A friend of mine recently tweeted me the link to a blog post titled Why Teaching Is So Doggone Hard. I loved it. I loved it so much, I reread it — TWICE. Teaching is so doggone hard, after all, and no one knows that like a fellow teacher.
What I didn’t love were some of the comments, one in particular by a Mr. Zach Something-Or-Other (not even worth going back and looking at his actual name). Zach claimed all this teacher was doing was whining, and he was sick and tired of it. He was qualified to call her out because his family was highly educated, he had a Masters degree, he was a successful financial expert (or something), a democrat (God, why did he have to admit that? Gives us all a bad name), and graduated top of his class at Asshole School.
Zach doesn’t really matter because Zach is either A.) a troll hell bent on winning his trolly contest, or B.) somebody with a lot of time on his hands to scour the internet for opportunities to be grumpy and arrogant and rude and douchey (as evidenced through the number of rebuttals he produced in response to the very large quantity of replies to his original comment). What does matter, though, is how teachers respond to asshats like Zach.
For the longest time, I felt the need to defend the teaching profession with my entire being. I felt the need to dispel the myth that teachers work for only 7 hours a day and enjoy holidays and summers off without worry. For the longest time, I felt the need to point out exactly what it is teachers are doing during their work days (and especially their “time off”) through gritted teeth and teary eyes.
I don’t feel quite the same anymore.
Sure, I feel like some defending is in order when people like Zach, who claim teachers can just endlessly reuse lesson plans year after year without further effort toward their cause, chime in with their painfully ignorant rhetoric. But I don’t feel compelled to jump to the front of the line, guns a-blazing with my first-hand experiences to the contrary anymore.
Instead, I choose to either shake my head and laugh at how successfully politicians in bed with corporations have brainwashed the misinformed public, or I choose to respond with sarcasm. Because I’ve learned people like Zach aren’t worth it. They’ve made up their minds about what they believe, and no evidence to the contrary, however compelling, will change their rotten attitudes.
Zach and those like him are everywhere. But so are people who believe in and support teachers. They may not be as vocal or as shocking as the naysayers, but they are there, and they appreciate the work teachers put into educating our kids — the lifestyle choice teachers have made in pursuit of their profession (because while it is a job, it’s more than that — much, much more.)
These people understand what it is that we do to the best of their abilities. Maybe they’ve spent time in the classroom as instructors. Maybe they’re related to a teacher. Maybe they’ve seen the impact a teacher has had on their children or themselves.
Whatever it is that drives their understanding, it’s there, and that’s what we’ve got to focus on. That’s what teachers across the nation, including me, must devote our energy to. There are also a few other things we’ve got to stop doing and remember.
We’ve got to stop apologizing for and rationalizing things like our holiday and summer breaks. WE DON’T GET PAID FOR THOSE. We are paid for 7.5 hours of work per day for 9.5 months per year. Anything we do outside of that is out of the kindness of our own hearts (even though a lot of what we do simply has to be done for the benefit of our students despite receiving zero extra compensation for it). It doesn’t matter that many of us spend that time grading papers or planning lessons or figuring out how to get new clothes to that kid without any. What matters is that’s our UNPAID TIME OFF, and how we choose to spend it is our own business. I don’t recall complaining about how the Zachs of the world choose to spend their unpaid time off, so they have precisely no right to complain about how we do (and those crazy enough to complain about us deserve not an iota of our time and energy). You don’t owe anyone any explanation about those breaks, teachers. They’re rightfully and contractually a part of your unique profession, and they have no bearing on the challenges of your job.
We’ve got to stop feeling bad about demanding certain things for ourselves and our students. Yes, a lot of people in other professions out there are also struggling. They are facing budget cuts and insurance changes and layoffs and unsafe conditions. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have a right to advocate for proper conditions in our work environments. It’s not a sign of greed, as the Zachs of the world would argue. It’s a sign that we give a damn. I’ve never chastised anyone in another profession for giving a damn enough to stand up for what’s right for themselves and their constituents. We shouldn’t feel like criminals for using our expertise to make recommendations that are for the betterment of our children and profession. Don’t believe what the Zachs say about us there. We know what’s necessary because we’re the experts when it comes to educating children — not them.
We’ve got to stop expecting everyone to know what teaching is like simply because we tell them. Unless a person has spent a year as a teacher in a classroom, s/he can’t have a clue what it’s like. They can’t just take our word for it. They can be empathetic and understanding and supportive, but they can never know what it’s like to be on from the moment they walk in the door to the moment they leave. They can’t know what it’s like to not get a break to feel sad or sick or apprehensive or unsure. They can’t know what it’s like to feel the pressure of constantly teetering on the fine line between instilling in these kids a positive sense of self worth or a negative sense of self loathing. I don’t expect to understand what it’s like to be a surgeon or a cashier or a mechanic or a lawyer simply because my friends tell me. I am interested in and sympathetic to their unique circumstances, but I don’t pretend to know what it’s like to go to work in their shoes each day. Don’t fret if those outside the profession don’t exactly “get it”. Your colleagues “get it”, and we’re always here to listen.
We’ve got to remember that a lot of the negative press teachers get is merely propaganda. ALEC and its co-conspirators, for example, have been hugely successful in fabricating the failure of public education so high profit corporations can swoop in and make a buck off education reform. In Michigan alone, school districts are being required to purchase teacher evaluation systems for thousands of dollars in order to comply with new government mandates. It’s a scam, every last bit of it. But unless a person has taken the time to actually investigate it, s/he is likely to blindly believe our public schools are suddenly failing just as easily as s/he believes the FDA has the American public’s best interests at heart. We can’t take what those who criticize us say personally any more than we might take a toddler’s insinuation that we’re “doo doo heads” personally. It’s something people have “heard,” and they’re ever-so-happy to regurgitate it. But just because they do doesn’t make it true.
We’ve got to remember the importance of our jobs. What we do in the classroom impacts the future of our nation. It is up to us to persevere through the bullshit to deliver the best possible education to our youth. We know when we’re doing a good job because we rely on indicators no standardized test or vote whoring politician can measure. We rely on real kids who have real problems and learn real things, and we deliver real results — results that can’t be quantified and bundled into neat little packages. Think back to the students who have written you a note or stopped by your classroom or visited you years after graduation to thank you for making a difference in their lives. Now multiply that number by 10, 20, 30. That’s how many students truly do appreciate what you’ve done for them. That’s how many students whose lives are better for having had you in it. And that’s why you do what you do despite what all those Zachs say and think. What you do is essential, teachers. Know that.
Which brings me back to the first thing we must remember: There are people out there who support us. There are so many of them. As a society, we are more apt to voice our complaints than our praises. But for every complaint a Zach delivers, there are just as many, if not more, praises, however quiet. Think of all the praises we are receiving at dinner tables and in living rooms across the country. Think of all the people who appreciate our time and efforts. Think of all the lives guided toward varying definitions of success because you took the time to give a good goddamn. Just think of it. Just think of it and smile, teachers.
You are worth more than the Zachs of the world say, teachers. You are worth far more than the Zachs of the world can even comprehend. You are worth a whole hell of a lot, teachers, and what you do does not go unnoticed or get dismissed by everyone. Don’t forget that.