It is disheartening, to say the very least, to realize yet again that the public’s perception of your work as a professional is characterized as being whiny, over-paid, indulged, lazy, self-centered and existent so as to be servile.
I have spent the past number of years in deep contemplation of my teaching practice- writing, thinking, reading and reflecting almost daily. And I am coming to comprehend that the overall public perception of teachers who run in North American circles, anyway, is extremely negative and it probably will stay that way until we as teachers re-invent ourselves.
Interestingly, I am conducting thesis research on the ethic of care and its relevancy to classroom experience. In this endeavor, I am coming to realize more and more that care is the absolute primary concern of teachers. We teachers are there in our classrooms because we care about what we are doing and the people we are doing it all for. However, unlike caregivers such as doctors (who at least have the potential of making sick people well), teachers do not always seem to serve the immediate betterment of the children they work with. While a doctor has the immediate function of providing relief (through medication and treatment), a teacher’s impact often is never realized until well after the children they have taught are moved on to another classroom and grade level. Furthermore, unlike doctors, people do not come to us of their own free will. There is compulsory attendance in school. Generally, no one is going to force you go to the doctor’s office.
But if doctors can be perceived in a positive light as care-givers, well so then can teachers. It just might take a little blood, sweat and tears to get there.
In writing about teaching as a profession (and in turn, trying to debunk the myths that teachers are money-hungry, union slaves that think solely of how to raid public coffers), I am also realizing the need for teachers to present another alternative image to the world than the one currently being upheld. I think what is needed in our profession is for teachers to show those that are unclear about what teachers really care about- that is, the public at large, the truth of our identity. As young people fresh out of high school, we were not drawn to the teaching profession because we couldn’t wait to one day be part of a union that would help us get rich. Hardly. We were drawn to teach because we cared about the ideals of the profession and because we cared about connecting kids to those ideals. Then, as we became employed, we realized something even more important (if we hadn’t come to the conclusion already): we realized how incredibly important the kids in our classrooms were to us.
They in fact were everything.
As such, we started to care for them personally- and deeply care. Care about what they were eating both in school and without. Care about who they were friends with. About how much sleep they were getting on school nights. About what they were watching on television/social media. We started to care about their personal history and their present situations. We began to notice when they looked sad. Started to tune into their moods and feelings.
We noticed when things began to change from their typical interactions. Started to notice so much more than even this. In short, we were not really expecting this part of our calling to occur. It wasn’t exactly what we trained for in university; but somehow, in conjunction with the first day of our teaching contract, we realized that teaching content would sometimes take a backseat to caring for kids as people. Actually, we learned rather quickly this would happen A LOT of the time. Because our job as a teacher was profoundly about the students- their concerns, feelings, beliefs and identities. Our calling was wrapped up in the whole student- not just concerned with their brain. Wrapped up in the health and well-being of their body, heart and mind.
When I read comments like this one: “whine , whine , whine , move on and get a different job”; and this “what teachers want is more money”; and this one “get back to work, public servant! If you don’t like your job, get another one. Got that , public servant?”, I am extremely saddened. I think what bothers me the most is that we as teachers have not been enabled to truly represent ourselves in the media so that people can understand what we truly care for- after collective bargaining time is over and done with. I think the public MUST know about the absolute and incredible gift it is for us to be a teacher all those other days of the year. They must hear directly from us and often about what exactly our job entails. The highs and the lows. We need to share with the public about our well-founded concerns as well as our ample ‘gratitudes’. Need to tell what it is like to struggle with meeting the needs inside our classroom and what it is like to triumph in spite of the shortcomings. And we need to continuously share the importance that a teacher can make in the life of a child.
In my blogging, I have made this my goal: to raise awareness about teaching. To be a voice in the wilderness, if need be. To be a rally cry for teachers to unite and care about our profession enough to invest in it. To be a clear and concise storyteller so as to draw people into the world of education. I want people to care about what we do because we are teaching the children that people care about. What we do inside classrooms is incredibly significant, particularly when it gets personal. I have written before the following words:
Until we as people are impacted personally by this care-giving aspect role that describes a true educator, we really don’t understand how important it is.
And what I mean by this is the following:
Until your child has been bullied, you don’t realize what it means to have a teacher calling you to see what they can personally do to rectify the situation.
Until your child has been without a lunch, you don’t realize how much it means to have a teacher offer half of hers to your child.
Until your child has been excluded, you don’t realize how much it means to have a teacher notice your child and seek them out.
Until your child has been owing money for an event, you don’t realize what it means to have a teacher notice and make up the difference in the amount.
Until your child has lost a loved one, you don’t realize how much it means to have a teacher take the time to make a homemade card for your son or daughter.
Until your child has been scared, anxious, worried, fearful, hurt, overwhelmed or endangered, you don’t realize what it means to have a teacher in their corner- rooting for them, whatever it takes.
Because until it hits you personally, it is really hard sometimes to remember what a monumental role care-giving plays in the day-to-day life of a school.
Care-giving is the heart of teaching. And it is absolutely crucial that the outside world- the one not caught up in education- become aware exactly what this adage means.
I was flying through my emails when I started reading these words truly spoken from your heart, Lori. I felt like you were speaking MY words!!! Sometimes I feel like I’m in a glass bubble SCREAMING for others to tend to the needs of the children I teach!! And as a MUSIC educator I feel even LESS valid than YOU do! Even though I’m south of your border, I feel we have the same issue — others say they appreciate what we do, most times don’t choose to do it themselves, and then resent it when what we do comes ‘out of THEIR paychecks.’ :/ “It” comes out of mine too! After having spent 30+ years as a musician/educator in elementary schools I can honestly say that the children I teach have been the CENTER of what I’ve done all that time! And once in a while we make beautiful music, too!! 😉 Despite all the negative perception of teachers and public school teaching, I couldn’t picture myself doing anything else. That’s a fact.
Luella Bredin says
I cannot believe parents would not have the utmost respect and appreciation for the teachers who day in and day out show up and pour their time, energy and care in to the lives of their children. Do they even know how much time outside the classroom teachers spend in their calling to teach? I am so glad for all the teachers who influenced my life and the lives of my children.
Pink Queen says
And I heard this