Myth in Education: Teachers and their Profession
editorial from Chattanooga Times (2001)
You Think You Know Everyting about Teachers? Think Again.
Recently, a right wing blogger and Twitter user slammed teachers for being pampered, dumb, and over-paid. As usual, she didn’t have much to support her claims. Instead, it was based on age old beliefs that today’s teachers (both public and private)are often at the bottom of their high school or college class; are not able to make it in the “real world”; have political agendas (a popular belief among the ideological right wingers); and have an easy, secure job with a lot of vacation time.
Also, when it comes to critiquing teachers, their unions are thrown in for good measure. They are perceived by many (left, right or apolitical) as being too powerful, or blocking educational reform.
These misunderstanding have lead to several myths. While some are outright lies, others are either partially true or totally misrepresented or vague. The myths listed are only a few that have cropped up over years. In many cases it is important to clarify what they are and what the realities really state.
Myth#1: Teachers lack real world experience, and therefore are not qualified to teach.
Reality: Most teachers have had careers prior to teaching. This includes the military, law enforcement, and the private sector. Many of them had different reasons for becoming teachers. One former police officer wanted a fulfilling job in which he could prevent youths from entering a life of crime. A former lawyer expressed her distaste for her previous profession and wanted to do something positive.
Some teachers have second jobs. Many own private tutoring companies or manage restaurants in their spare time. Others have invested in real estate, which has supplemented their income, handsomely.
Myth#2: Teachers enter the profession because they didn’t do well in school and the private sector will not hire them.
Reality: Again, teachers came from various backgrounds before they started teaching. Also, many were valedictorians at their high schools or colleges. In some cases, they were ranked Number #1 in their class. Also, public school teachers need to complete a four-year degree plus additional year to complete a preliminary credential, and then another year (usually to be taken five years after the prelim) for a clear credential (usually to be taken five years after the prelim). In some cases, it takes a few additional years, depending on the credential or subject matter.
Also, in order to get the credentials to teacher, they must enroll in a school of education at the university level. This means they have to go through the procedure of taking entrance exams, have a GPA above 2.5 (3.0-3.5 at the selective university programs), and demonstrate competency in the subject they wish to teach.
As for the argument that most teachers are “failures” in life, here are a few examples of people who started as teachers. Some became presidents or legislators. This includes President Lyndon B. Johnson, who was a public school teacher from Houston, Texas before entering politics. Others are writers Stephen King and S.E Hinton; Musicians Sting and Sheryl Crow; President Woodrow Wilson (Princeton University president before entering politics), President Barrack Obama (professor of law), and two signers of the Declaration of Independence.
Myth#3: Those with Impressive college degrees and from prestigious universities can easily teach any class.
Reality: Not Quite. An event in Southern California in the 1990s disproved this notion. Aerospace firms were closing down. Most were struggling or leaving the state. As a result, many engineers were laid off.
This came at a time when there was a shortage of math and science teachers. With an ease of state teacher licensing regulations and with federal support, many of these laid-off engineers were quickly snatched up by local school districts, hastily trained, and placed in a classroom.
What was the result? Many of them didn’t last a year. Many administrators from these districts were not impressed either. In one case, a school district official called them the “worst group of teachers” she had ever had to deal with it.
The reasons for their failures were immense; however, the biggest problem was communication. Many didn’t know how to transpose their knowledge to school age kids. Others had no clue about discipline and didn’t know how to handle a classroom. In the end, the experiment didn’t last long. With the exception of a few these people, many didn’t finish the year. Some quit within a few days of starting their new profession.
Myth #4: Districts get rid of good teachers and keep the bad ones.
Reality: Some districts may do this, but many don’t do this intentionally. Until recently, one of the biggest problems in teaching has been retention. Simply put, many teachers either quit or get non-rehired within the first five years. And the reasons vary. Some teachers quit because they realize that being an educator is not all that it was cracked out to be. Others move on to other professions or school districts that may have better pay. Also, there are the bad seeds – that is, teachers who lack professionalism, discipline in the classroom, or work ethics (i.e. being observed not teaching the students or following the state standards).
Some of these teachers were good and/or dedicated, others simply didn’t fit. They didn’t know how to work with students, and they didn’t know how to work with faculty and staff. If a teacher is bad, word will spread by either the teachers next door to them, by the students, or through the classified staff.
Still, there are effective teachers who have been let go. The current problem has been the ongoing funding crisis (at least in California). Public funds have been dwindling due to the state’s housing crisis. As a result, school districts have had to operate with very little. Also, new and veteran teachers have been laid-off because the position they were teaching had been eliminated.
Myth#5: Teachers are paid $89,000 a year. That’s way too much!
Reality: Even after 30 years on the job, most teachers will never reach this amount. They’d have to do extra duty jobs such as afterschool tutoring, substitute teaching per period (mostly in high schools) or summer school. Another way they may get close to this is to expand their education and earn more college credits or degrees. This will move them to a different column. Also, some districts may give a stipend for a doctoral degree or a national certification.
Still, the likelihood a teacher will make more than $89, 000 per year will be based on the district they are working for, the years they put in and the extra duty assignments they amass. That is, unless, they decide to go back to school, earn an administrative credential, and become an administrator.
This amount was an arbitrary number that came out of nowhere during the protest against the ban on collective bargaining for Wisconsin’s public employees. Unfortunately, it had spread throughout the Internet and among socially conservative groups.
Myth #6: The teacher’s union is all powerful.
Reality: If the union is so powerful, why are teachers losing their jobs at an alarming rate? Also, if this is true – especially in the state of California -- why is funding for education so low when compared to the money going toward the state’s correctional system?
In truth, the economy and politics do more to dictate what is being taught in the classroom and how schools are staffed. The union’s primary jobs to protect its members from unfair practices and to ensure students have enough teachers to help them academically.
The teacher’s union is not a perfect system. It has been wrought by controversy and has been involved in tactics that were counter-productive. On the other hand, they have advocated for better working condition, protection against unfair labor practices, and better tactics to teach students.
Myth#7: All teachers are liberals, commies, and socialists!
Reality: They come from every part of the political spectrum. Many are moderates or centrists, while others have very strong ideological views that put them on the extreme ends. In a recent edition, California Educator – a magazine published by the California Teachers Association (CTA), it showcased several Conservative Republican members. These members had a chance to express their views, as well as their support for a tax initiative to help fund schools and prevent major cuts.
In the end, most teachers will shed political ideologies when teaching. To them the most important thing is teaching the students.
Myth # 8: You can’t fire teachers after they've earned tenure.
Reality: Tenure may protect teachers from being fired without reason, but it doesn’t protect them from being laid-off, removed from the class for insubordination, or fired for criminal misconduct. In some states and districts, the concept of tenure is no assurance of job protection.
First of all, one thing needs to be understood about the use of tenure. The designation serves several purposes. It was intended as a way to protect a teacher’s constitutional right to free speech. Before its designation, teachers were fired for what they were teaching rather than how they were teaching. This included such hot-button topics such as evolution, sex education, history, or literature.
Another important role of tenure (especially for districts in large cities or urban areas) is to be an incentive to retain teachers. These schools often have high teacher turn over rates. And, considering that it’s hard to entice people to enter the profession these days (especially with its notorious low pay) tenure is possibly the one way to lure likely candidates to the profession.
Still, in the age of tenure, educators can still lose their jobs over frivolous reasons. Case in point: a veteran teacher in Texas was removed from the classroom on the suspicion of being an “atheist”. The original accusation came from a disgruntled student; however, according to reports, a school board member who had past conflicts with the teacher took up the cause of trying to get him fired.
The right-winger may have had a lot to say about teachers; however, her views were formed by opinion with little or no factual support. What she must realize is that teachers are people dedicated to their professions. Ideological rants will do little to change this concept. As it stands, this country will benefit by having qualified educators. But, lambasting them with myths will not serve anyone, including the students.
© 2012 Dean Traylor