Why do teachers have so little voice in our profession? I suspect it’s a relic from pre-feminist days when teachers were young women who took low pay and unprofessional working conditions that most men with post-college degrees would find unacceptable.
The image of teachers is still suffused with a sexist disdain that regards working with children as inherently demeaning. To this day, a surprising amount of a teacher’s labor is menial: photocopying, creating filing systems, mechanical low-level grading, picking up students’ garbage, moving furniture and an absolutely mind-numbing assortment of mechanical procedures that, depending on where you work, may dictate everything from how your students enter your room to how and where you write on your whiteboard.
There is no career path. There is no incentive for receiving an advanced degree in your field. Because of the overwhelming class load, there is no time in the workday for study, reflection or collaboration with colleagues on anything other than how to handle the fallout from the most recent state-mandated change in standards.
Teachers are not victims here. We need to start demanding professional working conditions, professional pay and power in policy decisions. The real work of teaching is creative, challenging and rewarding. It is enormously complex, as complex as every student in the classroom, and teachers need to demand the respect we deserve for mastering this work.
But as a country, we need to treat teachers as people whose experience we trust and whose wisdom we seek. Real education reform starts with valuing teachers. If we want to improve the quality of our nation’s teaching, let’s listen to the seasoned experts who are actually in practice.
Ellie Herman, “Why Aren’t We Listening to Our Teachers?”, Jewish Journal (8-14 August 2014), 46.