Monday, November 17, 2014

Undervaluing Teachers and Women

This Washington Post article is making the rounds among my teacher friends lately. They share it to build awareness, to counteract their perception that teachers have a terrible reputation, that we are maligned, that no one appreciates the work we do, that we are "rotten apples." 

…. First, let me clarify what it means to be a public school educator in the United States today. Unfortunately, at college campuses around this country, [education students] are berated by their peers for their career choice. I was told on many occasions at the University of Virginia that I was wasting my time and talent on teaching. 
And in many ways, I agree with that perception, and with the teacher who originally wrote this letter to TIME Magazine, in response to this pretty awful cover.

The article itself is much more nuanced, though still flawed...but this cover is pretty crappy  
(image via Time)

No one does get the work we do, but everyone thinks they do! Because we've all gone through school, sat there for 13 years critiquing our experience, knowing with certainty that we would do better than that crazy lady up in front of the room, we (as a country) think we know what teaching is. Trust me, you don't know, unless you've done it. It's a juggling act that requires constant mental acrobatics. It's being criticized and challenged all day long. It's answering questions with questions, making the worst things sound hopeful, loving those people who drive you crazy, and making the most boring thing in the world seem thrilling. It's being mistrusted by parents, manipulated, constantly censoring yourself. It's running out of words at noon but still having hours of talking to go. 

Also, when I hear the phrase "Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach." Teaching is a craft, in and of itself. I bet you I could teach biology better than a lot of biologists, because even though I understand so much less of the subject, I understand teaching.  
(image via teachers with a sense of humor)

But it's not the sacrifice of self that this article, and so many others, present it to be. 

Or at least, it shouldn't be. 

Teachers - stop it. Stop doing unpaid work. Stop giving more than your job description requires of you. You are damaging our profession and YOU are why we are under appreciated. 

No other profession claims this...why do we, and so proudly? 
(image via teachers with a sense of humor)
Let me explain - when we go above and beyond, when we work extra hours, when we buy our own supplies, we tell the world that we don't need better salaries, that we don't need better funding. We are making do with less, so we are given less. 

And all the rest of the world sees is that they still don't get enough education or attention for their kids. They don't see that we're giving more than we get, because WE are not their focus (nor should we be). Their children are their focus; their children who are being failed, across the board. 

They are subjected to awful tests that we administer, even as we say how much we hate them and how pointless they are. They are assigned huge amounts of homework, even as we protest the huge workload our students must cope with. We enforce rigid behavioral expectations, inwardly cringing at the ridiculousness of these arbitrary rules that drive our school system. 

We do this to ourselves 
(image via teachers with a sense of humor)
We have the power to change this, and writing yet another article detailing how willing we are to be doormats to ridiculous expectations is not the way to change it. 

Instead, we need to stop. 

Stop bringing in supplies. If our students don't have what they need, bring attention to THAT, not how great you are for bringing them supplies. No one likes a braggart. Also, it's not addressing the actual problem, which is that our schools are underfunded.

 (image via teachers with a sense of humor)

Stop working extra hours. Don't bring grading home. If it can't be done in the time you're paid for, it can't be done. Reevaluate your assignments, your lessons, how much feedback you give. You devalue all of us when you do this and YOU spread the expectation that we all are willing to work for free. You are the reason we earn 14% of what similarly educated adults earn, 60% of what our peers earn. 

I, for one, am not willing to work unpaid any longer. 

And here's the kicker. Teaching is largely women's work. And women's work is always the work that is undervalued, underpaid, unappreciated. We do more housework, more childcare, more eldercare. We manage families while working full time. Sheryl Sandberg has advised us to lean in, and while I see problems with a lot of what she says, I agree with her premise that we should not undervalue ourselves. 

Why not? Some days, I totally do this for the money. Because it's a job, not a hobby!

A stand by teachers, a refusal to sacrifice ourselves for some vague idea of the greater good, may be the reality check the rest of the United States needs. 

Because while we continue down this road of trying to create awareness of our sacrifices, we're only going to perpetuate the expectation that we make those sacrifices. 
I wish.
(image via teachers with a sense of humor)

I'm taking a stand. I won't work unpaid any longer. I will teach, I will grade, I will care and correct and coerce and create passionate learners. But I won't do it at the expense of my self. I'm worth more than that.

Disclaimer:  I work in a wonderful and privileged urban school. My students have more advantages than many, and I am afforded more time in my day to plan and meet and prepare than many other teachers. I work for a wonderful administration who believes in teacher freedom whenever possible. It may be that my stand is a luxury that some other teachers don't have. But if I can do it, and start setting the example, then I should, and hopefully others will be able to follow.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this!
    I know it's late to comment, but I just had to!
    I have been saying this all along to some teacher friends. But, they refuse to "get it." I only hope that more teachers speak this way.