Al taught English at home and overseas all his working life. He is saddened by the results-based education system of today.
Status of Teachers in the Past
Some of my teachers in 2nd and 3rd grade were not exactly philanthropists. I remember Miss O'Neil and her furious Irish temper; Miss Murray, who tended to put you to sleep; and the evil Mr. Starkey who would humiliate you in front of the whole class if you couldn't follow "simple instructions." Good or bad, whether you liked your teachers or not, the rule was still the same; respect teachers and follow their instructions.
Much has changed from then till now. At one time, respect was guaranteed for teachers. Now, it seems thinly spread. In the past, if a student received a poor report card, the child would have to explain why to his/her parents. Now it is the teacher who is to blame. No consideration is given to the responsibilities of the student or parents. It would be strange to find a whole class of students, particularly in high school, who went to bed early, studied carefully, did not take illegal substances, had full attendance and were never late. There would be a proportion who would do most of these things, but I can't imagine a class of totally committed, model students. But teachers' professional competency is evaluated on the assumption that all their students bring no emotional or educational problems to school.
The University of Chicago Research
Chicago University studies showed that there were five non-cognitive factors influencing educational attainment:
- Mindset: To be positive about the education process. To feel that you are valued and the work you produce can be worthy of praise.
- Social Skills: Feeling comfortable in class is important. Getting along with your peers and having a good relationship with your teacher influences academic progress.
- Academic Perseverance: The ability to work through challenges, knowing that there is a support network you can turn to when things become difficult.
- Learning Strategies: Organizing learning into workable units and setting outcomes for what is studied aid success in school.
- Academic Behaviours: Participating in class, regular attendance, and completing assignments are also seen as crucial in driving educational success.
So, it can be seen that standardised testing is not a fair way to evaluate the work of teachers as there are many other elements at work when assessing the progress of a school child. Not all students sitting in government examinations have the background to enable them to be successful in tests. Their learner profile may be missing key attributes and lacking in others.
By nature, teachers are approachable, well-spoken professionals who listen carefully to the concerns of those they work with, both directly and indirectly. They are accommodating, not quick to judge and modest in the way they conduct themselves. These are admirable qualities in themselves but are also attractive to those who want to make political play through the media to achieve their aims. It seems that teachers are not going to put up much of a fight if they are challenged.
A recent report by the British Psychological Society accused teachers of child abuse for avoiding physical contact with their students. They argue that for optimum brain development, there needs to be physical contact between educators and school kids. But in the current climate of teaching/parenting, physical contact between children and adults is frowned upon. Nevertheless, educators have to be humble and open about criticism. To defend their position would appear uncooperative.
When schools try to set high standards of personal appearance for students through the enforcement of school uniform policies, the press and some parents are the first to jump at the opportunity to criticise institutions for being "petty" and "narrow-minded". But if rules are relaxed, complaints then turn to "sloppily dressed young people" who do not represent schools in a good light. Can teachers win, ever?
Teachers Versus Governments
Teachers are criticised on a regular basis by the UK government for failure to address problems of low-level disruptions to classroom learning. In a 2014 report, Ofsted, the main education body, reported that about 38 days a year were lost to pupils because of teachers having to deal with unruly students in their classrooms.
If teachers do try and stand up for their rights, especially when it is to improve pay and conditions, they are met with stinging criticisms. Michael Gove, ex-Education Minister in the UK, has described teachers as, "the enemies of promise", "soft bigots" and having "low expectations" of students. His successor, Ms Nicky Morgan, accused the profession of "doing battle" with the government.
The history of relations between government, (central and local) and teachers is one of dissent: over pay, tenure, pension rights, teacher assessment and student achievement. There have been strikes, work-to-rules, rallies and a lot of sparring on both sides in order to get the media on their side. Education authorities complain that professionals would not put their charges in jeopardy by radical action. Moreover, as teacher salaries take up a sizeable proportion of federal budgets, education departments are not known for their generosity toward teacher wage claims.
According to John Dewey, "It is advisable that the teacher should understand, and even be able to criticise, the general principles upon which the whole educational system is formed and administered. They are not like a private soldier in an army, expected merely to respond to and transmit external energy; they must be an intelligent medium of action".
Politicians, pundits and those who wish to apportion blame for society’s ills on somebody else have tried to silence teachers. It could be that they posed a threat to the proposed legislation being pushed through. It might have been that educators, through their humble demeanour, would pose no risk of retaliation to journalists or social commentators when attacked for failing to control the behaviour of teenagers or teach them about how to act outside of school. Often it has been because a reduction in funding has meant that teachers' jobs are on the line. But since the founding of the first professional teachers’ organisations, educators have never been quiet. They have argued for better terms and conditions, smaller class sizes, better resources, fairer treatment of female members of the profession, appropriate testing for age levels and equality of opportunity for all students. Consequently, this has formed an obstacle for those who want to push through their political agenda. As a result, teachers have had to endure long periods of hostility from those who employ them.
Rebellion Is Good
In the 60s, the groundswell of opinion was that figures in authority were not all that it might be. The Hippies led a revolt against institutions that stultified spiritual growth and instead encouraged challenging those in charge. Noticeable in the music of the time were the shifts in emphasis from pure pop like, "Oh Carol", to the anti-establishment, "Blowin In the Wind", "My Generation", "Purple Haze" and "Je T'Aime". If (!968) was a film that attacked the public school system in England. Teachers were eccentric ne'er-do -wells, who had no interest in the well-being of their students. The administrators left ultimate control to a brutal team of prefects who terrorised the other boys.
The prestige associated with teaching in the modern, brand-aware world in which we live seems to be diminishing all the time. If you work as an educator, you are more likely to have a fraction of the disposable income of someone working in computers or financial services. Moreover, the training period for lawyers, doctors, architects, dentists and others is much longer than that for teachers. So, in some circles, the professional credibility of teachers is doubted. Their training period is so short, "they are paid what they deserve".
A study by Hargreaves, Cunningham et al, Universities of Cambridge and Leicester, UK, (2007), found that teachers felt their status was high when collaborating with colleagues, parents and the community; enhanced when at a school with a cohesive working environment. However, they lamented the external control and regulation they faced compared to high-status professions.
Further investigations showed that salary was not an issue when considering teaching as a profession. The major deterrent - voiced by almost a third of respondents -. was having to manage student behaviour.
The report concludes, "teachers (need to) communicate their activities and professional expertise to the public, and to revise their perceptions of the respect and trust in which they are held".
So it is the perception of teaching, not the reality of it, that is depressing the status of the profession. Teachers need to communicate to the public what they do rather than allow people to rely on the media to form their opinions. There is a dichotomy between public perception and day to day reality of teaching - a story that never seems to be told. The job does not centre on dealing with uncooperative students all day. There are times of extreme job satisfaction and a sense of contributing to the lives of youngsters and society in general. It is not a humourless, desperate profession. In a lot of schools, camaraderie is high; lifelong friendships are made.
The status of teachers in society is still worthwhile, but it is not as strong as it used to be. In the past, teachers were seldom front page news because they were trusted to get their job done with the minimum of fuss. Times have changed. Accountability is paramount. Adjusting to this significant change in public liability has been a shock to the profession, but it needs to adapt to new frames of reference to retain its credibility.
Educators need to inform society better about the work they do and crush misconceptions about being nothing more than paid child-minders. Letting people know how much time they spend on updating their skills and reacting to changes in society's needs would also benefit them. If these goals are achieved, teachers will grow in self-esteem and climb the ladder of social status.
They also need to throw off the label of whipping boys/girls for all of society's ills. There should not be any fear in lauding success in all aspects of their work including literacy rates, examination successes, satisfying the needs of refugee children and indeed, caring about the general welfare of all their students, whatever their background. We hear too much about the perceived failures of teachers but very little about their successes.
Oprah Winfrey talks lovingly about her fourth-grade teacher, Mrs Duncan who helped to inspire her to greater things. The Academy Award winner Hilary Swank recalled how her elementary school teacher, Mr.Sellereit, gave her the confidence to be an actor. Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, says it was his teachers who gave him the courage to excel at school. The list of inspiring teachers will go on forever, that is what teachers do, try to make their students make the most of their talents.
But for some reason, this aspect of a teacher's work is seldom mentioned. All too often, perceived failures of the profession make the headlines and shape public opinion.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
Questions & Answers
Question: Why are teachers underrated?
Answer: I think teachers suffer from the fact that they must be seen to listen to everyone and, in some cases, act on what they are told. Whereas a lawyer is fairly autonomous, a teacher has so many filters to his or her work, that showing independence and therefore authority is very difficult. People also think it is strange that despite a high workload, teachers are subject to fairly low salaries. Finally, some people believe that anyone who chooses to spend the whole day with a bunch of potentially difficult children must have a mental deficiency. None of the reasons I am giving hold up to scrutiny, but it's the perception that matters.