David Rickert

“What Teachers Make” and How Teachers Are Sometimes Their Own Worst Enemy

This is a follow up to a post in which I questioned the value of the “What Teachers Make” story, in particular Taylor Mali’s version. I suggested that it was based on a faulty premise and turned beliefs into truths. I also noticed that he has turned this poem into a book subtitled “In Praise of the Greatest Job in the World.” This implies to me that most people don’t think this, and that Mali is being an advocate for teachers. The problem with this stuff is that I don’t find it inspiring. I find it depressing. If I wanted to quit teaching, this stuff would help seal the deal instead of encourage me to rethink my decision.

There are a couple of ideas that float around the back of many teachers’ minds and occasionally come to the surface. The first is that teaching is not a legitimate profession. The second is that teaching would be a legitimate profession if there was more money involved.

I question the sensibility of relying on others to determine whether what you do is legitimate or not. Everyone needs to make up their own mind about that.

It’s no secret where this doubt comes from. Many teachers feel like teaching is a sacrifice; something we chose to do while giving up something more lucrative. While this may be true, it also leads to a pervasive martyrdom syndrome in teaching. We feel like we should be praised for making this sacrifice, and get upset when people don’t do it.

I also question the sense in believing that more money automatically equals more respect. However, what troubles me more is that many teachers believe that if they made 10-20K more, then people would be entitled to think what they wanted about them. Who cares if people don’t respect you if you make enough dough?

The result of these are a series of stories that circulate fairly easily through social media. Teaching is not a noble profession. Teachers don’t work hard. Teaching is great but no one appreciates those who do it.

Here’s the real problem though: teachers are the ones who spread these stories around more than non-teachers.

I am friends with several teachers on Facebook and Linkedin. Many of them are the ones posting things about how teachers are undervalued.

I hear “those who can, do and those who can’t teach” more from teachers than non-teachers.

I am also likely to read more articles disparaging the profession because teachers circulate them rather than stumbling across them in the media.

And many teachers, who are upset about how teachers are treated in general, then make snide comments about higher status professions. Or politicians.

The phenomenon where we surround ourselves only with those who agree with us is called an echo chamber, and social media has made it very easy for us to only listen to people who agree with us. And when it comes to belittling teachers, sometimes teachers are the best at doing this by spreading discouraging stories around. Not to inform, but to infuriate. Not to encourage, but to anger. Emotion disguised as truth.

Let’s be honest: you’re not going to get many disagreements if you tell people that they don’t get enough respect. These are pretty easy ideas to side with, and if you post something like this on Facebook of course every teacher will agree. The problem is these stories and articles frequently aren’t encouraging. I have no problem with people bringing my attention to something to build awareness. But much of this stuff, if I were to read it first thing in the morning, wouldn’t make me do my job any better that day. In fact, it will likely make me feel worse.

So let’s treat our profession with some compassion. When we read something about how bad our job is and consider sending it out to others, let’s first think of the following:

Is it true?

Is it kind?

Is it necessary?

Is this going to brighten someone’s day or make them feel discouraged and defeated? Will this cause this teacher to do a better job or foster a sense of futility? Is spreading stories about how teachers are not respected likely to make teachers be more respected? Or will respect come if we learn to be kind to ourselves first?

The bottom line is that teaching can be a job that requires a great deal from us, often times with little reward. We need to make sure that we help create a positive climate for our colleagues. This is the compassionate action to take.


One comment on ““What Teachers Make” and How Teachers Are Sometimes Their Own Worst Enemy

  1. Language Arts Teacher
    February 19, 2013

    “teachers are the ones who spread these stories around more than non-teachers.” Excellent point, I don’t have time to worry about if I’m valued or undervalued because I’m busy trying to get better @ my craft. A lot of teachers and/or people think they are entitled to something w/o putting in the work or effort first.


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This entry was posted on February 19, 2013 by in education, Uncategorized and tagged , , , .
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