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Teachers vs. Society's Perception
Love them or Hate Them: Teachers are Important Members of the Community
It was the late 1990s and the economy was good. Everybody had money in their pockets and felt no qualm about spending. I, on the hand, never had to pull out money at the local bar and grills. All I had to do was mention I was a public school teacher, and nearly every patron was willing to buy me a drink.
Then, something happened in the 2000s. It wasn’t cool to be a teacher. In fact, there were some people who were ready to blame you for every social and political problem imaginable. In one case, an ultra-conservative acquaintance muttered the following question: “Are all teachers socialists?”
Within a decade, sentiment for teachers went from the highest mountain peaks to he lowest valleys. Teachers have gone from being a respected member of the community to being something of a pariah.
Although the status of teachers has improved lately, the damage has been done. After a decade-long attack from school-privatization advocates, religious groups, ideological organizations, pundits, and so-called school-reformers, teachers are still viewed by many in society with a certain level of disdain.
Even an article recently published on a particular website attempted to label teachers as having a “God complex” (where this argument came from is anyone’s guess). It’s a misconception to say the least. This is obvious when I happen to look at the peeling paint on the discolored walls and the bulging water-stained ceiling panels in my classroom. Would God call this heaven?
Budget cuts have imperiled the occupation. The litany of standardized testing and other regulations has made it stressful. Whereas it was once considered a hot career to get in during the 90s, many are either avoiding it or quitting within the first two to five years in order to pursue something else.
It has also become extremely political and litigious. Not a day goes by in which a right-wing advocacy groups and cranks are data- mining the media to find negative stories about teachers and their union (the union, in particular, has been taking all kinds of beating from around the country); or someone is trying to sue a school district.
The fall in status of the profession has had a silver lining. Attention was placed on curriculum, teaching techniques, and a push to have the appropriate credentials. In some cases, a school improved when the teacher became “highly-qualified” according to the law.
They’ve also became more proactive. They collaborated, came up with new methods of teaching, and found ways to adjust to an increasingly contentious educational climate.
The target is the powerful teacher’s union. Thanks to numerous public relation attacks and media blitzes, the image of the union was tarnished
Still, the negativity hurt the profession in other ways. The federal law, “No Child Left Behind” proved to be a boondoggle. It was purportedly supposed to improve teacher qualification, set ambitious goals for students, and attempt to improve schools in both suburban and urban areas. It did neither, considering that the funding was hardly there. The teachers may have had to take more courses to earn their credential and were considerably more educated, but they didn’t have the funds, technology or support to bring this into the classroom.
There are some who argue that the NCLB was designed to fail by setting standards too high. It was believed it would help usher in an era of charter schools, home-schooling, school vouchers, and other “reforms” (this is pure speculation and does border on conspiracy theories).
Other types of reform were seemingly designed to weaken the teacher’s already-weak powers. The target is the powerful teacher’s union. Thanks to numerous public relation attacks and media blitzes, the image of the union was tarnished. They were painted as supporters of the “status-quo” (this is a strange accusation, considering that many reformers are anti-progressives who seemingly pushed for programs that eliminated ingenious methods in reading recovery, vocational arts, and fine art programs).
The attack on teachers – especially on their union – was taken up by politicians, as well. Over the decade there had been pushes made by state legislators and governors to take away collective bargaining rights, health-care coverage, tenure, and vital school programs.
With all this negativity, why would anyone want to stay in the profession? One reason can be summed up in a clichéd line: The lives we impact.
The ultimate praises doesn’t necessarily come from patrons at a bar who are willing pay for your round. It doesn’t come from people on the street who shake your hand when you mention what you do. It comes from the students and their parents; especially those who return several years after graduation to simply say “Thanks.”
If this particular reason makes me -- or any teacher -- sound like we have a "God-complex"; then, I’m guilty as charged.
© 2012 Dean Traylor