Thursday, February 02, 2006

Re-Framing Teaching

Early on in my teacher-prep program, one of my professors admonished us with the following joke:

What do you call a bunch of teachers in a basement?

Punchline: A WHINE-cellar

If only it weren't so true. Put a bunch of teachers together, and negative talk inevitably ensues. The burdens of the discipline are the focus. Sometimes, it's management problems. Other times, it's the state standards and NCLB. Often, it's the pay. All of it is ultimately, I believe, damaging to the profession if it ever gets beyond the doors of the teachers' lounge.

In the United States, we live in a meritocracy. Or at least in a society that values meritocracy as a philosophy. There is a wide-spread notion that merit and virtue are rewarded with prosperity and power. This is the old lie, the American Dream. It has been sold to us since a very early age. We still tend to believe in it, in spite of the obvious evidence that many of the prosperous and powerful are without virtue, and most of the downtrodden are undeserving of their situation. However, the blade cuts both ways...

The notion that virtue is rewarded also implies the notion that receipt of rewards signals virtue. This backwards meritocracy is at the center of the conservative establishment's justification of its own power. The rich and the powerful are as they are because they are virtuous, and because they are virtuous, we should allow them to be in power and continue to reward them. Acknowledgement of this notion lead me to reconsider how I should talk about teaching.

Will whining about my situation as a teacher really garner me support? Will I be rewarded with higher pay, greater autonomy, and respect? NO is my answer. If I complain of low pay, etc., those holding the backwards-meritocracy frame will assume that my low pay is deserved. That I am not virtuous enough to deserve more pay. In fact, that my pay is low relative to my hours-worked and education level must in fact be a sign that I am un-virtuous as a teacher. By whining, I am justifying my current situation.

In light of this, I propose that teachers present themselves to the public as being in an advantageous situation. As being the subject of great rewards, and thereby, people of great virtue. I get far more vacation time than most Americans. I am guaranteed holidays off. Should I have children, I will have an accomidating schedule. I have the respect of much of the community. I get to work with vibrant young people. I get to have a positive influence on innumerable lives throughout the course of a career. I get to be a politics geek as part of my job. The benefits go on and on...

If that is the dialog that the public hears, general respect among the community may rise, and respect amongst the policy and law-makers may also rise. Overall, the outcome for teachers - and for students - will be good, I believe.

So if you are an educator, or are considering becoming one, please consider this, and respond accordingly next time someone asks you about your job.


At 7:05 PM, Blogger brendalynn said...

"vibrant" I like it. Maybe you should direct some of your teacher-peeps and their network to your blog... you could become the Lakeoff of the CTA ;)

They backed a guber candidate today, d'ya hear?


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