How many public school teachers can you name who are only in it for the money? I struggle to name one. Are there bad eggs in the system? Of course, and here's an example of a more insidious variant (plus it quotes one of the more choice movie lines of the 1980s!). But most of the three million+ teachers in America teach because their stomachs and hearts demand it of them. It is a calling and their intentions are good.
I have been told of places in this country where being a teacher is a "way out," and people go into it because it's one of the very few choices available to them. I'm willing to bet that most of these teachers view it as a path to earning a living, being respected in their community, and helping future generations transcend.
Last night I was talking to a good friend about teachers in America; we talked about these two amazing teachers I had dinner with last October, and about Tyler Hester - a rather academically accomplished TFA teacher who was laid off recently from his school in Pasadena, CA; he was a victim of their policy of layoffs based solely on tenure.
There is a lot of talk about teachers being the most influential factor in a child's education, and that because student achievement is declining, they must be the point of failure. This type of scapegoat hunting is easy - it's not about solving a problem, it's about finding someone to blame - that's politics. As Aaron Sorkin put it in The American President (with my emphasis):
We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them. And whatever your particular problem is, I promise you Bob Rumson is not the least bit interested in solving it. He is interested in two things, and two things only: making you afraid of it, and telling you who's to blame for it. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you win elections. You gather a group of middle age, middle class, middle income voters who remember with longing an easier time, and you talk to them about family, and American values and character, and you wave an old photo of the President's girlfriend and you scream about patriotism. You tell them she's to blame for their lot in life. And you go on television and you call her a whore.
The "problem" is a failing education system, the "President's girlfriend" is the public school teacher, and rather than "whore" it's incompetent. Good politics is about establishing ONE enemy that is easily understood, easily vilified, and where a simple fix (student testing - something they have also admitted doesn't work!) can be applied.
Like Bob Rumson in the movie, none of these "complainants" has a viable solution for the problem. None recognizes that students are only in school for seven hours a day, and that learning also happens in the other seventeen. None speaks of the role of parents and parenting in education, none recognizes that the most formative learning happens before a child is even of school age!!
This is the plight of teachers in America and the prejudice fomented against them. Look no farther than the rhetoric of Presidents Bush and Obama, their respective Secretaries of Education, many "lesser" politicians (Governors, Superintendents, Congress people, etc.), and even major foundations (the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to name but one) to find the same story played over and over again. These are people who in one breath speak of dramatically increasing investment in our futures, and in the next of budget cuts that require teacher layoffs, cutbacks in classes offered, and even the closing of schools.
As Elizabeth Bennett (Jane Austen's Pride & Prejudice) had to overcome her tendency towards hasty judgments and headstrong approach, so must American teachers overcome their first reaction - the raising of hackles.
As Seth said today that you must choose what of the myriad ...stuff that comes your way to accept; teachers need to focus not on a tide of disaffection, but what they would want to see in the system in order to improve it; some of this will require change on their part, and they can't shirk that. They must view being in the cross hairs as an opportunity and not a threat.
Like Elizabeth they must realize that beneath the prejudice their Mr. Darcy has a genuine desire to improve education, he just doesn't know how. In the book, circumstances contrived to help Mr. Darcy demonstrate his innate goodness and win Elizabeth. In reality, teachers must take the bull by the horns and create their own destiny.