Sunday, March 17, 2013
Hostility Towards Teachers
One of the more disturbing trends I've been seeing in the news media and even on discussion boards is a general down turn in opinions about teachers. If you teach, I'm sure you've seen this yourself and it's often discouraging seeing our profession taking a few to the jaw due to the poor judgement or actions of a few.
In tooling about on the web to research for this post, I came across an article that says it so much better. "What teachers really want to tell parents" is an honest assessment of what often goes through our minds and Ron Clark puts into words what I've often felt and thought. I really want to have positive relationships with parents, but sometimes it's hard, really, really hard.
The article opens with a quote from an administrator who was leaving the profession (the article is 2 years old): "Look, if I get an offer to lead a school system of orphans, I will be all over it, but I just can't deal with parents anymore; they are killing us."
First a disclaimer: I'm a parent as well as an educator. I've been on both sides of the desk, so to speak, and I can tell you that teaching is no easy task. Parenting isn't either. I do not want to throw parents under the bus, but when I read this article, all those emotions about teaching and seeing the trend toward teacher-targeted hostility rose up. I felt myself cheering for the honesty that this article presented. Clark makes some great points and confirmed for me a myriad of suspicions, but here are two.
1. Clark says, "The truth is, a lot of times it's the bad teachers who give the easiest grades, because they know by giving good grades everyone will leave them alone. Parents will say, 'My child has a great teacher! He made all A's this year!' "
I hate to think there are ever 'bad' teachers, but of course with any profession, there will be people who don't pull their weight and it is quintessentially disheartening to those who work their buns off. But this quote speaks to me on a deeper level, because I am a teacher with really high standards and my kids feel like they're struggling through the year and sometimes, their grades are less than spectacular. I rarely see an A on my roster, but when I do, that A means that student has worked above and beyond his/her peers. It means something to get an A from me, because it represents a lot of work and perseverance. Because of this, I become plagued with doubt. Am I too harsh? Are my students getting what they need?
Ultimately, this doubt serves as a place for me to reflect. It causes me to assess and reassess what I do on an ongoing basis. I think if you don't have doubt, then you may need to reevaluate what's going on in your classroom. Overconfidence can be detrimental to student success because you won't see where you need to change or adjust. The kids are the ones who pay.
So I got a boost when I read, "In all honesty, it's usually the best teachers who are giving the lowest grades, because they are raising expectations." I believe this in my heart of hearts, but I still have doubts! I know my standards are high--really high--but it's also a struggle for me to keep them high, when I see only 30% of my students turning in major projects and racking up zeroes. Yet, I still do it, despite the emotional toll on them, me and mom/dad.
2. "We walk on eggshells in a watered-down education system where teachers lack the courage to be honest and speak their minds. If they make a slight mistake, it can become a major disaster."
My first year of teaching, I remember being afraid to say anything. I've shifted as I've become comfortable in teaching and I've made honesty (not cruelty) my motto--always. So if a student does something that is offensive, I tell them. If they aren't working up to ability, I tell them. Students should not be told that they are awesome writers if they really aren't. I believe it is when we can have an honest and open dialogue with students and parents that we'll be able to have truly excellent education.
Having teachers walking on eggshells is also counterproductive. Much of what we do in education is bolstering what is and is not socially acceptable behavior and building work ethic. If a student isn't working up to par, then s/he needs to know that. Mom and dad can't save their children from the world in which we live. We want to. I know as a mom, I really want to save my 10 and 12 year olds sometimes, but often I have to take my own emotion out of a situation and think about the lesson inherent in the moment. Parents and teachers need to ask themselves: what is the lesson here?
Make no mistake about it, it's no easy task being a parent or a teacher. I can understand both rolls clearly, but the movement of hostility toward teachers is one that needs to stop. We've all had personal run-ins with parents or students who have blamed us for something (rightly or wrongly as the case may be). What's worrisome is that this is becoming a wider spread phenomenon in the media and the rhetoric is getting pretty nasty. I'll be discussing that at a later time, however.