"Temporality is part of the truth" -- Chuck Klosterman

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Honor Among Thieves

I usually like to write my own stuff, or at least write wordy responses to stuff other people write, but today I feel the need to just pass this one along, with minimal commentary.

In a New York Times op-ed piece, "In Honor of Teachers," Charles Blow writes about the contradiction that even though teachers are vilified more and more these days, most of us want to recruit good students to become teachers. I am a teacher these days and I have a hard time recommending that any of my students pursue the profession. And I teach honors and IB courses. One student, possibly one of the brightest students I've ever had, recently asked me about what it's like as an English major in college. I told her it's awesome and that she would be great at it, but the problem is that once you're done, you have three options: teach, attend grad school in some other area, or just go get a job somewhere and impress random people with your knowledge of Beowulf or Victorian feminist literature. And then she told me something like, "Well, I definitely don't want to be a teacher." I completely understood.

For a decade, teachers have been on the losing side of the blame game. Now state and federal laws denigrate the millions of professionals who raise our children every day. But I see articles like this and it gives me a little hope. Smart people know what's the what.

So go read that article. Maybe my own contradictory feelings about teaching will be more evident. I don't know.

But first I want to say two quick things about Blow's story of his most inspirational teacher. First, I hope most people don't go around thinking that these days teachers can just randomly place a student in a "slow" class. There are procedures and laws, and really nothing like what might called the "slow" classes of yesteryear.

And finally, I realize that what Blow describes is an elementary class, but if I were to show my students that I care about them by putting my arm around them, I'd be sued before you could spell U-N-I-O-N.

So, I went to Google images as I always do to find some funny or compelling image
that I could use under this post, and I started with a search for "teacher's union."
Nearly every single image or caption was negative. Including this one.
It said something like, "Teacher's unions throwing their weight around."
 It's neither compelling nor funny to me.
(It's a little bit funny.)


  1. I'm of the firm belief that most teachers should get a fifty percent raise.

    And then some teachers should just be fired.

    I'm not talking about teachers who give bad grades when they're deserved and refuse to back down to tears. I'm not talking about teachers who refuse to let jocks slide by because they're special.

    The teachers who degrade their students, who call them names, who tell them things like, "You should just get your GED and not even bother with a diploma or college. You have no future," should be fired.

    But MOST teachers are good, honest people who are underpaid, overworked, and way WAY under appreciated. Some of the things my teachers had to put up with from my lesser deserving peers was...awful. I hope you get a bunch of students like me and absolutely none like my sisters.

  2. Of course there are teachers out there who degrade their students on purpose, and those who don't really have any business being in a classroom. In my experience, these kind of teachers don't last long, and they ARE fired. Unless the building administration isn't doing their own jobs. Then whose fault is it?

    And I'll take that raise, thank you.

  3. "Well, I definitely don't want to be a teacher." I bet you that made you feel all warm inside. ;)

    If I had it to do all over again, I think I would have been a teacher. I've thought about it more than once. I would have preferred to be a college instructor or professor. It seems like you're dealing with a more receptive crowd in college. Teaching high school does seem like kind of a thankless lot. It always seemed like the teachers were forced to spent 75% of their time dealing with kids that didn't want to be there, didn't care to learn, and seemed dead set on making sure no one else learned anything either.

    My daughter just started high school this past week. She came home and told me about this Language Arts teacher she didn't like, who had called one of the students "obese" as well as saying many other uncalled for things. She asked me a very simple question, "Why would someone become a teacher if they didn't like kids?" Now, there's a tough knot to untangle, isn't it? I'm sure the question needs some reframing, but aside from that, what would you tell her?

  4. An unappreciated and often vilified profession? Welcome to the club, brother.

  5. Unfortunately, I see teaching becoming more and more of a "ghetto" profession, meaning more women and more low pay in the field. Thus, less prestige and fewer top notch candidates in the field. With kids coming from more dysfunctional backgrounds, this combination equals low achievement. We need to reverse this.

    My daughter, who is a straight A student, wants to major in English. She's already frustrated by the lack of rigor in her high school coursework. I have no idea what she'll do with an English degree.

  6. @ Bryan: I've taught college courses. Much easier for discipline, but you get very little actual interaction with the students. They are really very different jobs.

    I hear all kinds of things about what this teacher said and that teacher did. I've been accused of doing or saying all kinds of things that I didn't do or say. I can imagine a teacher using the word "obese," but it's hard for me to imagine it in a context intended to be mean. Teachers joke around. Sometimes students don't take it well. Last year I made a stupid joke on the first day, and one student muttered under her breath, "Oh, here we go with the jokes." And she wasn't happy.

    I obviously don't know your daughter's teacher, but I wouldn't jump right to the conclusion that he doesn't like kids. Maybe he was just having a hard day. (That's a really simple reframing, but it's still true a lot of the times a teacher does something stupid.)

  7. @ rev: I know. I've commented before about how our two professions are shockingly similar.

    @ Lola: This is what that article is about. We expect high achievement, but no one who achieves highly wants to be in a profession that gets no respect.

    Majoring in English actually can lead in a lot of different directions. Law schools love English majors. Or she can just create a blog.

  8. Tell your bright student to attend an Ivy League school. Then it won't matter what she majors in. She will have a career. If she majors in English...then she can be a powerful literary agent or work for Random House. Check up on this if you like...Ivy League all the way man.

  9. Michael, I'm sure you're right. And I'll send her right over to your blog for all the necessary information on how to become a great literary agent. :)