Respect For The Teaching Profession (Is Lost In North America)

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Why Has Teaching Become a Disrespected Profession?

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.

Mixed Views

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

Politics

Politicians frequently use school systems and teachers as the scapegoats for their own policy failures.

Lax Parenting

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.

Unsafe Schools

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.

Strong Teacher Unions Mean More Respect for Teaching

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.”

The Finnish Example Flag of Finland

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.

Parents

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.”

Unsafe Schools

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.

Foster a Community Spirit

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.”

Let Us Know In The Comments Below!

Can you relate to the article?  What issues are you and your fellow teachers dealing with in your state?

Did you begin your teaching career more than 10 years ago?  How has the profession changed since you were a first-year teacher?

Have you decided it’s time to close up your planning book and look for something different?  If you’re ready to reinvent yourself, be sure to take a look at Wealthy Affiliate.  It’s my best recommendation for teachers, and others, who have decided it’s time to do something new!

If you enjoyed this article, please share it with your colleagues, friends and family.

You may also enjoy reading:

Finnish Education System (5 Surprising Findings)

Toxic School Culture (A Beginner’s Guild)

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14 thoughts on “Respect For The Teaching Profession (Is Lost In North America)”

  1. Every day you hear in the news about a child who got bullied and then retaliated. Instead of making the bully apologize, the teachers are being forced to have the child who is bullied write an apology letter. Pretty sad I would say.

    I like the Finnish way of schooling. That only 7% of people get accepted as teachers, means there are many people who want to become teachers there. Here, the teaching industry is declining, it’s becoming a thankless job no one really wants to do. As you say, respect for teachers has gone downhill.

    Mainly I would say it’s the parent’s responsibility to teach their child how to be. Sadly the children suffer the most. These children are the leaders of tomorrow, they are shaped by those who teach them. I would really appreciate this, if everyone just let the teachers do their job, which is to teach our children.

    • The way the Finns do school ensures that the career is meaningful and valuable to everyone.  When too many people can do, or have, a thing, the perceived value goes down.  That’s part of the problem with U.S. schools.  Having tons of responsibility, but very little authority to perform the job also adds to the situation.  

      As you noted, the children are the ultimate losers in this sad tale.   Thanks so much for joining the conversation; I appreciate it!

  2. Education is such an important part of a child’s life. Too many local governments seem unaware that a strong education is not only beneficial for the child, but also a significant investment in the overall community. Education provides opportunities for people to thrive and live up to their full potential. Perhaps there is not a one-size-fits-all solution, but constant effort should be made to ensure that education practices are effective and continually striving to find ways to make improvements. 

    • You’ve brought up an excellent point, education is an investment in the overall community.  Education does so much more than just teach children to become productive citizens.  The current situation in our schools is preventing many students from becoming the people they could be.  Their loss is a loss for all of us.

      Thanks for joining the conversation; I appreciate it!

  3. Hello Nancy, Great article you have up here. Firstly, it is true that the level of respect for the teaching profession has gone downhill and it’s declining on a daily basis. I personally have a cousin who quit from being a teacher to becoming a sales representative due to the strenuous pattern of the work and less pay associated with it. There was even an instance when he was sanctioned for punishing a kid who was caught in the act of sexual immorality but instead of punishing the kid, he was punished instead.

    The Finns are doing a great job by making the teaching profession a thing of respect and worth. I really do hope that very soon, we will make necessary adjustments and increase the attention given to teachers because truly, they make or mar our future. Thanks

    • I’m so sorry your cousin’s experiences as a teacher were so bad they caused him to quit.  Sadly, this sort of thing happens with regularity.  I’m convinced the lack of appropriate consequences for students is a big reason for the decline in respect for teachers, and the profession.

      Education is such a political football in this country that I’m not sure we will ever see meaningful change that is truly beneficial for the students.   We have a long way to go.

      Thanks for joining the conversation; I appreciate it!

  4. Teachers in New Zealand are frustrated.  Pay is low and hours are long.  Teachers are frustrated because the curriculum is a straight jacket.  The curriculum is very narrow, students become good at ticking boxes in multi-choice questionnaires.  Rote learning produces robots.  There are many rules teachers have to follow limiting their creativity,  it is like teaching in a straight jacket.

    The teaching profession is failing in its main task to educate children, not only in America but in New Zealand.

    • I’m so sorry to hear things are just as frustrating in New Zealand.  It makes you wonder just who this type of education is serving.  

      Our children are being bored to death with the curriculum, as are their teachers.  The customers who pay the bills, the taxpaying public, aren’t getting value for their money.  And, businesses are faced with creating their own in-house employee-schools in order to fill in the holes left by the educational system.   We all deserve better.

      Thanks for joining in the conversation; I appreciate it!

  5. Each moment I ponder on what teachers are facing in my state, I do feel jealous of Finland who treated their teachers as very important personnel. Teachers should be highly respected in our society because they are one of the elements that serve as an architect of our life. They should get high incentive,high motivation and high respect. 

    Why? This is because teachers were born the first moment a question leaped from the mouth of a child. They are not after things, because it is not one of their goals.  Instead, they are a full time treasure seeker to create new opportunity for their students to identify their talents. They also make those talents that have lied buried because of self-defeat in students to rise again. The quality of a teacher can not be overemphasized. 

    Teaching should be an independent profession that will add value to the state of our nation, because they create the future. There should be a way to eradicate teachers violence. A law should be created where punishment will be given to anyone that underrates and disrespects teachers. Your solutions and recommendation are superb alternatives. 

    • Thanks for the kind words.  You’ve pointed out an interesting fact.  Parents turn their children over to the local school for 10 months out of each year with the expectation that their children will gain knowledge that will help them build a promising future.  When the conditions are good, that’s exactly what happens.  

      Unfortunately, when people don’t see the value of a thing, it falls into disuse and is often disrespected.   I believe that’s what has happened to our educational system since we decided we could treat children like commodities, and schools could be run like businesses.   We’ve made only the components that can be easily tested important, and are allowing the parts with real value and worth to wither and die.  

      Thanks so much for joining the conversation; I appreciate it!

  6. What I strongly dislike is when a teacher gets into trouble for having firm discipline skills. Like getting after a child for speaking after three opportunities and as an effect, sending the child to detention. I approve this discipline and recently, a vice principle got fired due to several parenting complaints of “strict discipline”. 

    • This situation is much worse than people would suspect, because it’s symptomatic of a much larger problem.  When students know there will be few if any consequences for poor behavior, even normally well-behaved students begin acting up.  

      If the administration isn’t supporting the teacher, no matter what kind of classroom discipline procedures the teacher uses, it will have no effect.  Instead of covering the day’s lesson, the teacher spends the period dealing with an unbelievable variety of disruptions.  

      Without parental support, it’s even worse.  

      Discipline plans like Restorative Justice have mixed reviews, and can add to the deteriorating conditions in the classroom.  Most of these plans depend on taking class time to talk-out the problem.  

      It works for people who have a vested interest in eliminating classroom disruption.  However, most classes have two or more students who live to cause turmoil in the classroom.  

      The rest of the class loves it because it gives them a break from the lesson.  I’m fearful for our society when people are being terminated for things that only a few years ago were part of the job description.  Things that are necessary to maintain balance and normalcy.

      Thanks for joining the conversation; I appreciate it!

  7. The teaching profession is one of the hardest yet important fields to ensure we as a society are covering well. To make sure that happens, there need to be standards that have proven over time to achieve desired results, and enough money and expertise to monitor the varied systems that are found in North America…

    Respect for the positions and the school systems, in general, has gone down over the years I think because people in power have not recognized how important it is to have an effective system in place so do not allocate enough money for the teachers and schools, or they have switched focus to ‘for profit’ or other ‘special interest’ schools… 

    As a parent of two girls, I was a participant over many years in the various school systems that my girls were enrolled in (many as we move 14 times in 25 years while in the military service), so I have met and talked to a lot of teachers. I have the utmost respect for what they do and also know they are very much underpaid in many school systems.

    There are many problems as you have laid out very well in this article, and they are not all easy to fix. I think addressing these issues requires starting at the top of the responsible agencies and includes all of the main actors from parents, governments, teachers themselves, to the school systems and even the private special interest schools. I will do my part as possible…

    • After 19 years in the classroom, and watching how things work, I agree with you that the people in power don’t treat education the same way a parent or teacher would.  It’s a political subject, and most use it as a device to drive their own careers.  

      School districts that buy the newest, shiniest curriculum year after years are also part of the problem.  

      Once upon a time, education worked.  It wasn’t fun or easy, and you behaved yourself or you were removed from the classroom, but it produced citizens who knew their history, and helped maintain the culture and civilization.  If you take a look around, that’s not happening today.

      Thanks for joining the conversation; I appreciate it!

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