How Should We Fight the Perception that Teachers Are “Lazy,” Greedy,” “Whiny”?

Every teacher I know (and yes, I’m using an absolute statement here), has had to deal with somebody, and probably many somebodies, who has /have told them how good they have it and how they would never make it in the private sector. And boy are governors across the country jumping on this bandwagon:

There’s only one problem with this belief – data, reports, and personal experiences prove this belief to be one huge fallacy. Yet the belief continues.Those of us educated on some of these myths follow informed bloggers such as Jersey Jazzman, Diane Ravitch, Corey Bower, and Steven Singer, only to become more and more outraged and frustrated by unfounded attacks and misinformation.

Personally, I have worked in the private sector. I remember going to work in the summer and thinking how nice it would be to have summers off, and I remember getting frustrated when I was stuck in traffic at 5:30. I remember telling my sister-in-law how good she had it as a teacher. Wow… how I wish I could take back those words now.

Teachers work HARD. Teachers work non-stop. Teachers work under incredible pressure. And, somehow, most teachers love it. We know we’re making a difference. Those moments when that kid we couldn’t get through to makes an academic or personal breakthrough is our addiction that keeps us coming back for more. It’s why, when on vacation, we’re thinking about how we could incorporate something interesting into a lesson. It’s why, when we’re at a yard sale, we’re thinking about how an unusual item could serve as a prop or a purpose in the classroom. It’s why that coupon from Staples has us stopping on the way home to purchase something extra for the classroom. It’s why we work through the weekend, aggravate our spouses by marking papers, and wake up in the middle of the night with a great idea on how to get through to that kid.

But teachers are lazy. Public employees have no idea what it’s like in the real world. We have an easy job that takes not special skills. We are greedy. Our faculty rooms should be banned.  These attacks cause our ire to pump, and rightfully so.

I know I’m preaching to the choir when I explain that teachers wouldn’t be dropping out of the profession at record levels if the job was so easy and part-time. I know we realize that governors across the country are attacking teachers and that many Republicans think we have it so easy it’s ridiculous. And anyone from New Jersey – nay – probably anyone who turns on a television in the United States – knows about how Christie spars with “you people!” But we also know that many in the general public want to say thank you to teachers for our hard work. These voices, however, tend to be drowned out by the other rhetoric.

I’ve often attempted to fight the “alternative facts” and “fake news” with facts. I’ve posted on Facebook, tweeted on Twitter, and written letters to politicians. While other educators and some of the public understand my points, the nay-sayers simply shake their heads and dig in even deeper. Why can’t facts change minds?

An interesting article about the sociological reality of “facts” and how we process the information has helped me to think differently. I won’t sit by and argue with those on the far-right anymore. I won’t engage in spewing out truths, facts, and data. I’m going to try another tact. Now that I have read Tristan Bridges’ article, I’m going to try something different.

One of the biggest issues of debate in New Jersey right now is the pension. Within the next twelve years, it’s expected to go bankrupt. Our governor doesn’t care that teachers are required to pay into the system, that our percentage of contributions have gone up under him, or that it’s far too late for many of us to come up with a different plan for a secure retirement. But data and facts to debunk Christie’s rants won’t change the minds of many in the general public.

So, here’s my plan for my next conversation. No more talking across a room. I want to engage the person one-on-one, quietly.  I’m going to start off where my debate opponent won’t expect me to start. Every one of us has had THAT TEACHER – the one who humiliated us or other kids, who couldn’t be pleased no matter how hard we worked, who didn’t seem to like kids. I’m going to start with, “Wow, I can tell you had some pretty awful teachers. Which one got under your skin the most? Tell me about that teacher.”  The person is going to be surprised, but is going to think. Then, they’re going to talk about a teacher and demonize the teacher. They’re probably going to say a bunch of stuff that will tick me off because it’s revealing a feeling of entitlement and ignoring how involved teaching is. I’m going to let those moments go.

After the person winds down, I’m going to continue the conversation with some compassion: “I remember Miss W. from 5th grade. I knew the moment I walked into that class that she didn’t like me. I wish she’d have understood when I misplaced my homework, but she was relentless. Thankfully, in 6th grade I had Mr. S. He teased me constantly, helped me learn how to get organized, and made me feel special. I adored him so much I invited him to my wedding. Did you have a teacher that you’ll never forget?” I’ll let them talk again –everyone also had THAT TEACHER – the one who made a difference. When they finish, “I went to Mr. S’s retirement party – it was just dumb luck that I found out when it was occurring. He talked about how he wanted to travel a little, visit his grandkids in the Arizona, and enjoy his time. I often wonder if he’s been able to do these things or if he’s so worried about his pension that he’s living in uncertainty. How do you think your favorite teacher feels about how unstable their pension is?” No stating my situation, or how unfair the system is. Just let them think about how it impacts their favorite teacher.

Now, there may be some retorts about how teachers expect too much, but I don’t intend to engage in those conversations. I want to keep it personal. I’m not sure if it’s going to make a difference, but I’m glad to have a different avenue to explore in fighting these general attacks on teachers.

Like I said earlier, I don’t know of a single teacher who isn’t frustrated by the eroding respect for education and educators. From soapboxes of politicians on the left, on the right, and even those in the center, we hear an outcry of how horribly teachers are serving our children. I’m still going to attend protests, I’m still going to Tweet, but I’m also going to try a personal approach to see if it is possible to start planting some positive seeds, one nay-sayer at a time. At the very least, it will keep my blood pressure down. At most, it will start changing the conversation.

This problem with trying to argue someone to agree with you being futile is nothing new. Dale Carnegie explained that “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.” Psychology Today explains why you shouldn’t try to reason with unreasonable people. The Los Angeles Times explains why agreeing gets us further than arguing. I’m hoping that this new philosophy will evolve and I’ll be more confident and prepared to engage with people who generally drive me nuts.

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