Why are teachers made the villain?Teachers are making national news lately.  It does not seem like we are placed in a very favorable light.  Why do you think this is?

Expert Answers
Susan Hurn eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think there's a divide between what Americans generally say about education and how they often feel about it. We don't value education in this country. We value money, and education is primarily seen as being important only as a means to make it. Those who use their education in public sector service professions, notoriously low-paid positions, receive little respect, except in lip service.

My experience with the well heeled corporate world has shown me that teachers are, in truth, held in low regard because by choosing teaching, they have demonstrated that they are either A) too lazy to work in the "real world" or B) lack what it takes to succeed in the "real world." Choosing a profession for any reason other than making money is simply beyond the understanding of many.

There is also a strong, overt anti-education philosophy among many Americans. Well educated people are "egg heads," and "intellectual" has become a pejorative term in many circles. Where else but in this country would a president be criticized for being too smart and too well educated? I find this astounding, especially in a nation that supposedly values education!

In our history, teaching was a second-class occupation to begin with. Teaching was a job for single women; when they married, they were sent home. When married teachers became acceptable, they were allowed to teach unless they got pregnant--then they were sent home. Teaching was a good "second income" a woman could earn to supplement her husband's salary; women teachers were paid less than men.

For a long time, teachers' low salaries were "subsidized" with a kind of public respect; teaching became a "noble" undertaking, and teachers were often seen as exemplary human beings. This was the attitude, at least, in the Midwest when I began my career. I noticed a change taking place during the 1990s and really accelerating after that. Every news story about some teacher somewhere who betrayed the profession appeared in print or was splashed across the Internet, creating the impression that American teachers had suddenly become a collection of pedophiles, drug dealers, thieves, or sadists. Bad people make hot news copy, but the distortion has been very harmful, I think.

Teachers are receiving mixed messages these days:

1. Don't try to influence or improve what's going on in education. Leave it to the "experts" and the politicians.

2. Go to your classroom and accept without complaint whatever you are given, in terms of class size, curriculum, textbooks, teaching materials, salary, and working conditions.

3. And, also, save American society.

Throughout American history, in times of turmoil our society has zeroed in on one group or another to scapegoat. Right now teachers appear to be it.

 

booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This question, among teachers, is almost as as puzzling as trying to define the meaning of life.

Truly, I think there is a lot of jealousy. It forms around the idea that teachers work short days and have summers off. This is an urban myth propagated by disgruntled parents, guilty parents (with children who behave badly and/or get poor grades), school board members, and even some disgruntled teachers who drastically change after retirement: it's amazing, but I have seen it. (Though some of it must come, too, from experiences with uncaring, ill-prepared, or lazy teachers.)

We are also in a society that does not believe in working hard. "Old- school" members of society remember this way of life: you worked hard to earn a day's pay. Students and recent college graduates do not see a reason to work hard: showing up seems, in their minds, to be enough to get a really good paycheck. They do not want to hear what we all know: that it's tough on the job market, and no one is going to let you skate. (I read an article recently about how businesses are trying to cope with new employees without a strong work ethic or motivation...)

When parents cannot control their children, or their kids don't work or study, somehow we are expected to get their children to do what they cannot get their children to do. It's amazing. In my community I cannot speak at parties about teaching because so many people are ill-informed that they truly believe we do nothing. (I know other teachers in the community: a few will speak up; for me, it's like trying to staunch a flood. I just step back out of the way.)

With NCLB, teaching to the test, budget cuts that will no longer provide kleenex for students, money-out-of-pocket spent by teachers for supplies the district won't pay for, lack of support from administrators, and tests taken and work turned in that a fourth grader would handle better than the high school kid cannot or will not bother with, not only disheartens teachers, but it affects how smoothly things work in the classroom, and how we are perceived.

Parents should be required to spend ONE full day following a teacher around: that would be an eye-opening experience. And for the parents who know how hard teachers work, God bless them. They are few and far between.

catd1115 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As observed above, there are lots of reasons. I personally see two that stick out in my experience: the lack of importance put on education in American society at large and the misunderstanding of what it is that teachers actually do (and are actually supposed to do)

1) More and more I find that the parents of my students as well as the community at large don't care if their children are well educated. School holds very little importance in their minds and for many it is a baby sitter, a place for them to go until they are old enough to work. We see so much stress on people who are successful that never finished college, gee look at them, they are millionaires and they dropped out of Harvard,  I don't need to go to college. (Never-mind that maybe you are not smart enough to even get into Harvard so you need a degree!)

2) All educators know that our job is very difficult and requires much more time, work and energy than people think. If you are realistic about it, isn't it harder even than you imagined it would be when you first started out? People see teachers with summers off and holidays off and in most places an early release time (compared to their jobs). We get pensions and good benefits that others don't and many don't understand how hard we work for it. The reality is that it is a job that no one will understand until they do it. People are always going to have the wrong idea about how hard teachers work and for how little we actually do it. In this same vein, I think people don't understand what our job is. I really think that many parents and much of society thinks it our job to teach students EVERYTHING they need to know. We are supposed to prepare them for the real world, not just through content, but through social skills and money skills, and character education, and morality, etc. Apparently none of these things are the job of parents or churches anymore, they all fall on the teachers and schools. Well, if that is what you are expecting, of course you are going to be disappointed. I can only be your child's teacher, not their parent.

literaturenerd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I was horrified by the jokes that I heard from my friends when I began looking for my first teaching position.  I cannot tell you how many times I heard, "Let's hope we don't see you on the news."  As horrifying as this is, I had to justify their comments.  Yes, we are seeing many infractions by teachers these days.  But, were these infractions happening a decade ago?  Two decades ago?  Yes.  They were.  The difference?  Societal changes.  I remember learning about autism in one of my undergrad classes a few years ago.  Then, not long after, I remember hearing that autism was on the rise.  This was not true- doctors simply became more aware of diagnosing the disorder at an earlier age.  One reason why I hate watching the news is because of all of the negative stories that are promoted.  We rarely hear about the good teachers.  So, unfortunately, many great teachers are labeled and scrutinized because of the negative press.  So my advice would be to look closer to home and not at the national level.  We have students that look up to us as advisers, mentors, and heroes.  Isn't that what matters?

trophyhunter1 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Someone needs to be the scapegoat and unfortunately, it is teachers. While we can motivate, give extra help, teach, re-teach, make parental outreach, try new methods, etc. we still are not the ones who have to go home and study, and ultimately take the exams. The results that we get from our students require them to meet us halfway at least, with the support at home, a given. However, that is not always the case. There is also the fact that education is given last priority by this and every administration. My classes all have 34 kids. Why not cap a classroom at 20 kids, and see what kind of results are possible? However, the government and unfortunately, the public perceive teachers as lazy and overpaid. We don't get paid to bring work home, which all of us do. I for one, come home exhausted almost every day, but in a good way. It means I reached someone.

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Is it not easier to make teachers the scapegoats by parents for their failure to discipline their children and instill in them the work ethic and interest in learning?  Then, of course, the people at the top are certainly not going to take any blame upon themselves as there might be some proverbial heads rolling.  Always go for the middle.  Business does it:  middle management is always the ones who are most easily let go. Since the middle has some position, the public then believes that something is really being done whenever one of them is villified.

In the 1960s when there were no special accommodations made for students, U.S. students still scored higher than any of the other great nations' students.  What were the differences?  Many, of course. But, one difference was that the majority of parents behaved like parents.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

My opinion is that there are three major reasons:

  • What we do does not seem that hard to an outsider.  With the possible exception of math and science, teaching seems to be something that anyone could do.  Therefore, we seem to have easy jobs.
  • That appearance is exacerbated by the vacations and the short work day (at school).  Who wouldn't like to have a job where you only work 180 days a year?
  • Public schools have some serious problems.  In a lot of places, the students don't do all that well in terms of tests and in terms of actually being prepared for college.  That makes it look like we haven't done our job.

Put that all together and you have people who (the public thinks) have a cushy job and aren't even doing it that well.  No wonder they don't think much of us.

Susan Hurn eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"Well, you can't look unfavorably upon administrators, they are more like "real-world" corporate types and they get paid significantly more so there is always more respect for them." --kapokkid

Exactly--and well said, kapokkid. In all the hand wringing about the state of American education, administrators at all levels have escaped notice. This seems to suggest the "labor/management"  mindset applied to education.

Also, when I hear huge sums of money quoted, as in "We've spent a zillion dollars on education with terrible results," I want to ask how much of that zillion dollars was actually spent directly on educating kids--teacher salaries, books, classroom materials, school rooms--and how much of it was dedicated to administration, educational bureaucracy, and non-academic expenses.

 

lmetcalf eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Another piece of mis-information out there, is that bad teachers can't be fired because they have tenure, and that there are tons of bad teachers that schools are "stuck with."  First of all, there are not tons of bad teachers, and secondly, tenure is only DUE PROCESS before termination.  It is not a job guarantee.  In my own observation, bad teachers have stayed in the classroom because of weak administration who were unwilling to go through the work of evaluation and remediation.  This again speaks to the posts above that suggest that there is an adminstration piece to this issue that is largely overlooked

kapokkid eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Well, you can't look unfavorably upon administrators, they are more like "real-world" corporate types and they get paid significantly more so there is always more respect for them.

You can't blame parents or the communities people grew up in because it is both politically unpalatable and very very difficult to come up with solutions.

You can easily blame the teachers because they are seen as replaceable, as lazy, as a whole lot of things but nothing that can't be fixed if they were forced to perform.

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that unfortunately both of the above posts contain lots of truth. We, as teachers, are at the coal face as it were, and blame in any sphere of work is always passed down by management to those beneath them. As we are the ones that face our little dears in the classroom every day, if there are any issues in terms of their behaviour, achievement or non-achievement, it is us that receives the blame. I think as well we are a convenient scapegoat for parents, as is mentioned above.

rskardal eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"Throughout American history, in times of turmoil our society has zeroed in on one group or another to scapegoat." - Mshurn.

I think this is a good point. Were America's students doing any worse during the Clinton years? Now, though, times are tough and nothing's free.

megan-bright eNotes educator| Certified Educator

All of these posts are so excellent and on-point, I can't think of much to add and this is a topic I'm passonate about.

badatmath24 | Student

i dont think teachers are all bad i think alot of teachers are just doing their job and im glad they're doing a good job that would be hard to do for me but i respect all teachers the same notheless

tripu | Student

I think there's a divide between what Americans generally say about education and how they often feel about it. We don't value education in this country. We value money, and education is primarily seen as being important only as a means to make it. Those who use their education in public sector service professions, notoriously low-paid positions, receive little respect, except in lip service.

My experience with the well heeled corporate world has shown me that teachers are, in truth, held in low regard because by choosing teaching, they have demonstrated that they are either A) too lazy to work in the "real world" or B) lack what it takes to succeed in the "real world." Choosing a profession for any reason other than making money is simply beyond the understanding of many.

There is also a strong, overt anti-education philosophy among many Americans. Well educated people are "egg heads," and "intellectual" has become a pejorative term in many circles. Where else but in this country would a president be criticized for being too smart and too well educated? I find this astounding, especially in a nation that supposedly values education!

In our history, teaching was a second-class occupation to begin with. Teaching was a job for single women; when they married, they were sent home. When married teachers became acceptable, they were allowed to teach unless they got pregnant--then they were sent home. Teaching was a good "second income" a woman could earn to supplement her husband's salary; women teachers were paid less than men.

For a long time, teachers' low salaries were "subsidized" with a kind of public respect; teaching became a "noble" undertaking, and teachers were often seen as exemplary human beings. This was the attitude, at least, in the Midwest when I began my career. I noticed a change taking place during the 1990s and really accelerating after that. Every news story about some teacher somewhere who betrayed the profession appeared in print or was splashed across the Internet, creating the impression that American teachers had suddenly become a collection of pedophiles, drug dealers, thieves, or sadists. Bad people make hot news copy, but the distortion has been very harmful, I think.

Teachers are receiving mixed messages these days:

1. Don't try to influence or improve what's going on in education. Leave it to the "experts" and the politicians.

2. Go to your classroom and accept without complaint whatever you are given, in terms of class size, curriculum, textbooks, teaching materials, salary, and working conditions.

3. And, also, save American society.

Throughout American history, in times of turmoil our society has zeroed in on one group or another to scapegoat. Right now teachers appear to be it.

 

Hi, What u said is 100% true not only in America, but also in India. In India nobody values education but every one want to be a topper. No one respects a teacher but expect him to be a god. In India teacher in public opinoin is like some one who have devoted his life to social service, and he can survive on air and water.

krcavnar | Student

Growing up part of my daily life was the evening dinner table.  This is when I watched and listen to my parents discuss current events and exchange ideas and information.  It was where I learned behavior, manners and how to listen.  How many families even have a nightly dinner at a table any more? 

Teachers do so much more than what was expected of them 20 years ago.  Teachers now are expected to teach manners, daily living skills, career skills, and well.. the curriculum.  Many teachers do this very well.  All teachers do their job because of their love of the students or their subject matter but never for the vacation or paycheck. 

Parents need to parent.  Administrators need to administrate.  We need to cut out the middle level administrators and get that money back into the classroom.  We need to run our schools more like businesses with education being the bottom line.  Teachers are not to blame. 

janbanks | Student

With national and state debts continuing to skyrocket, the "public servant" whose salary is "paid" by the taxpayer, is held responsible for the lack of performance of our young people. Ironically, the outcome of the failure of the family unit and "family values" has been blamed on our educators; more and more students come to school not ready to learn nor able to focus. More students are emotionally distressed, more suffering from anxiety and depression, creating distracted students. So many are passive, disengaged, unmotivated students; parents know they do not want to be financially responsible for their children for years and years to come, and they look to the schools to "teach" their children- responsibility, independence, pride in work, work ethic- things that many are not developing in their children but which they are realizing are needed for individual growth and success. It is very sad. Also there is a great disparity between the parents' desires for their students to be successful and their unwillingness to allow their children to struggle, and even fail.  We need to educate and reassure the parents, as well as the students, of the need for children to become active learners, take risks, even when failure may be an outcome, and accept the outcomes of the effort, learning to use these experiences as a stepping stone to further growth.

cleisure | Student

I believe there is a disconnect in society, politics, and the media.  Parents tell me daily that they appreciate what we do for their kids and could not do what we do every day.  Then I go home, watch the news, and see that they are reporting that society is unhappy with education.  Really?  The society I live in is only dissatisfied because the administration is constantly changing the curriculum, methods, etc. and this causes parents have difficulty with merely understanding what education is about these days.  Another point to be made:  Politicians will always look for someone to blame when their own policies begin to show no results.

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