Saturday, October 22, 2005

School 'Em!

I was going to call this "On the Odious Lack of Respect Accorded to the Teaching Profession" but I decided that sounded a tad stuffy. At any rate, I decided to take this opportunity to challenge what I have observed among many intelligent and well-informed people-an utter disdain for educators. Admittedly, each is entitled to his own opinion, but a tempest of societal attitudes-from the growing contempt for bureaucracy to ideas about masculinity-have conspired to make teachers some of the most unpopular professionals.
What makes this dynamic so very perverse is the fact that teachers ought to hold a position of esteem and admiration and the community-and they once did. Of course, that was back in the days when they stayed at their students' homes. When college degrees-which, of course, not all teachers at the time had-were still rarer than a rectangular butter churn, schoolmarms and masters were often the best educated in the general population. When people entered postsecondary institutions in greater numbers, this ceased to be the case. Once well-recompensed, teachers declined in pay and social stature as men fled their ranks for other occupations. (Apparently, it is less PC to make snarky comments about nurses.) So, the public education-minded citizen finds himself(or herself) in a peculiar position. Teachers are always deserving of plaudits, but one must walk a fine line in order to avoid reinforcing gender stereotypes. Admist corrupt scandals and early retirements, the exodus from the business world has prompted many-mainly male-professionals to seek fulfillment via late in life career changes -which has put many men into the classroom. Service groups (i.e. Teach for America) have sought to bring JD or MBA toting young people into the ranks-with questionable results. While they are well-intentioned, efforts such as this lend a peculiar flavor to the cause. Are the people who aren't planning to leave in five years or six months to go make "real money" at JP Morgan simply not good enough?
Do educators toil in such obscurity that their many contributors are unknown? Recent reports of strife in the teaching profession have publicized the many burdens bourne by teachers. However, they have also transformed inner-city schools into the latest sociological laboratories-exposing them to a bevy of scrutiny from elected officials to do-gooders alike. I can venture a guess, though, as to why teachers make such an appealing target. After all, politicians used to be the punching bag de jour.


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