If you’ve ever wondered why teaching is a disrespected profession, you can find the answers in our education system. For decades, teachers have endured poor working conditions, misguided school policies and failed efforts at reform. Even young school children can tell you that Respect For The Teaching Profession Is Lost In North America.
Is Respect for Teachers Declining?
Most people know that teachers are smart, well-educated and qualified. At the same time, many people denigrate teaching itself.
The public has a mixed view of the education system. As a recent Gallup survey found, “Only 18 percent of those surveyed grade American schools at an A or B. The majority of those surveyed also said that high school graduates were unprepared for college and for the workforce. Yet, these same individuals rated their own community schools highly. Seventy-one percent give their local schools an A or B.”
Most people are unaware of what’s going on in school districts outside their own, but they assume that they must be bad. They just think their own teachers and school system are unique.
Some Reasons Why Teaching Is a Disrespected Profession
Politicians frequently use school systems and teachers as the scapegoats for their own policy failures.
Many teachers know that the students they deal with are frequently spoiled, aggressive and disrespectful. They don’t learn respect for teachers or other adults at home.
A lot of attention gets paid to violence against students, but less attention gets paid to the violence that teachers experience. Assaults, theft and other crimes show a clear lack of respect for teaching and teachers.
Politics Over Sound Policies
Teachers unions began forming in 1916. Up that point, teaching was respected, but teachers were underpaid and often overworked.
Teacher Tom Whitby writes on his My Island View blog that unions were critical to teachers’ ability to gain higher pay and better working conditions. He also cites studies finding that states with strong teachers’ unions have better education outcomes.
Unions can protect teachers, but they can’t change the attitudes of lawmakers toward schools and education policies.
It’s no wonder that teachers in states without strong unions have suffered the worst working conditions and lowest salaries in the country. When teachers went on strike in Oklahoma, Louisiana and West Virginia, they had a long list of grievances that included:
- No pay raises for 10 years.
- Slashes to budgets for textbooks and school supplies.
- Loss of pension benefits.
“What these states have in common is Republican control and union suppression,” writes Leo Gerard in Common Dreams. “All are states that forbid labor organizations from charging workers who choose not to join the union fair share payments to cover the costs of collective bargaining. This, of course, weakens unions, which are required by federal law to represent workers who don’t join and don’t contribute. Some states, like West Virginia, go even further, outlawing teacher strikes.”
All these states have drastically cut education budgets while handing out tax cuts to corporations and the wealthy. These three states spend less than any others on education.
Schools and Teachers Suffer
As a result, both schools and teachers are suffering. Teachers qualify for government subsidies and often work two or three jobs.
“Some Oklahoma teachers find themselves in buildings so cold that students must wear coats to class,” Gerard writes. “In some schools, not all lights are turned on. Twenty percent of Oklahoma schools operate on a four-day week to cut costs. Courses like advanced languages and debate are slashed. Paper is rationed in some districts. Some textbooks are decades old or in such short supply students must share them.”
Contrast that dire situation to the situation of teachers in Finland. The small Nordic country has long boasted the highest school rankings in the world.
It’s also a country where respect for teaching is so high that schools only accept 7% of people who want to become teachers. Finnish teachers work without standardized tests or school inspections. They also have strong unions and high pay. You can read more about the Finnish education system here.
The Push for Charter Schools
Even among ostensibly pro-union Democratic politicians, you’ll find support for charter schools. The bipartisan project Teach for America (TFA) was a favorite of President Barack Obama, who expanded it during his administration.
TFA has long been a training ground for future leaders who take over school systems and promote charter schools. TFA hires unqualified, inexperienced teachers who complete their training and then denigrate entire schools and school systems with an insistence that they could run them better.
Unqualified and Inexperienced
Writing in the Progressive on the twenty-fifth anniversary of TFA’s launch, English teacher Peter Greene described the outcomes of this belief.
“The image of TFA might once have been a fresh-faced college grad filling the need for a caring warm body in a classroom, but today’s TFA, while it still includes some well-intentioned, smart young people, is the face of the corporate dismantling of public education,” Greene wrote.
Canadian writer Richard Worzel offers a dark picture of the education system in Canada that sounds strikingly close to the one we have here. To placate parents who demand “reform,” Worzel says, politicians are pushing bad ideas and then blaming teachers when they fail.
“This has led to curricula and even daily lessons being dictated by bureaucrats in provincial ministries and as a result, the unique needs of the students have been disregarded,” Worzel writes. “Most of these bureaucrats are long on ideas and theory, but very short on actual experience.”
In an earlier article, we talked about students who bully teachers and teachers who bully each other. For some teachers, bullying means actual physical danger.
In a recent article for Rave Mobile Safety, Jackson Lucas summarized the results of a 2018 study by the American Psychological Association that looked the levels of violence teachers face.
“Violence against teachers is a national crisis that cost teachers, parents, and taxpayers $2 billion annually,” Lukas writes. “In 2011, the American Psychological Association (APA) conducted one of the few national studies on violence against teachers.”
Attacks on Teachers
The APA study found that:
- 80% of teachers reported that they experienced an incident of violence, and 94% of those assaults were by a student.
- 50% of teachers experienced theft of or damage to their property.
- 37% of teachers were assaulted by parents.
Can We Increase Respect for Teachers?
Demand Better Pay and Conditions
The teachers’ strikes across the country are a sign that teachers are refusing to sit back and take it. Americans are becoming aware that they can’t expect teachers to educate their children without the proper financial and community support.
Allow Teachers to Discipline Students
In recent years, some schools have adopted “restorative justice policies” as a way to handle disruptive students. According to these policies, only the worst offenses deserve suspension or expulsion from school. These policies aim to reduce the numbers of students who drop out.
The “restorative justice” model has worked in some schools. At others, teachers say that it has been a disaster. Spending time “restoring” disruptive students takes away time from teaching and leaves unruly, violent students free to act out.
School systems need to take concrete steps to protect teachers and other students.
Teachers will gain more respect when the community of parents and students realize that education is a shared responsibility.
Teacher William White, writing at the Huffington Post, puts it this way:
“Education is a responsibility. It is an opportunity in which young people must invest themselves. It is a duty that families owe to the development of their children… Education is a responsibility that we, the citizens of this republic, should take up gladly with excitement, enthusiasm and an eye to the future.”
Can You Relate?
What issues are you and your colleagues dealing with in your state?
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