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.]