Friday, March 4, 2011

Week 21: How We Talk About Teachers

Yesterday on my drive home from work, I almost emotionally broke down.

It was a hard day at school. Nothing bad happened; it was just a day at school in which I worked really hard every moment I was teaching and between classes. Some things didn’t go how I wish they could have, despite my best effort.

It’s not unusual for me to have days like this, but what made the drive home difficult yesterday was that fact that echoing in my head were the voices of people criticizing the way that teachers are compensated in American and the quality of teachers.

With all of the controversy over teacher unions and budgets in states like Wisconsin, commentators in some parts of the media have expressed critical views over teachers and their unions.  While I am open to reasonable and fact-based debates, unreasonable people making unfounded and over-generalized statements about teachers is infuriating and offensive, and it hurts.

Even with John Stewart’s defense these words still stung.

While I appreciate Stewart’s defense of teachers, I disagree with his action of comparing teachers with  bankers and people who work on Wall Street. My brother-in-law works for Goldman & Sachs and he has had plenty of experience with people unfairly venting their frustrations with the economy and him and his company.  I feel the same way about people who over-generalize about teachers.

Now I try really hard every single day to ignore and insulate myself from unreasonable people who spread unnecessary negativity.  I know there’s people out there who speak words of hate and ignorance all of the time, and I try as hard I can to not let it get to me. Hey, if you are racist, whatever, go ahead, it’s your God-given right to stereotype, but something about these current discussions about teachers have broken through my wall of optimism and positivity.

I didn’t chose to be a teacher to be a hero or to prove that I’m a better person than anyone else. I believe teaching is an important job but so is being a janitor.  Both deserve respect, because if they didn’t do their jobs for one night or one day, entire cities would shut down.

So what do teachers deserve?

Summer break? Well, I think everyone deserves that. We would a lot happier as a society with a little bit more free time.

A workday that ends at 3? Lots of people have weird hours and keep in mind most of these teachers who get off at 3 start at 7am so it’s pretty much a 9 to 5. Also, most teachers, including me, do lesson planning and correct papers in the evenings and on weekends. So the school day does not end at 3.

$50,000 salary? I don’t know. Does an athlete deserve a million dollar salary? Yes, no, maybe?  I’m sure there’s some economic businesspeople out there who can make sense of why certain jobs get paid what they do and why it’s logical.  But I don't really get it. 

What teachers do deserve is to be talked about and discussed with the same amount of respect that you would afford any other profession. It is unacceptable to over-generalize about politicians, business people, and public servants. To criticize without specific examples or statistics is an expression of ignorance.

The thing that we often forget when we discuss issues in our society is that we are talking about human beings.  When you say that all Republicans are against same-sex marriage or that all Democrats are tree-huggers you are making stereotypes about people that are just as bad as racial ones.

Here’s the thing. Chances are someone you care about or someone you love belongs to one of these groups. And when you misspeak about them in this way you are hurting them. 

I know this because statements about teachers that have been said by people in my life have hurt me. Hearing these people on television echo these sentiments reminds me of that pain.  Maybe I should speak up more and argue, but most of the time I just feel sad.  

After I got home, I talked to my wife, Diana and she helped me build that wall back up.  She reminded me of all the people in this world who support teachers. Even though I tell myself that it doesn't matter what others think, it does and it's okay.  She said that most Americans believe in teachers and what they do for their kids and their constitutional right to be part of a union -- and she's right.

You can't let the vocal minority overshadow the reasonable majority, and you can't let yourself talk about issues in our society without the utmost respect for the people involved.

Never forget everyone is someone's father, mother, son or daughter.

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