The Irony of Not Teaching the Importance of Teaching

May 6, 2012 — 4 Comments

Most stakeholders only have the experience of one point of view…from the student desk.

This coming week (May 7-11, 2012) is Teacher Appreciation Week. There will be the customary newspaper coverage of favorite teacher stories,  the hashtag #thankateacher will trend on Twitter, and celebrities will post videos thanking teachers as the most important influences in their lives. These are all wonderful and appropriate tributes to the profession that prepares our nation’s youth to become productive citizens.

But for the other 51 weeks of the year, the teaching profession is struggling under serious criticism. According to the National Education Association (NEA) website:

  • There are 3,232,813 teachers in K-12 public schools, and about 16 percent of these positions become vacant each year.
  • Forty-five percent of new teachers abandon the profession in their first five years.
  • More teachers believe collaborating with colleagues is essential to their work, but many districts still don’t provide time for teachers to learn, share and collaborate.
  • Teachers’ salaries still lag behind those for other occupations requiring a college degree, and the pay gap is growing larger.

The teaching profession dedicated to educating the nation has done a terrible job at self-promotion. Teachers today have failed to educate the public about the value of this great vocation in the same manner that they failed to teach the value of teaching to previous generations, most notably the parents and grandparents of students in schools today.  The result is that the very public that teachers need to enlist in support of the teaching profession is not confident in meeting the criticisms being leveled at educators today.

There is increasing negative political attention turned on the teaching profession. For example, in-between statements of  support for teachers, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was quoted as saying, “They [teachers] only work 180 days,” voicing the popular perception that teachers work only part time.
Of course, there is evidence that counter his claims that teachers do not work that hard; the Wall Street Journal listed a series of facts about the teaching profession in the June 2011 article, Number of the Week: U.S. Teachers’ Hours Among World’s Longest:
  • U.S. educators work 1,097 hours teaching in the classroom, the most of any industrialized nation measured by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
  • American teachers work 1,913 hours a year, just shy of the U.S. average of 1,932 per year.
  • U.S. teachers are slightly more likely to work at home than private-sector workers, the U.S. Labor Department found. They aren’t paid to work weekends but are as likely to do so as private-sector employees — including those scheduled to work Saturdays and Sundays.
In my own state of Connecticut, during the February 2012 State of the State speech, Governor Dannel Malloy made a commitment to educational reform in one breath, and then slammed teachers and the practice of tenure in the next breath saying, “Basically the only thing you [teachers] have to do is show up for four years. Do that, and tenure is yours.” Not surprisingly, his educational  legislation promoting teacher evaluation reform is currently being met with serious resistance by the Connecticut State Teacher’s Union. Politics is polarizing the profession.
This negative attention is dangerous if schools are interested in attracting quality candidates to the teaching  profession. In his opinion piece in the 5/6/12 NYTimes “Teaching Me About Teaching” Charles M. Blow sounded this alarm pointing out,  “A big part of the problem is that teachers have been so maligned in the national debate that it’s hard to attract our best and brightest to see it as a viable and rewarding career choice, even if they have a high aptitude and natural gift for it.” His editorial was accompanied by statistics of the top tier college graduates who will not choose teaching for economic and social reasons; only 37% of responders believed a career in teaching is considered successful.
The irony is that for years teachers have not been effective advocates for their work. Teachers have demonstrated but not taught their students the rigors of teaching; the assumption is that the experience of being a student speaks for the entire profession. Certainly, all occupations have practitioners that can make work look easy to an uninformed public. Any product- a building, a meal, a vaccine, a championship trophy -cannot fully inform the public of the individual or collaborative preparation to make that product a reality. In addition, all work requires some level of training. Teachers study about their craft first at college and later implement these lessons in classrooms. However, the classroom is crucible, a brutal training ground that disputes the notion that “anyone can teach”  as almost half the nation’s new teachers vote for the profession with their feet, leaving within the first five years.

Being a student is only 1/2 of the educational relationship; teachers need to teach the significance of their role


For decades, K-12 teachers have collectively prepared students for careers in the sciences, in mathematics, in the arts, in the humanities, and in the industrial arts. Yet, in preparing students for careers beyond the classroom, there has been no direct instruction on the methodology on the craft of instruction for student learning. Consider how little students today understand about how much time and cognitive effort a teacher has to expend for each lesson plan. Day after day, period after period, students participate in an academic enterprise without acknowledging the multiple components that teachers have included in its construction: IEPs, multiple/emotional  intelligence strategies, Bloom’s levels of understanding, technology, curriculum content, available resources and facility limitations to name a few.
Teaching is challenging work, and in their commitment to provide the nation with all manner of numeracy and literacy skills, teachers have failed to express and assess student understanding of teaching. Students at all grade levels in public or private schools today have little understanding of the increasing demands of the teaching profession which now include incorporating Common Core State Standards, integrating technology for 21st Century Skills, and increasing scrutiny in newly designed evaluations. Ultimately, teachers have failed to communicate the significance of their contributions to a productive society that will result in recruiting the best and the brightest to the profession.
The public’s understanding of education often comes as a “recipient in the desk “point of view, not from the perspective of the teacher charged with engaging and educating every student. Unless the public is persuaded that teachers are critical for our democratic society, the profession will continue to suffer economically and socially. After basking in the attention from stories of the positive influence they have had on on the lives of individual students during Teacher Appreciation Week, teachers need to integrate one more lesson to their repertoire. How ironic that teachers must teach the significance of teaching.

4 responses to The Irony of Not Teaching the Importance of Teaching

  1. 

    I believe that teachers are demonized for what is a systemic problem in education, a uni-dimentional mechanism for measuring success…the standardized test score.
    While test scores are important and can certainly be a chapter in an important story, they are not in and of themselves the story. But unless educators are out front narrating, the story will be told for them based on anecdotes and cherry-picking pieces of information.
    I think Blow hit the mark in his definition of a great teacher, “proud, exhausted, underpaid and overjoyed.”
    Hopefully the pendulum will swing and teachers and the teaching profession will gain lost ground in reverence and respect.

    • 

      How wonderful to have a Superintendent of Schools speak so powerfully! Thank you for reading the blog, and thank you for recognizing the limits of the standardized test. I am lucky to work in the Regional School District 6 where teachers are encouraged to make contributions to the advancement of the profession. Thank you, again.

  2. 
    Jack Stansbury May 10, 2012 at 12:26 pm

    I’m curious why you believe it’s a teacher’s responsibility to advocate for themselves. Don’t teachers have enough to do already? How many teachers have time in their busy classrooms to explain to their stuidents how much time it took to create and polish today’s lesson? I thought I would be getting a President and Secretary of Education that would, for the first time in eight years, be an advocate for teachers. I stood for hours in the cold of January 20, 2009 to, for the first time in my life, hear and see a President I thought would care and support me and my profession. But I was wrong. Linda and Diane are great advocates for teachers. I do what little I can in the little bit of time I have to speak up against the uninformed.

    • 

      Thank you for taking time to respond. I was writing about the irony of teachers failing to teach the importance of teaching; I would hope that that teachers would not have to defend a great profession OR take time from class to explain the science of teaching. You are right; we are busy enough. However, this year, not one of my graduating seniors put education down as a possible major. This is dangerous when a noble profession has been so devalued; when students I believe would make good teachers see teaching as “too much work for too little pay”…. We must be our own advocates….as you must be in light of your last sentence. Please note the other comment to this post was from my school superintendent, another articulate advocate. Thank you again for contributing your thoughts.

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