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In Defense of Teachers

When I took a mediation course at one of the most respected centers for alternative dispute resolution in the country, the director asked the class which types of cases we thought got the highest rates of success.

We mulled over some examples we’d been studying:  divorce?  disputes with neighbors?  employment discrimination?  harassment?  consumer complaints?

The answer:  education.

The majority of ADR cases brought by families against teachers and schools are resolved.

Why?  Because schools care about kids.

They compromise, they placate, they agree to do more.

Yet, you would never get this impression from the bitching, moaning, and complaining I hear from parents on a near-daily basis.  

Until a few years ago, I had spent my whole life as a student or a teacher (sometimes both at the same time) and because of these overall-great experiences — and even after a difficult decision to quit teaching — I had the warm fuzzies about education and thought everyone else did too: Teaching is a noble profession!  No one does it for the money!  Teachers are educators, baby-sitters, police officers, mentors, role models, counselors, friends, doctors, coaches, etc. — sometimes all in the same day!

I never realized the extent of the vitriol directed at schools until I left the classroom and got a job totally removed from academia.

Some examples:

“Why should my kids help pack up the room at the end of the year?  That’s the teacher’s job.”

“She gave my son a 70.  I emailed her right away to ask why she did that.”

“He’s not trying to be disrespectful; that’s just his sense of humor.  I guess his teacher just doesn’t get his humor and isn’t as laid back as I am.”

Another snow day.  And the teachers have another ‘development’ day next week, too.  Must be nice.”

“At least when you were a teacher you got your summers off!”

“Schools don’t have any consideration for how busy parents are.”

“I know that aide is not calling my son a liar.”

“He assigned homework and then didn’t even grade it.  How dare you assign work to my kid when you aren’t doing any work yourself?”

At some, I just bite my tongue (“That’s the teacher’s job”: not worth it) or daydream snarky responses (“I bet his teacher does get his humor but doesn’t let some dumbass pre-teen talk back to her, as you apparently do.”)  Others I address with smiley sarcasm (“Oh, the Myth of the Summers Off!”) or teacher-speak (“He earned a 70 on his test?  What did he get wrong?”).

When I have taken the teacher’s part, I like to think I’ve made some headway against the bitterness and entitlement.  For example, I told the how-dare-you-assign-work friend that if I had personally graded every homework assigned, I would still be marking papers to this day, five years later.  She back pedaled.  A small victory.

To illustrate that many teachers can’t take a pee break without summoning an adult to watch the classroom, I recently told someone the story of my first day at my current job — in an office building, at a cubicle, with a computer.  No posters of talking punctuation marks, chalk dust, or weird smells from the bookbag closet.  I sensed this was one of those alien workplaces where you didn’t need permission to visit the lavatory but wasn’t positive.  So I asked my supervisor if she wanted me to let her know when I was going to the restroom.  She stared at me for a beat and then laughed.  We’re close now, but she probably thought I was a weirdo for a while.

At a retirement party for my former principal, I was one of the only attendees not involved in education anymore.  The conversation turned to life outside the classroom, and I said I am appalled at the attitudes I’ve encountered.

A teacher I used to work with said to me just before I left, “We need someone out there in the world championing our cause.”

She was laughing, but she wasn’t really joking.

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