I love reading articles like this one: “In Honor of Teachers“. The stories are always touching, it’s nice to feel supported and appreciated, and it sure doesn’t hurt to hear that your profession is “infused with nobility.”
But this article is one in a line of recent press that stands in blind support of teachers. It’s popular lately for politicians to cry out against “the scapegoating of teachers” and for people to demand that we stop blaming teachers for our failing education system. This is all very nice and good, and I appreciate hearing voices in my favor, but I think these people are actually going around supporting us in the wrong way. To make the education system better and promote the teaching profession, I think they actually have to get tougher on us.
You don’t hear anyone tell people to stop scapegoating bankers for our economic failures. You don’t hear anyone tell people to stop scapegoating Congress and the President for our governmental failures. Some people sign up to do a job that has a significant influence over certain aspects of society. They might not have caused the problems themselves, but they took a job with the potential to fix these problems. In doing that, they take on some personal responsibility. You’re supposed to hold them to it if they don’t make things better.
I want people to have that kind of faith in teachers, too. I want you to remember that I signed up to help fix education in this country, and I want you to trust in my ability to make things better. I want you to have the same high expectations for me that I have for my kids, so that you demand excellence from me no matter what else is going on. Poverty, parents, previous teachers, funding cuts… all these things might make my job harder, but they are not an excuse to lower your belief in me. I’d never let my kids tell me that their poverty means they don’t have to learn as well. For the same reason, I ask you never to tell me that the problems in our society mean I don’t have to teach as well.
If we want the best and brightest in this country to become teachers, we have to start treating the profession like it’s something only the best and brightest can do. Stop babying us and start demanding that we perform better than bankers, better than politicians, better than professional athletes, better than Navy SEALS. If you believe that my job is the most important one there is, then stop telling me that I can be anything less than the best. Not my best, but the best.
Just because I’m “noble” enough to give up a higher salary and easier hours does not mean I have a right to this job. Just because I take care of children all day does not mean you have to give me a gold star sticker for effort and leave me alone. Just because teachers are “so nice” and “so self-sacrificing” and “in it for the kiddos” doesn’t mean we don’t also have to be great at our jobs. I am an adult, and an extremely competent one at that. Treat me accordingly. If I can’t do my job better than anyone else, make me be better or take it away from me and give it to someone who can excel. Our kids are too important for you to do anything less.
Sure, a higher salary and better public perception would help get better people into teaching, but there’s no way they can come first. When you have a job that anyone can get, no one can lose, and people aren’t allowed to criticize, then you really don’t have a job that deserves a high salary and lots of respect. Society will have to pay us well when it refuses to settle for anyone who isn’t worth a fair sum of money. People will have to respect our work when they know how we must excel just to keep our jobs. Then the system would all function dramatically better.
Demand excellence and settle for nothing less. Then pay and treat the excellent teachers accordingly, while trusting that you’ve hired people who can make our education system better. Maybe then we’ll be able to sit back and stop scapegoating the teachers.