Whenever teachers end up in the news, I find myself bracing for the onslaught of comments that’ll head our way. The comments about the holidays, the bashing of our effectiveness, the failure of the education system, the attribution of strikes to being all about pay, saying that all we do is moan and we’re nothing but glorified babysitters. The message that we’re not good enough. And even when we do get support, it's the sentiments of “oh poor teachers, it must be tough.”
I can only speak for myself here but I don’t appreciate being treated like I’m a failure and I don’t want to be pitied. Pitied is being in a hole and someone walking past, pointing at you and saying “you’re in a hole” and walking off.
Like I explored in my blog Secondary School Teachers Should Spend a Day in Primary, I don’t believe that we’re getting the response we want by trying to prove how hard we have it compared to other professions. The fact of the matter is that all jobs have things that suck about them and we’re not the only ones who face challenges on the daily. I tried to push this narrative in the past, but all it seemed to do was paint me as a complainer.
I want people to understand that teaching is tough. I also want people to know that we are capable professionals who know how to teach.
When I really unpack for myself what it is about teaching that makes it so disheartening and leads to the teary afternoons after a hard day in the classroom, it’s not the meetings or the planning or the reports, the struggling learners or pay. It’s the lack of respect.
It sounds silly but I consider myself lucky to have only really experienced this from students, let alone from other staff members or parents. I know colleagues who’ve been undermined by senior leadership and friends who’ve been verbally abused by parents. And that is not okay.
Now, it would be ideal if the de facto setting was for us to just be respected - the same way someone would be if they were a doctor or engineer - but the sad reality is that we’re not there. Yet.
Unfortunately it doesn’t look like we’re going to earn people’s respect by maintaining the status quo. We’ve got to be the authors of our own narrative.
A couple of months ago I listened to a podcast on Emily’s Staffroom Stories. In her interview with Adam Voigt, they discussed the way teachers are portrayed by the media and then explored this idea of elevating the teaching profession by showcasing all of the incredible things going on in our schools. And I reckon it's pretty brilliant.
Instead of adding to the narrative of struggling burnt-out teachers, folding under the weight of paperwork and overwhelmed with student behaviour, we promote the incredible work that we do every day and give a powerful voice to teachers as authority figures. As trained professionals who know what they are doing, who are competent, confident and doing a damn great job at teaching our tamariki.
Get the stories out that make us shine.
Voigt gave a perfect little example of how a school could do this through the school newsletter. If one of the narratives that people in our communities believe is that teachers are just glorified babysitters, then filling our newsletter with notes about “bringing swimming togs” “labelling uniforms” and “bringing hats” is going to reinforce this idea. Yes, obviously we need to send these messages home, BUT we could also use this form of correspondence to highlight the quality teaching that went on at the school that week. This is different to the normal celebrations and photos of trips and fundraisers; this is a deliberate opportunity to show teacher competence and success to the community.
I want to elevate our profession. I want people on the street, in the media, and those dropping their kids off at school to have confidence in me. To trust me and my teaching. I want the students in my class to respect me back and know that I have their best interests at heart. I want this for all of us. I don't have all the answers on how to get there yet, but I'm going to do my damndest to play my part in making it happen.
Be purposeful teachers
Who are in control
And know they’ve done enough.