As we get closer to summer, writing about teachers seems to be everywhere. For every thoughtful or thought-provoking post on the end of the school year, there is a counterpoint, or a host of comments that complain about the whining of teachers. “Teaching: the only job where you work half the year and complain about it full-time,” read one top rated comment on a blog post describing the end of year paperwork and conferences expected of teachers. “You’re not doctors,” another told me. “You’re not cops in dangerous cities. You’re not first responders. These are tough jobs. You play with kids until 3.” In response to the observation that these jobs require teachers, because they require school & training, a clever commentator challenged: “So, should we revere chocolatiers because most doctors have had chocolate before?” (The answer, of course, is no; we should revere chocolatiers because of chocolate.)
Without trying to address the misconceptions and fallacies represented in these opinions (half the year…?), I think the important thing to point out is that teachers aren’t whiny.
There are people who are teachers who whine. And there are people who are teachers who complain, but so are there doctors, police officers in tough neighborhoods, and unlikely as it seems, chocolatiers. But the perception that there is a public platform for teachers to stamp their feet and demand more respect for their jobs is simply false.
This misunderstanding implies that teachers have taken to the internet to list and detail the hardships of their jobs with no impetus. We looked around at 3 pm when we were done playing with our students all day and thought, hmm…I think I’ll complain on the internet for awhile, because my job is done! The idea that teachers are just whining for more attention ignores the fact that these articles, blog posts, and memes are not happening in a vacuum: these are responses to attacks. Teachers are constantly called upon to defend themselves, their jobs, and their students, and that call is most often rhetorical. Articles and blog posts that detail the realities of working in education represent the voices of those who refuse to be silenced, not the petulant dissatisfaction of the over privileged. That so many consider it whiny and unnecessary is evidence that the smear campaign against teachers has, in some ways, succeeded.
The aspects of education jobs that teachers complain about – or, rather, the realities that teachers seek to expose – mostly stem from the increased interference of policy in classrooms. Overcrowding, excessive paperwork, beyond excessive testing – the toll these and other atrocities take on students, teachers, and education is obscured by painting educators as lazy and overly demanding. When teachers write about these things, or address the lies told about them and their jobs, they are not whining. They are standing up for themselves, their colleagues, and their students. They are not crying for more money or trying to justify their worth to you. They are telling you are being lied to; like teachers, they are encouraging you to use your brains, consider multiple perspectives, and interrogate what you have been told. Like teachers, we invite you to think.
And some of us write these stories to remind each other that we are not alone. So to my fellow teachers: keep speaking up. People will misunderstand you, call you a whiner, tell you to quit, call you a liar (#hatersgonhate). But other people will thank you, and some people will think about what you have shown them and see differently. Like teaching, the effects will be varied and we may not see them firsthand. Continue to honor your students and yourself; you teach students to question, to think critically, to express themselves, to speak up when they are bullied, to search for truth. And as we well know, that job is never done.