schools?

[Photo credit: Teach & Inspire, taken by Ryan Hyde on April 17, 2010. RLHyde’s Photostream.]

15 thoughts on “I Am A Teacher

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Cosimo Cannata, Cosimo Cannata. Cosimo Cannata said: What are YOU doing that allows your community to know about great things in your schools? Great post at http://j.mp/a1TUsq #teaching […]

  2. Michelle…

    Must be the name, 😉 I too have *always* wanted to be a teacher and *chose* teaching because of my love of children and of learning.

    I hear your frustration with what seems to be a growing trend in public perception of teachers. It is sad, scary, and upsetting, especially for those of us who are so dedicated, working every day (and every summer) to become better teachers, to share our love of learning, to fuel our students love of learning, and to create meaningful learning experiences.

    I love your plan for changing public perception through raising awareness of the positive things you and your school are doing for kids.

    I think parental involvement is huge. I make a special point of calling 2-5 parents every week to touch base about what’s happening in the classroom and at home. I do this on a rotating schedule so I don’t miss anyone–these calls are separate from the calls I *need* to make to address concerns or to congratulate progress.

    Keeping schools at the hearts of our communities and neighbourhoods is essential. I love the community school model (e.g. ) which opens doors through the inclusion of many public services in one space.

    I agree that we need to make our local newspapers part of our school events. Media is definitely an underutilized communcation tool at our school.

    Also keeping active school websites and blogs that parents are keen to visit is a helpful communication tool.

    Aside from improving communication and getting positive messages about schools ‘out there’, I wonder if part of the reason these negative public perceptions persist is because of a muddied understanding of the ‘purpose’ and ‘value’ of public education.

    The education system (and I would argue, public perception of the system) is still mired in industrial age practices and values. In fact, until new values and purpose are discussed in public, in government, and in staff rooms, I believe the struggle against negative public perception may persist.

    I think we are at a tipping point in education, where the discussion and redefinition of the ‘value’ and ‘purpose’ of public education may lead to the reform we all know needs to take place. Many in the educational community are already having this discussion (and acting upon newfound values and purpose) amongst ourselves, but it is a wider discussion, one that needs to include the public.

    Phew, sorry for the long comment–maybe you’ve inspired a topic for my next blog post–he he he…

    Good luck with your Action Plan this year! Have you considered sending this blog post as a ‘letter to the editor’ of “OregonLive.com”?? 🙂

    Thanks for the thought-provoking post, Michelle.
    From another Michelle 🙂
    aka @mrshoneysett

  3. Michelle,

    I never wanted to be a teacher, and I have to say that there were times that I thought “Those that can’t, teach.” I set out to be an accountant at a high profile accounting firm. I graduated at the top of my class in 3.5 years while managing a retail store full-time most of the time. I graduated from college making good money working in accounting and was over several people twice my age.

    Then something changed. I wasn’t making a difference. I was helping a corporation make a lot of money, but I was helping someone grow. I decided then and there I wanted to be a teacher. I went back to school to get my Master’s in Secondary Education. I absolutely loved teaching! I dedicated my heart to the field. In five years, I served two years as cheerleading sponsor, two years as Student Council Sponsor, five years as an academic UIL coach, served on many campus, district, and area committees, and much more. I then started working in Instructional Technology where my “students” are teachers. I absolutely love this field! I love helping teachers grow and learn new things! I love seeing the difference made when teachers try new projects in the classroom. I love when teachers transition from textbooks and lecture to project-based learning.

    I too would love to see educators receive more positive attention and positive time in the limelite. Unfortunately, as with many things in our culture, the bad things are what capture media attention. Teachers having affairs with students gets much more exposure than innovative projects that happen in the classroom. The teachers that post on Facebook and other places the countdown to summer and the drudgery to the first day of school fill the minds of society.

    I hope someday that the teachers that teach for summer and short work days are weeded out. It is the majority of teachers that you described that make education what it is today. It is the teachers that work 10 hours a day to go home and spend more hours on lessons, grading, answering email, and so much more. It is the teachers that show up to every single workshop I offer in the summer and then some. It is the teachers that sneak snacks and clothes into their classrooms to spare the dignity of a student. It is the teachers that attend many hours of extra-curricular activities to support the students and earn their respect in the classroom. It is the teachers that spend thousands of dollars to continue their education and help our education system grow despite low salaries. These are the teachers that I wish the media would see.

    Thanks for sharing your steps to making the public more aware. I encourage teachers to maintain a classroom website and/or blog to demonstrate all of the hard work and accomplishments of their students. I know it is hard work; however, it is another step into mainstream to show the powerful things that can and do happen in the classroom!

    I have since learned that it is not “Those who can’t teach.” It is….

    Those that CAN teach!

    Teaching is a very difficult job! One that does not receive the recognition it deserves!


  4. Bonita DeAmicis


    Heartfelt and thoughtful post with an important question for teachers and education in general, thank you. I have felt that resentment you describe growing for teachers over the years and it saddens me, too. I think it is good to keep our parents in the loop, but unlikely to lead to a change in public perception because polls show that most parents support their own schools and teachers, just not “all the rest.”

    Teachers have really received a beating the last two decades, and it is sad, especially when pension systems get attacked and people do not seem to realize that we do not get social security when we retire.

    This will be unpopular to say, but I think teacher’s unions do hold some of the responsibility for the public’s growing dissatisfaction with teachers. I know unions and tenure are important to teaching, but I think the teaching unions have positioned themselves as protectors of the status quo, rather than protectors of the profession. I experienced it with my own union more than once, union leaders that often worked to protect their own interests at the risk of the interests of the membership and the profession, very sad.

    I wish unions would move toward being more like professional agencies, like the bar is for lawyers, or the medical board is for doctors. I think as long as the teachers union does not take teacher professionalism into account, they will grow the public disdain for the unions and ultimately teachers. I need to add to this that I read and listen to national and state leadership in unions and they are saying/writing good things, but then at the local level I do not see the same principles carried out. I am not sure why that is so.

    My two cents,

  5. Michelle, your plan/suggestion that good teachers become more visible is a good one. As with any profession, a few bad apples can spoil the bunch, and become the primary shaper of public perception of that profession. The news media likes stories of professionals behaving badly. A cop misbehaves, it’s front page news. A cop does a job well, who wants to write about that? And so it is with corporate executives, accountants, athletes, and teachers. Any profession that has millions of people practicing it is going to produce some front page stories of misbehavior. Every parent at some point encounters a few ineffective teachers, and, as any visit to TripAdvisor or Yelp will tell you, people much prefer complaining about their bad experiences than recounting their good ones. I advise some companies on social media strategies and make this point abundantly clear – the unsatisfied customers will surely speak their minds in public forums, so you need to make sure the satisfied ones do as well. So your strategy to tell the good side of teaching – and get others to do so as well – is a sound one. I’ve been advocating that teachers find ways to make the work their students do more publicly visible, and not just bury it in a folder. For decades, student work has been hung in the school hall and the public library – how can you “hang it” digitally on the Internet? School Websites, publicly available blogs and innumerable other opportunities abound. The Denver Post has a section for student work; before long, all viable newspapers that decide they don’t want to give up on ever having another reader under 30 will do so as well. And my content Website, findingDulcinea, will begin regularly posting outstanding student work in the fall. Beyond the Internet, there are innumerable opportunities to help students have an impact on their community. Push them to figure out where.

  6. […] though? Coincidentally, on the same day I read Sinek’s post, Michelle Baldwin also wrote an excellent post about how we need to advertise the great things that are happening in our schools.  She does not […]

  7. Michelle,

    I think your blog post plus the previous three comments hit the proverbial nail on the head: in order to change the perception of teachers, teaching, and education we have to educate the public about what we really do. We have to advocate for ourselves. As teaching professionals we need to take responsibility for promoting the positive not just amongst our peers, but to the public.

    I love your action plan. I think those are things we all can do to help promote the positive. I too have been confounded at the ignorance of the public as to what actually goes on in public schools and the issues that go along with educating the future. The best defense against ignorance is education.

    I am planning to start a blog myself as part of a public education outreach. I will not only highlight positive things going on in my classroom, but also try to bring to light great things that are going on in other classrooms in order to dis-spell the myth that public education has remained stagnant (things are changing!) and to bring to light some of the struggles we deal with on a day-to-day basis.

    It’s time to take the good things we know are happening in education to the streets!

    Good luck in the new school year.

    Jason Larson

  8. @mrshoneysett you touched on something I neglected to mention in the blog post, and that’s the public perception of the purpose of education. We ARE still mired in industrial age practices… one of the things I hope to do in bringing positive news to our community would also be to help people understand that we can’t keep doing what we’ve done for the last 50, 60, etc. years! Great point!

  9. @Krista that is definitely my least favorite phrase (Those who can’t…), followed immediately by “The three greatest things about teaching are June, July, and August.” I think when we treat teachers as people who don’t really want to be there and who perform the lowest level skill possible… wow. When did perception of teachers become so bad? Glad we have people like you who understand how important we all are in children’s lives!

  10. @Bonita in my state, we can’t have unions… we have Associations. Basically, we can’t strike. I wonder how much of the problem is unions protecting bad teachers or how much of it is the simple fact of documenting bad teaching. Sometimes, building administrators are too busy to effectively evaluate their teachers??
    There are a lot of good evaluation systems out there that put ineffective teachers on assistance programs to improve. If they don’t, they are removed… maybe teacher evaluation AND union practices could use a little reinventing.

    Great thoughts!

  11. @Mark I’m so glad to hear findingDulcinea will be promoting student work! That’s a great opportunity for kids!

    There are some school districts that I know do not allow student work to be posted anywhere outside school-owned servers or unless the district has a contract with those sites. How would you propose to counter those restrictions? I’d be interested to hear those ideas.

  12. @Jason I can’t wait to see your blog. We DO need to be our own advocates, but more importantly, our students’ advocates! Keep me posted!

  13. […] I Am A Teacher | Avenue4Learning – Michelle Baldwin’s blog is becoming one of my favourites to read as she is passionate in her writing and has some amazing ideas.  This is a definite blog you should add to your reader and Michelle is a great conversationalist in her comment section.  If you ever have a question or comment on one of her posts, she always comes back with something insightful that will really make you think and learn along with her. Here are some highlights from this post by a very passionate educator: […]

  14. […] though? Coincidentally, on the same day I read Sinek’s post, Michelle Baldwin also wrote an excellent post about how we need to advertise the great things that are happening in our schools.  She does not […]

  15. […] be honest, I’ve written so much in the last few months about what I’ve heard from the media, Oprah, our President and his […]

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