As of this writing, the United States of America is 247 years old, which is relatively young on a global scale. Iran, for example, was founded in 3200 B.C. As a young country, we also have young institutions, including public education.
In the early colonial period, the school was primarily a private and informal affair. Education was often provided at home or through religious institutions, and the focus was mainly on teaching reading, writing, and religious principles. Girls were often educated at home and received limited instruction, primarily focusing on domestic skills. Whereas American children of today have access to almost any knowledge they could wish for, the gaining of knowledge during the colonial era was limited to a very fortunate few.
Early 19th century
Schooling began to proliferate during the early 19th century when education reformers such as Horace Mann advocated for the establishment of free, universal, and public education. Although these reforms mostly targeted boys, there were schools for girls that emerged. In addition, teaching began to transform from an elite male-dominated profession to a growing workforce of women across the country.
Moving forward to the present day, women now play a crucial role in American public education. They make up most teachers at all levels, including preschool/daycare, primary, secondary, and higher education. It is quite possible that a child never encounters a male educational figure from birth through middle or high school, where male teachers begin to emerge in greater numbers. Women are also now proliferating in education administration; it isn’t unusual for public schools to actively seek female leaders.
Perhaps it is within the gender evolution of administration and policy-making leaders that we will begin to see a shift in professional respect toward teachers that many other professions already have. It is very likely that if the person reading this article isn’t a teacher, then they know of one in their own family. Ask them if they have ever heard any of the following statements:
You didn’t take this job for the money.
You’re doing it for the children.
We are a team here. Everyone does extra for the team.
Most teachers have heard not only all the above statements but many variations on them. Yes, they sound good on paper. Who doesn’t like to be part of a team? Who doesn’t like to help children succeed? However, it is time for teachers to recognize that such statements have their origins in maintaining a female-dominated workforce while treating them with as little respectful professionalism as possible.
Doctors and engineers, for example, receive the utmost professional respect and compensation for all parts of their work. If they are asked to attend a meeting, it is scheduled in advance and according to the times that they can make happen. Public school teachers, on the other hand, can be held to attend mandatory meetings with little to no notice. If an Intensive Care Unit doctor is needed to help in the Emergency Room, then they can expect more than fair monetary compensation for their work. If a teacher is assigned to work every home football game, then that’s just part of the job.
Women have always been seen as natural caregivers, able to exhibit motherly patience and love while teaching and disciplining entire roomfuls of children at the same time. Since the beginning of public education, teaching has been viewed as a mere extension of a female’s role as a housekeeper and cook, all roles for which proper compensation and professional respect have not been a part of the plan.
March 2020: Public education was faced with its toughest challenge – COVID. While schools around the country were shut down, people began to realize that educating children is no easy task. Emergency funds were quickly assembled to get public schools back on track and what better way than to properly (and finally) compensate teachers with a proportionate pay for the daily risks and grind they endure? Well, apparently, there were a lot of better ways. COVID relief funds were most spent on:
- Personal Protective Equipment
- Professional Development
Meanwhile, teacher pay remained the same. Their roles as major cogs of obvious critical importance to a functioning society were more apparent than ever before. Yet, they were more likely to be compensated with new picnic tables than with an increase in wages. Meanwhile, not only did the salaries of other professions increase, but they have also bestowed increased flexibility and a never-ending plethora of creative perks from companies competing for workers. Companies are willing to acknowledge professional respect with actual real-world amenities.
Time for a change
It is time for public educators to take a stand against demeaning and demoralizing grand statements that are rooted in preying upon females’ proclivity toward helping others and being accommodating. It is time to demand respect as professionals. That means actual respect: pay, perks, flexibility.
It is time to realize that education administration has become a bloated bastion of ‘yes-people’ who have been trained in the subtle art of keeping a workforce under their thumbs. The best teachers are not constantly held in check by a rigid system of rules and policies that suck their creative life from them. The best teachers are freely exploring their creative genius in respectful atmospheres of respect and admiration. Unfortunately, the best are not devoting their academic, professional, and personal lives to a system of soul-sucking educational bureaucracy.
Alas, I do not see actual professional respect for public educators anywhere on the horizon. There are so many problems plaguing teacher life. Student violence is at an all-time high. Administrators don’t want people who are good at teaching. They want people who are great at paperwork. Standardized texting has become the only thing people care about. Teachers have an enormous workload that takes time away from every other part of their lives. Teachers have a severe lack of resources, and they face tremendous mental and emotional distress.
There are very few good reasons to go into teaching. Instead, I want to encourage people to take a different look at their futures. You might be a current teacher full of untapped potential, or you might be about to graduate college and you think teaching is an easy thing to go into to help pay for your education. In his book, ‘Greenlights’, Matthew McConaughey makes the case for becoming our own source of professional respect. We have unlimited potential, and not just theoretical, but actual potential for wealth and success. We have to learn to recognize areas of our lives that are ‘red lights’…the parts of our lives that stymy our growth rather than energizing it. The public school that you devote the majority of your life too is surrounding you with barriers to your own success. Its walls and roof are but a metaphor for your own imprisonment. Let’s escape. Let’s look for the greenlights. The doors that open to success. The paths that will release our untapped genius.
The first step that leads to our identity in life is usually not ‘I know who I am,’ but rather ‘I know who I am not.