Monday, September 01, 2014

Teachers And Our Supporters Are Legion

If there is one thing I had confirmed during my month-long journey through Australia (with a brief side-trip to New Zealand) it's that our profession is populated by talented, thoughtful, committed professionals who are motivated by doing what is best not only for children, but also for our wider society. If there is one thing I learned, it's that many in our profession perceive that the wider society views early childhood educators as sweet child-minders performing, at best, a necessary but semi-skilled labor deserving a pat on the head, but little more. 

Whether this perception is true or not, I know it's not universal. I've never, for instance, felt disrespected by my employers, who happen to also be the community of parents who chose to enroll their children in our school, and the teachers in my circle, at least, treat me as a peer. Even the business types with whom I regularly find myself due to my wife's profession at least affect an attitude of respect for what I do. That said, I shouldn't underestimate the impact of gender here. I am well-aware that my own experiences with the wider world are quite deeply colored by being a male in a female dominated business, so I take as true the stories of disrespect that have come up in too many of the conversations I've had while here and elsewhere. But is it really the norm or just anecdotal?

Interestingly, while we perceive that many consider us denizens of a sort of pink collar ghetto, I'm hard pressed to find a survey or poll of Americans or Australians that does not place "teachers" at the top of the lists of most "admired," "honored," or "respected" professions, usually right up there with firefighters and nurses. It's true that "preschool teachers" are rarely broken out as a separate category, so maybe that's it, but "primary school" teachers are usually placed ahead of "high school" teachers or "college professors" when that distinction is made. In other words there seems to be a sort of disconnect between our perceptions of how others view us and the reality.

It's the sort of thing that makes for interesting conversations. Why do we feel disrespected by the wider society when society, generally speaking, claims to respect us? Along with gender, I reckon pay has something to do with it: we live in a world, like it or not, in which the ability to acquire money is highly valued, something that most preschool teachers aren't very good at, largely because it's not what motivates us.

The fact that we teach babies and other children who aren't expected to be engaged in "academic" pursuits is also in play here. I imagine some people see what we do as mere babysitting: necessary, valuable, but perhaps not as intellectually challenging as other professions, a take that is demonstrably untrue, but hard to shake.

We can also blame ourselves. We've not been very good at advocating for ourselves, organizing, publicizing, and generally "selling" ourselves as professionals.

And maybe a part of it is that so many of us work in relatively isolated pockets, in small, private schools, unsupported by large numbers of colleagues, unions, and other professional organizations. I mean, society at large seems to value, honor, and respect us if the polls and surveys can be believed, but maybe we simply don't believe it because we feel all alone.

I'm just tossing things out here. It's possible that none or all of this contributes to this disconnect.

But I'll tell you one thing that seems quite true: policy makers and other members of the power elite clearly do not respect us, or any teachers for that matter. Time and again, we hear political leaders from both parties smear us with stereotypes of laziness and selfishness. Time and again, business people and "philanthropists" label us as ineffective, inefficient and recalcitrant weights around the ankles of their "race to the top." And these are the people who tend to dominate the headlines, who command the microphones, and who are sought after for quotes when matters of education arise. It might just be this that is driving the idea that our profession is disrespected.

As Anthony Cody writes in a recent post entitled Will the Teaching Class Take the Lead? on his blog Living in Dialog:

The teaching class consists of educators from pre-school through college. This group is facing the brute force of a class-based assault on their professional and economic status. The assault is being led by the wealthiest people in the world -- Bill and Melinda Gates, via their vast foundation, the Walton family, and their foundation, and Eli Broad, and his foundation. And a host of second tier billionaires and entrepreneurs have joined in the drive. These individuals have poured billions of dollars into advancing a "reform" movement that is resulting in the rapid expansion of semi-private and private alternatives to public education, and the destruction of unions and due process rights for educators.

These are the people who disrespect us: these wealthy class-warriors, these intellectual imperialists. Indeed, they see us as their enemies, and are spending billions to persuade others to join them as foot soldiers in their shock doctrine crusade.

Corporate reformers have diabolically targeted teachers where we were most vulnerable, by accusing us of placing our own interests above those of our students. Every element of corporate reform has been leveraged on this point. No Child Left Behind accused teachers of holding students back through our "soft bigotry of low expectations." Due process has been undermined or destroyed because it supposedly provides shelter for the "bad teachers" responsible for low test scores.

And as has too often become the case on issue after issue, our supposed elected representatives have joined the corporatists in their attack on the foundations of public education:

The connection between political spending and public policy has been made brazenly clear. In 2011, Stand For Children CEO Jonah Edelman's braggadocios description of how his organization outflanked the teachers in Illinois made it very clear how the sausage was being made. The way profiteers like virtual charter chain K12 Inc have used ALEC and politicians like Jeb Bush, and his "non-profit," the Foundation for Educational Excellence, to get public funds spent on a clearly inferior educational system shows that the system is being rigged . . . Study after study provides evidence that the central planks of corporate education reform not only fail to work, but are undermining the education of our students. This project that was supposed to be driven by data is collapsing, and would be long gone if our politicians were not being legally bribed to look the other way. Corporate education reform is a fraud, a hoax perpetrated on the pubic, with the active complicity of media outlets . . .

This is why we feel as if we are disrespected: because those in power disrespect not only us, but the children we teach and their families, and they are the primary voices being heard in the public sphere. In their hubris, in their faith-based scheme to "unleash powerful market forces" on our children, in their dismissiveness of the profession of teaching, they are driving a public relations effort to make us the bad guys.

But we are not helpless. Indeed, we are mighty and their greatest mistake may well be to awaken us. At our recently concluded Inspired EC Unwrapping Conference, each of the keynote speakers, Wendy Lee from New Zealand, Alistair Bryce-Clegg from Great Britain, and myself, in our own ways, emphasized that we the teachers are responsible for standing up not just for ourselves and the children we teach, but for our wider community. And despite what the media might lead us to believe, we enjoy widespread support right around the globe, support that makes us a bulwark against those who would inflict "powerful market forces" upon our children.

As Cody points out, while those who have "sponsored this decade of fraudulent reform could fit in a small movie theater," teachers and our supporters are legion:

Teachers number in the millions -- our students and allies are in the hundreds of millions. The only thing that can beat the power of money is the power of people. But the people must be informed and organized. That sounds like work teachers ought to be able to handle.

Yes, there are some who disrespect us and they are loud because they are wealthy. The truth, however, is they have far more to fear from us than we do from them, and deep down, they know it, which explains why they fight so relentlessly.

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1 comment:

Bumblebees R Us Day Care Center said...

Teachers play a very important role in our society. No matter how loud the detractors may be in voicing out their objections, it is undeniable that in one point of their life there is a techer that guided them.