Over & Underappreciated

I’ve considered myself something of an enemy of my own profession before I even became licensed to teach. I’ll allow that my cynical and contrary personality is partially blame; as well as my radical ideological departures with the majority of educators. And my dad was quite frank about his disdain for the profession and that must have rubbed off on me somewhat. But I’m also just being honest.

I am contrary and cynical but this doesn’t come out much while I’m doing my job. Certainly not when teaching and not on official duties with staff outside the classroom either.

Where socio-political issues are concerned, the majority of teachers I’ve met are only soft-left and like most people, are quite incoherent if you try to get at the underpinnings of their beliefs. I also notice that a fair few are content to say the right things when in the presence of hard-leftists but in practical terms, are quite sensible. It’s the academics, unionists, lobbyists and administrators (read: teachers that don’t teach), that are the real ideologues. That poison seeps down into the schools and teachers are only guilty of putting up with it. So apart from dealing with the occasional crusaders and a whole lot of incorrect assumptions that dominate the field, teachers that actually teach aren’t bad.

And what my dad disliked about teachers was more their overconfidence in their knowledge and ability which is partially a result of what I want to go into here.

The problem is not so much teachers but society as a whole. I’m reminded of John Derbyshire’s comments on how teachers are treated compared to other professions. The context is a review of a documentary called “Waiting for Superman” which seems to blame the problems in schools on lack of good teachers.

I don’t doubt that some teachers are awful. Some of my own teachers were awful; some of my colleagues, when I myself was a teacher, were awful; and to be perfectly frank, I never thought that I myself was much good as a teacher.

Mediocrity is the norm in any line of work, though. How many accountants, or computer programmers, or dentists, or law professors, or manicurists, or opinion columnists, are really stellar performers? When I go for a haircut at my local unisex salon, I always ask for the same lady: not because she’s a world-bestriding genius with scissors and comb, but because she’s the best of a mediocre bunch in a place whose prices I don’t mind paying. Most of life works like that.

Like Mr. Derbyshire, I don’t think I’m a very good teacher. I may be overly hard on myself as I have been told the opposite plenty of times. I certainly didn’t start out well during both training and my first placement but that has to be considered normal for most people. On balance, I’m probably mediocre – the norm. Many of the worst teachers I’ve met certainly didn’t think they were bad and those were the ones my father found all too common. The consciously and deliberately lazy teachers are a rarity; as I imagine those types are in most professions.

But it’s his point on how other professions are treated that I think more important. I can’t think of another profession that gets so much praise and at the same time feels totally unappreciated. More than once I’ve heard a colleague claim that teachers should be paid the same wages as an engineer earns. And all the times I have, I’ve held my tongue because I seem to be the only person in the situation that considers such a claim absurd.

It seems like something I shouldn’t have to explain but I clearly do. Teaching wasn’t even a university level qualification when I was born. When I first become a teacher, the teachers went to teacher’s college which sounded a lot more like a trade school than a university. Judged wholly on the older teachers I worked with when I started, and the younger teachers I work with now, it was a lot more rigorous and effective too.

Teaching, especially at the primary levels requires a knowledge base much lower than the highly focused and technical of STEM degrees. Again, I wonder why I have to state this but it is what teachers and many of the loudest people in society actually think. If engineering were really on the same level as teaching, I would have taken an engineering course. In reality; it would have been too hard for me then and probably still would be now.

That’s a tangent but it relates to the real problem seems to be how teachers are portrayed. This is partially due to media – see movies like ‘Dead Poet’s Society’ and ‘Dangerous Minds’ for examples in film. Then there is also the way teachers are treated by parents. When was the last time you gave your hairdresser, accountant or mechanic a thank you card? Flowers? These people would all make you very unhappy if they didn’t do their job properly yet monetary compensation is enough. With all this praise, is it any wonder that so many have an inflated sense of a teacher’s importance?

Now, teachers are generally working with people’s children and that has a more intimate and important connection you may say. But I’d say it’s still over the top. Most parents would be happy with a safe, stable and consistent environment. And for my part, getting paid is more than enough thanks for my services.

This doesn’t mean I think people should stop being nice or thankful to teachers. I just think there is a on the whole, too much romanticism in the profession – mostly from the outside looking in. You should be as thankful to a competent teacher as you should to anyone who does you an honest service. And I think if not for the other problems in education that I’ve had to resist including here, that would be quite enough for the majority of teachers.




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