Teachers' Images: Are We Respected?

Two articles about young teachers leaving the profession or their schools have been all kinds of popular this week. I’ve read both with interest, but one in particular has made me think. Let me begin by saying that I deeply appreciate the author's honesty and candor in writing this, and that she is to be commended for that. But I fervently disagree with the content.

Sarah Fine’s piece blames two factors: burnout and image. The burnout part I get, though I think it’s very sad that Fine quit rather than try to find a new school with a more positive relationship between teachers and admin.

The image part, though, I don’t. Fine seems to be deeply troubled by the fact that “a portion of the American public sees teaching as a second-rate profession.”

Really? That’s what upsets her?

Because I’m pretty sure a portion of the American public would consider Mother Theresa a loser (the chick made, like, NO money), would scoff at FDR (dude increased taxes; not cool. Plus all those federal programs were borderline socialist), would despise Nelson Mandela (he was in prison an awfully long time…maybe some action would’ve made shit happen faster). A portion of the American public are idiots, and I could not care less if they think teaching is “just so nice.”

I was curious, though, so I did some research, and from what I could find, Fine’s plaintive wail that she don’t get no respect just isn’t borne out. In 2006, Forbes had an article about America’s most admired professions, based on a Harris poll. I couldn’t find the poll itself, but the article lists teachers as the fifth most admired profession. Numbers one through four were (in order) firefighters, doctors, nurses and scientists. Then us. That’s not so shabby. In addition, in 2008, a Gallup poll ranked high school teachers as the third most ethical and honest career group. (One and two were nurses and pharmacists.)

Fifth most admired.

Third most ethical.

Who is Fine talking to, again, who is so disparaging of teachers? Oh, right…a “businesswoman sitting next to [her] on a plane.” Friends who are lawyers and consultants.

In the Harris poll on admired professions, lawyers were 14th, business executives 21st. Ethics? Lawyers were twelfth. Business leaders, fifteenth.

Maybe Fine should try talking to someone else.

Here’s the thing. I might not get “the kind of social recognition that accompanies professions such as medicine and law,” but, uh, I’m okay with that. Maybe that’s just me, but I’m not looking to be famous. Am I ambitious? Certainly I am, but I don’t think my ambitions are the same as Fine’s. I think hers have to do with money, something she never acknowledges but seems to dance around. Yep, teacher pay’s a problem. But that’s not something she actually addresses, so perhaps I’m wrong.

Back to respect and ambition. I want to be respected within my profession and my social circle, absolutely. But I don’t need to be featured on the society pages of the newspapers for being a patron of the local orchestra. Will I always be happy in the classroom? I don’t know. I have a lot of ideas of ways to change education in general, and to change individual schools in particular, and I might want to go into some sort of policy someday. Whether that means school admin, or district personnel, or running for school board, or something else entirely, I’m not sure yet. Like one of Fine’s friends, "I want to be able to do big things and be recognized for them.” I just disagree that “in the world we live in, teaching doesn't cut it."

In the world I live in, it not only cuts it, it’s perfect for it.

(Photo credit to jm3)


Amy said...

Also, 77% of Americans think you guys "contribute a lot to society's well-being," while only 23% say the same of lawyers and 21% of business executives ( (70% for scientists, you may notice. We're working on that.) I think you're doing okay in the respect category.

"I'm a dreamer but I ain't the only one Got problems but we love to have fun" -K'naan, "Dreamer"

I teach eighth grade Language Arts at an urban school. My kids kick ass and will change the world. I want everyone to know.
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