Monday, May 19, 2008

Perceptions About Teaching

On a recent train ride in Virginia City, Nevada I met another couple who asked what I do for a living. When I told them I was a teacher, the response is the same that I get in many places. It usually is something like I am an angel, a glutton for punishment, crazy, or stupid. It is a shame that the general people see my profession in this way. I have even had people tell me that they hope their children never become one. One friend of mine came to me, upset and crying, because her daughter decided to become a special education teacher. People don’t respond that way when people say they are engineers, CEOs of companies, bank tellers, electricians, Air condition repairmen, clothing designers, artists, and I could go on and on. I think being a teacher is wonderful, amazing, satisfying, and rewarding but if most people are not thinking that, is it no wonder that we have a shortage of teachers? I want people to say, “Wow! A teacher! How wonderful! That is a great profession and I want to encourage my children to become one.” I want people to see that teaching is a profession that they could be proud of doing.

I began to wonder how we could change the perception of teachers for the general public. I know that teachers committing crimes is a newsworthy subject but we need to make the positive things apparent too. A lot of my suggestions are not something that teachers have a lot of control over but leaders in the government and community do have this power. Until the leaders make a step for change, the need for teachers will continue to grow. I think the media should show positive things going on in the local schools on a regular basis.

1. We need to show young people who are making a difference rather than just committing crimes.
2. We need to involve the community more in our schools. Open up the school building on weekends and after hours to the community.
3. Schools need to become more transparent to the community.
4. School districts should improve marketing strategies to show why teaching in their district is so wonderful and show these regularly to the general public. The army has done this with positive results (I mean, who would want to do “more before breakfast than most people do all day!” but the positive spin gets people motivated).

Do you have any other suggestions on how to change the general public’s perception about teaching? If so, I’d love to hear it and maybe somebody with some influence will read these and be willing to try to do one of these things.

Photo credit: proud as a peacock by Bachir


Andrea Hernandez said...

I just wrote similar post "I Heart Teachers" and Darren Draper just wrote similar post and also started a voicethread on how we can improve the perception of teaching. Obviously this is something about which many of us have strong feelings.
It has been on my mind for a LONG time. I don't think I have the answer except for those of us who care to do the best job we can and conduct ourselves as professionals who are proud of what we do.

Farfisa said...

I changed my major so many times in college, that I had to walk my own folder over to the education department, but changing to education was the only major change that I was afraid to tell my parents about. I thought they'd freak out at me. How could a smart girl go from engineering to chemistry to business and land in middle school education?

To my surprise, they supported me. I think they knew the challenges I would face more than I did. After 20 years, though? I'm incredibly glad I'm a teacher. This job is never ever boring!

loonyhiker said...

andrea: Thanks for the heads up on your post and the voicethread. I will use these in the course I'm teaching this summer.

loonyhiker said...

farfisa: Glad you joined on on the education side! I bet you are a great teacher too because you have made it through the tough times!

Sue Wargo said...

In many instances the media works against us. The recent attention to teachers arrested for having sex with students and also the plethora of YouTube videos make teachers collectively look bad. I don't know how many times a friend will send me a clip of a bad teacher but never a clip of a good one. I get good stuff through the colleagility of TWitter and other great blogs...but we preach to the choir. I find each year at this time a love/hate relationship with my job. I am a jr/sr. high library media spec. I serve 1000 kids alone w/o an aide. Today I have to close my room because there is no ocverage for my lunch. So of course that makes me feel important, but I digress. I think many teachers such as yourself who have a high profile and likely support as a teacher have the ability to help raise the bar on the profession. But until the average everyday person feels validated in what they do the profession isn't going to raise itself up...because as much as I love my job and think what I do is important, I am not sure if I had to do it all over again, I would choose being a teacher.

Carl Anderson said...

I think we do see and hear stories of teachers doing good everyday. It is just that the bad stories stand out. It is like when you are driving. You don't notice when the road is good, just when it is bad. It is the bad or off-putting stories and experiences that stand out for us. As for teaching becoming a profession of disdain, perhaps we shouldn't be teachers anymore. I don't think it is possible to truly resurrect public opinion of a profession. One factor that I believe is at the root cause of this stigma is the changing nature of pedagogy. The problem is that most people don't have the background to articulate what it is about teachers or teaching that is so off putting. The fact is that what is needed in the classroom looks less like our conventional view of a "teacher" and more like what we all collectively envision as a "mentor" or a "coach." Really, the word "teacher" carries with it a notion that knowledge can be passed on as if students gained their knowledge directly from the teacher. I would argue that "Instructor" has a similar attached to it. Perhaps we need to stop being teachers and start calling ourselves learning coaches or facilitators. Then when those terms wear out we can find new ones.

Nancy Flanagan said...

Hey, LH.

It's not your imagination--there are posts everywhere either defending the noble profession of teaching, or taking potshots at us, as a group. I haven't read any snarky editorials lately about peccadilloes of firemen or plumbers; I'm interested in how teachers became objects of reform in the media.

Interesting commentary on the subject in Ed Week, by a retired teacher, worth a look:

And thanks for sending a submission to the Carnival. See you there, on Wednesday.


loonyhiker said...

carl: that is why I think the school district needs to get the media on board for the sake of our children and the future of education.

loonyhiker said...

Thanks for the link to look at. And the Carnival looks wonderful! Good job!

Clix said...

I have something to say on this... I'm just not sure what, yet. I think it may have something to do with the predator/martyr dichotomy.

Last day tomorrow (sort of).

Lightly Seasoned said...

All this bad press is just a smoke screen to hide the truth: this job is FUN. Sure, there are days when I'm not sure why I chose this profession, but who doesn't have those? Even the peskiest teenager can be a hoot sometimes. I've worked in other professions, but this is the only one in which I laugh every single day. Plus, I spend the day talking about books!

loonyhiker said...

Lightly Seasoned: It does my heart good to hear that you enjoy teaching. Thank you for reading my blog and leaving such an upbeat comment!