The big story currently making its rounds in the edu-blogosphere is the MetLife survey which finds the percentage of teachers who consider themselves “very satisfied” with their jobs at an all-time low. This is the biggest “no duh” story I have seen in quite some time, although it is useful to have empirical evidence for things that you have always known to be true.
As I see it, the edu-blogosphere is divided into two camps: practitioners and non-practitioners. The practitioners are people like yours truly, Perdido Street, Francesco Portelos, DOENuts, B-Lo and other friends we know and respect very well. We tend to oppose many of the programs of the so-called “education reform” movement because we have seen first-hand the destruction they have wrought on our schools for the past 10 years.
The non-practitioners consist of blogs like Andy Rotherham’s Eduwonk and Joanne Jacobs. These are people who do not teach but, somehow, have been anointed authorities on matters of education policy. They cite studies and articles, generally of other non-practitioners, and affect an objective stance towards them. On the whole they tend to be more supportive of, and open to, reformy ideas cooked up by these non-practitioners.
It has been the non-practitioners who have been carrying the day for many long years. Whether it is in the blog world or the blood and guts world of education policy, non-practitioners have the ears of the people in power. They also seem to have the ears of the people. Non-practitioner blogs tend to be echo chambers for the ideas of other non-practitioners. It is a rare occasion when these people cite an article done by someone actually teaching in a classroom.
More than being echo-chambers, the non-practitioner blogs represent to me a strata of arrogant, self-important people re-excreting the dung of other arrogant, self-important people. They smell each other’s leavings and tell the rest of us it is air freshener. Their stance of objectivity is really a ruse to sterilize the debate on education. They wish to make education a matter of macro studies involving numbers, trends and equations. In fact, these people need to discuss education in this way. Not only is it the only way these people can remotely approach the experience of being inside of a classroom, it is the method of discourse that gives them legitimacy. The moment teaching is recognized as the art it is, and teachers themselves are recognized as professionals, is the moment these people cease to be relevant.
And yet, it is the practitioners who are struggling against the current to be considered relevant. We have been over here raising our hands saying “hey, look at us, we have some insights of our own.” At best, we are considered strange curiosities by the people who “count”. At worst, we are not considered at all. At the very worst, we are automatically written off as self-interested curmudgeons whose ideas always have ulterior motives.
This is the type of topsy-turvy debate we have over education in this country. The ones who are raking in money, popularity, influence and power on the back of the education system are seen as the righteous crusaders. The ones who toil in obscurity, the ones who write these blogs in the non-existent spare time we have as a labor not of love but of necessity, are seen as the enemy or at least as anterior to the “real” debate over education.
So if our job satisfaction is at an all-time low, you can forgive us. We do not even receive the satisfaction of getting a fair hearing in the public discussion. Teachers are to be evaluated, held accountable, fired, judged but never heard.
No, we are not dissatisfied. What I feel, what many of our colleagues feel, goes way beyond the pale of normal disgruntlement.
For the past decade and more we have seen our schools closed. We have been told that we are the problem . We make too much money, do too little work, have too little accountability and drain too much from the hard-working American taxpayer. All of our efforts, what we have gleaned from years of experience, is being judged by how much “value” we “add” to test scores. Poverty, drug abuse, television, broken homes, violence, gangs, lack of sleep are all excuses we are using to shirk our duties as educators. None of these things matter. If we were better, then all of these problems would be solved. If we actually “cared”, we would give our children the wings to fly above these problems. Through giving children the keys to a better future, we can eradicate these problems in a single generation. We would also make America “competitive” again and end this Great Recession that just refuses to disappear. Instead of being the pious role models called for in our job description, we care more about our long vacations and our 3 p.m. clock out time.
We, the practitioners, are assailed by these tropes on a daily basis. These tropes have absolutely no relation to the reality we live. We have found it harder and harder to make the rent, keep up with the ever-changing demands of the fickle education “reformers” and contort ourselves into the proper shape to be held accountable by our betters. We know that education is not a matter of “standardization”, “quantitative data” or even “objectivity”. We know that our jobs do not end after we leave the building and that our so-called “vacations” are merely one giant prep period to write units and catch up on grading, although we never truly “catch up”. We know that poverty, gangs, drugs, the media and family life affect how children learn. They shape what children become. Our children merely do school but they actually live in a world where reality is generally not very kind to them. Children are in our classrooms for a certain amount of time during the day and many are not there even when they are present. The vast majority of the time, they are being raised by those other things that we told are mere excuses. We try to bust them out of this life, to give them the tools to see a better way or to show them that they can have at least a measure of control over their own destinies. We do this not through “quantitative data” but through the planting of seeds that will germinate only years down the line. The most important things we do cannot be measured on a test or fully appreciated by looking at our “on-the-clock hours”. Yet, this is how we are being judged.
No, we are not merely dissatisfied. If you really want to see how we feel inside, take at look at Rigoberto Ruelas and Mary Thorson. Ask yourself what would drive these teachers to jump off bridges and stand in front of oncoming semis. We are not just unhappy or disgruntled or burned out. We are traumatized. We are eviscerated. We have internalized the absolute hatred and disgust that YOU have shown for us.
Everybody has a breaking point. Teachers by and large have reached theirs many years ago. YOU want to know where Superman is. YOU want to bring in the “effective” teachers. YOU want to get rid of us in favor of dynamos who will roll up their sleeves, buckle down and do what needs to be done. YOU believe that a computer program can do the job of teaching. YOU say that “those who can’t do, teach.”
But WE are the Superman. WE are the dynamos. WE are the ones who are doing what needs to be done. YOU are the ones who have shirked YOUR responsibilities.
YOU have shirked your responsibilities as leaders. YOU have allowed this country to have the highest childhood poverty rate and the highest incarceration rate in the western world. YOU have failed us and YOU dare blame us as the culprits.
YOU have shirked your responsibilities as citizens. YOU have failed to vote, to keep up with what is happening in the world and how our country actually works. YOU would rather watch 20 hours of television, get your news from internet or news channel demagogues and read five-and-dime novels about vampire lovers and the zombie apocalypse.
YOU have shirked your responsibilities as the media. YOU have provided us with scripted reality television that celebrates the basest emotions and desires. YOU have turned the “news” into infotainment. YOU would rather regale us with tales of Lindsay Lohan than inform us of the things that are changing our world forever.
YOU have shirked your responsibilities as role models. YOU lack the capacity for empathy, love and community that should bind a so-called civilization together. YOU have modeled for our children that it does not matter if the world goes to hell just as long as YOU get your sliver of the pie.
YOU have checked out, really have never checked in, of your responsibilities to our children. Children are with us for 6 hours a day. They are with YOU for the other 18.
And yet, YOU want to point to the finger at us and tell us that we have to straighten out in 6 hours the children you have been deforming for the past 18. YOU want to drop off your children to us at the age of five after YOU have spent the previous half decade implicitly teaching them the worst lessons that humanity has to offer.
By YOU, I do not mean parents. I mean ALL OF YOU.
YOU want to be able to wallow in greed, shallowness and avarice while holding WE the teachers to the standards of Superman.
Teachers are not dissatisfied.
WE are tired of being the receptacle of blame for all of the YOUR shortcomings, YOUR insecurities and YOUR failures.
WE are tired of being the terry cloth hand towel on which YOU wipe your filth after a lifetime of wallowing in the mud.
WE are disgusted. WE are traumatized. WE are in pain. WE are “dissatisfied” because of YOU, every last one of YOU.
You should try being blamed for everything wrong with society someday. Instead of holding us “accountable”, hold yourselves accountable for once in your life. Come back to us in 10-15 years and tell us how you are feeling inside.
I wish I was merely “dissatisfied”. That would be a world of improvement on what we are truly feeling.