Thursday, January 06, 2022

Finally, We Can All Agree To Hate Teachers




Elected representatives from both political parties, policymakers, media personalities, and business leaders took to the airwaves and social media to bash teachers. My Twitter feed was filled with the angry, vitriolic opinions of plumbers, homemakers, Uber drivers, small business owners, accountants, and candle-makers who piled on throughout the day.

"Fire all of them!" was a common theme, as was, "Those selfish teachers don't care about the children." There was a lot of union bashing and teacher bashing, all wrapped up in pearl clutching over those poor children whose teachers clearly hate them.

In other words, a whole bunch of people who know next to nothing about education, children, schools, or teaching beyond their own narrow experiences were popping off, many dangerously so. Most of these critics haven't spent a day in a classroom since they themselves were students. Indeed most of them have organized their lives in such a way that they have limited contact with children, even their own. They send them off in the morning, harass them about getting their homework done when they return, then send to bed. Indeed, most American adults spend their lives in a world where children are more conceptual than actual facts, and where schools are relatively safe places to stash them during the day.

These are the people who are calling professional educators "lazy," "uncaring," "selfish," and even "anti-American." I want to emphasize that from my informal Twitter feed survey, these education dilettantes and critics appeared to come from both sides of the political aisle. So yay, I guess, bi-partisanship at last. Finally, we can all agree to hate teachers.

To be clear, remote learning is really remote instruction, and it sucks, especially for younger children. The kids I know who have been experiencing it for the past couple years feel like it is mostly a waste of time in the sense that they are learning "almost nothing." But, cynically, they're passing the tests and jumping through the hoops set before them, much the way they're expected to do during in-person instruction. So it sucks, but much of what makes it suck is the way we do schooling itself, not remote instruction.

Teachers, of course, know this better than anyone. Like the children, they have been thrown into it, they've made the best of it, and some have even figured out how to make it work, but few professional educators would choose the remote option over an in-person option unless they felt it was in the best interest of the children.

And that's the point. These teachers, as professionals, as the people with the most experience and expertise, and as people who know full well the downsides of remote instruction for both the children and themselves, believe that this is the best course at this moment, in this school district. People can disagree, but accusing teachers of being "lazy," "uncaring," "selfish," and "anti-American" is pure hate-speech. 

From the union's statement: "This decision was made with a heavy heart and a singular focus on student and community safety." 

I'm not here to argue about Covid or public health policies or vaccines or masks or any of that. I'm not even taking a stand about the decision of Chicago's teachers, but I do respect their professional judgement. I'm writing today to shine a spotlight on the vitriol and hatred. If I were a young person today, there is no way I'd consider becoming a teacher (or a nurse, for that matter). We're already facing a teacher shortage in parts of the country, especially in early years, and the current climate of hatred will not help. I mean, if the city of Chicago were to take the advice of Twitter and fire all the teachers, there simply won't be school at all. The school district next door would be thrilled to fill their vacancies with professional educators.

I know not everyone hates teachers and I'm sure that some of the anger is just a knee-jerk reaction to unions in general, but when I look at the current landscape, when I consider that our profession is relatively low-paid and widely disrespected, it's really hard for me to imagine our current system can survive for much longer. And as teachers leave the profession in droves, the education dilettantes are increasingly inserting themselves into our schools, making them even worse places for children. If we lived in a society that genuinely cared about what is best for children, this moment in history would call for the whole system to be up for reconsideration.

The hatred hurts all of us. It hurts our profession and it hurts the kids. That said, this pandemic has continuously highlighted the fact that as things stand today, we might be weak as individuals, but together educators could be one of the most powerful forces for change in America. Think about what we could accomplish for children, for education, for America, if we stick together. And I wonder if maybe that's what much of the hatred is about.

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