More Teachers Like You (Polemic) by Francis Hahn

overworked_teacherAfter the very nice gentlemen from KOB 4 News interviewed me on Monday about the AP bonus, I had one half-joking request: just don’t make me look too foolish.

They reassured me that it was not their intention to do so. On the contrary, it was nice to have a school story that wasn’t about a teacher locking kids in a closet or duct-taping them to their desks for a change.

“Don’t worry, man,” one of them said. “We think what you did was great.”

“Yeah,” said the other. “We just wish there were more teachers like you.”

To this I replied, “there are.”

They have not been the only ones to make this sort of comment over the last week. I’m sure it is meant innocently enough, but the fact is that this a backhanded compliment.

Don’t see why? Just substitute any ethnic or religious group in place “teacher” and then you will.

Oh, it may be intended as earnest praise – after all, it is dressed to look that way.  However, the assumption that underlies it – that teachers are generally a bad bunch and it’s nice to finally meet a good one – is a slap in the face to my peers and an affront to the dignity of my profession.

The biggest reason why I turned down the bonus in the first place was the fact that I have a deep appreciation for the people with whom I work.  Just as I cannot accept compensation that they do not receive, I cannot abide praise that simultaneously denigrates my colleagues.

Such a ‘compliment’ would better suit politicians, for whom, by all accounts, the bad really do outnumber the good. (zing!)

The truth is that the good teachers are commonplace and the bad ones are rare – otherwise the media wouldn’t be so interested when teachers behave badly.  When a teacher denies her kids bathroom passes, it makes the national news; when a teacher takes her poetry team to the National Poetry Slam, it might make the back page.

Yes – there are some bad teachers out there.  Given that this country employs 3.6 million public school teachers, it is a statistical certainty that some of them are bound to be of questionable character or ability and a few will even be criminal.

But they are not the majority.  They are not even a significant minority.  They are the exceptions – blown out of proportion by a persistent media narrative of failure, abuse, and incompetence that is accepted uncritically by much of the public.

This narrative is corrosive to the public schools.  Unthinking acceptance of this narrative on the part of voters has led to the loss of bargaining rights in Wisconsin and the persistent erosion of teachers’ professional rights across the nation – most recently with the decision by a Superior Court Judge in California to eliminate tenure for public school teachers because tenure protects all those terrible teachers.

If these trends continue, the highly-educated, professional, caring human beings who currently staff our public schools will eventually decide that they can no longer work for a public that belittles them.

In this way the narrative of failure will become a self-fulfilling prophesy.

As I look around my workplace, I see people who arrive early and leave late, often taking work home when they go.  I see people who coach and tutor in their off-time.  I see teachers who volunteer with the fire department and custodians who come in early on snow delays to get the sidewalks cleared.  I see men and women who are the last line of defense for the bullied and the guardians of academic policies that see students as human beings rather than as test scores.  I see a building full of competent, professional, inspiring human beings.

They should be more like me? I am the teacher that I am because I have endeavored to be more like them.

They are my friends and my mentors, and I am honored to count myself among their ranks.

Author bio: 

Francis Hahn is a graduate of Taos High School in Taos, New Mexico, where he now teaches English and Poetry.


One Response to More Teachers Like You (Polemic) by Francis Hahn

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