Women–And Men–Aren’t “Born” Teachers

When I was younger, I asked my mom why she decided to become a teacher. Aside from the obvious factors–she liked working with kids, she wanted to help students learn, she had a passion for teaching–she also said that in her day there were more or less two professional options for college-educated women: nurse or teacher. My mother became a dedicated and inspiring teacher, and she raised me to believe that my own professional options were legion. Because the proverbial apple doesn’t fall very far from the tree, I chose teaching.

My husband also chose a career in teaching. When people ask us what we do, I answer that I am a high school English teacher and they say, “Oh, how nice.” He, too, answers that he is an English teacher, and they say, “Oh, bless your heart!” The difference in those responses is subtle but significant. My choice is seen as unremarkable because the teaching profession is traditionally dominated by women; a 2007-2008 study found that 76 percent of public school teachers were women. My husband’s choice, however, is a noble one.

Perhaps the association between women and teaching is one reason conservative politicians seem to see teachers as easy targets. Last year, Wisconsin’s Governor Walker made headlines by stripping teachers of their collective bargaining rights and cutting their pay and benefits. He wasn’t the only one; governments in Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio and Tennessee tried to pass similar legislation in 2011. Many states are already in the process of crafting reform to reduce the power of teacher tenure, making it easier to terminate teacher contracts.

Perhaps these politicians are emboldened by the belief that women won’t fight back.

If so, they’re sorely mistaken. As evidenced by the protests in Wisconsin’s state capitol, we teachers are indeed fighting back. And after a dogged teachers’ union campaign, in November, Ohio voters defeated a measure that would have limited teachers’ collective bargaining rights on important issues such as class size and health care.

However, more anti-teacher bills are coming down the pipeline in 2012, and none of these actions by politicians accords teachers the respect we deserve. Teachers are often classed with nurturers and caregivers; thus people assume that anyone who is a “natural” caregiver–i.e., women–can and will do the job with little training or incentive. In truth, teachers are rigorously trained professionals, and that was as true when my mother graduated college as it is today. Not only do educators go through as much training as other professionals before they’re allowed to enter the classroom, but they also are required to continue professional development while they are employed. Teachers must gain mastery of the content they teach; they must also learn to reach resistant, troubled, struggling and otherwise “left behind” students.

I have personally seen the challenges of implementing the requirements of No Child Left Behind and, more recently, the Common Core standards. While I believe in the spirit behind these initiatives–I certainly don’t want any of my students to be left behind–it has taken every skill I have learned in all of my teacher training to be able to implement them successfully for every student at every level. Fortunately, I am trained to do so–and it is my training that makes me successful, not an inherent ability to nurture.

In addition to requiring training, teaching is grueling work. Teachers are expected to be at school before the first bell rings, work for eight hours, and stay after the final bell rings–plus bring any extra grading or planning home. That often adds up to 60+ hours a week. There’s no coming to work late or leaving a few minutes early when 30 pairs of eyes are staring up at you, depending on you for knowledge critical to their success in life.

Of course, teachers nurture and care for students within the walls of their classrooms, but they also have training in how to educate–training that most politicians creating education policy lack. And tespite being trained as extensively as other professionals, teachers only earn a fraction of the respect. When society starts to see teachers as professionals rather than glorified babysitters, education policy may begin to take a different turn. Until then, we’ll fight.

Photo of teachers rallying in the Wisconsin State Capitol from Flickr user Matt Baran under Creative Commons 2.0 

Comments

  1. Hello- Great article. I loved most of my teachers growing up and I don’t think you’re given even half the respect you deserve. Fight the good fight.

    • …We have the same name! Ahhh!

      I was actually about to post that I’ve had some pretty terrible teachers in the past, so I feel that they -should- be easier to fire… but now it’s just going to be confusing because there are two Valeries with opposite opinions.

      • Hey I completely agree with you the second Valerie who posted. They are too many bad teachers that get away with too much.
        I have been sexually harassed, bullied and belittled by teachers my whole life. I have no respect for the public school institution. All through school I have been called horrible names by teachers and when students call me a slut the teachers pretend they do not hear thus contributing to the problem by doing nothing. School has been hell for me, it used to give me panic attacks. I have never had a single teacher who ever inspired me or encouraged me at all but many who have criticized, dehumanized and sent me slamming the classroom door with tears running down my face for all to see and judge. The curriculum is sexist, I barely ever learn about women. All the teachers I have ever known are very well
        off and they have every single holiday and summer off. Yes they should be easier to fire nobody believes a student because apparently we are not considered full human beings until we conform enough to get the stupid paper that says we made it through high school without shooting ourselves through the skulls. As for the No Child Left Behind Act? It is so offensive you obviously are too lazy too fully implement it. I have an extreme learning disability and I am one of those kids left forgotten. Everyday, everything I try my best at is a constant struggle and I am sick of being called lazy for not comprehending something that is not taught in a way to for me to understand. There are many other hardworking people in far more difficult jobs that do not constantly complain that do not make enough money or get enough recognition for their “noble” work. Embalmers normally make 30, 000 a year would you enjoy it if they let all the bodies decay for your nasal pleasure? Neither a male or female participating in a government run institution that teaches us blind patriotism and the “glory” of brilliant MEN and patriarchy not to mention damages creative thinking abilities unless its the kind they deem acceptable. Public school is justifies capitalism and oppression and is no safe place for minorities students or even students who dare question their teachers with their critical thinking skills… again only when it mirrors the authority figures beliefs is when it is accepted. Otherwise you are humiliated and sent out for being “defiant”.

        • Though I understand where you’re coming from, it really is not the teachers’ who are at fault. Yes, it is unfortunate when many unqualified teachers enter the workforce – especially when they all seem to end up in a single school, as in your case. However, I believe your school district is more at fault than anything else. They are the ones hiring teachers who do not deserve to be there. They are the ones who turn a blind eye to faulty curriculum. They are the ones who refuse to change policies, or enlist new teachers.
          This author does implement the No Child Left Behind Act – and she says the idea is good, in theory. No teacher (except yours, apparently) wants their students to fall behind. Unfortunately, the NCLBA does not help this. There are many programs in schools that are meant for students like you – classes you can be in that help you learn to the best of your ability. I, personally, am a K-3 Literacy Tutor (I am 19 years old, volunteering 45hr a week and attending college full-time online), and I work with the elementary students who are struggling. There is NO WAY a teacher would have the time to sit down with each struggling student in their class, one-on-one, everyday, for 20 minutes each, AND teach their core instruction. It’s literally impossible. If it were not for me – and the other volunteers in this organization – these kids would be ‘left behind’. They NEED this intensive one-on-one instruction to become better readers. Though I realize you are likely in high school, the concept still applies. A classroom teacher simply can not accomodate for the learning styles of every single student they have. But they sure as heck do their best!
          I am very saddened by your story, truly. I hope that you will eventually use this terrible experience in a positive way, and fight for a change in our faulty education systems. There ARE a lot of amazing teachers out there – it is unfortunate that they are being thrown into the same lump as the not-so-great ones. Good luck with your journey, and I hope you can find a place that fosters your learning.

  2. bend_time says:

    ‘Some {men. But we’ll leave that word out- editorial license} are born great, some achieve greatness, some hv greatness thrust upon them,’ said Our Boy Bill, and I find it particularly apropos in this conversation. I do believe there are BORN teachers because I am one, and have seen others.
    Right, a particular skill set is important and must be practiced; there is a craft to teaching, a craft to classroom mgmt. Subject matter knowledge doesn’t even account for 50% of a teacher’s impact. Besides, any ol body can learn a lot of stuff (see the scores of dull and terrible college profs who are there to write an d research, could not care less abt teaching). DELIVERING it– to classrooms of kids who have been culturally trained to hate school– a most infertile learning environment w/o a true teacher and leader. Minds need to be changed, then opened, then trained in critical thinking skills(which TX is attempting to remove, btw). Having had a half dozen student teachers and teaching re-certification classes at a university convinces me there indeed are two kinds of teachers: those who have an instinct, a talent, and those who don’t. Teaching is laborious and lesson plans are tedious and critical thinking is in a coma if a teacher who isn’t a teacher is in the classroom NOT teaching. And we allll see it every day.
    Will it be ever thus? Who can say?

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