Honoring teachers — again?


John’s book, The Influence of Teachers, is currently available on Amazon; you can learn more about it at the book’s official website, or, if interested in buying copies for your class or discussion group, you can consult this page.

Would you believe that tomorrow we are expected to put aside our own important work and honor teachers? That’s right, we’re supposed to drop everything and pay homage to those lazy, overpaid, spoiled, money-grubbing, summer-vacationing, ‘we’ve-got-tenure-and-you-don’t’ incompetents.

That’s because Wednesday, October 5th, is “World Teachers’ Day,” an occasion recognized by more than 100 countries around the world. But it’s also “Teacher Day” on Thursday, October 6th, the following day, in Sri Lanka.

In fact, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find that every day of the year is “Teacher Day” somewhere in the world.

Teachers have October locked up, that’s for sure. Beside this Wednesday’s celebration for those 100 countries and Sri Lanka’s on Thursday, Australia, Armenia, Uzbekistan, Belarus, Brazil, Poland, Chile, Ukraine and New Zealand all have chosen an October day to celebrate their teachers. In Ukraine, students give their teachers chocolate! (You and I work hard. Does anyone give us chocolate?)

All over the world, teachers receive gifts on various appreciation days -- but what should be making of the overall dialogue on the profession?

Here in the USA we have at least two Teacher Days and an entire Teacher Week. The first full week of May is “Teacher Appreciation Week,” with that particular Tuesday being designated as “Teacher Appreciation Day.” This official celebration is apparently the result of hard work by the National Education Association and the National PTA. Massachusetts celebrates its own “Teachers’ Day,” the first Sunday in June.

February 28th is a good day for teachers in the Middle East. That’s when 12 countries celebrate: Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Bahrain, Qatar, UAE and Oman.

Because we were asleep at the switch, we have already missed India’s “Teacher Day” (September 5), China’s and Hong Kong’s (September 10th), Brunei’s celebration on September 23, Taiwan’s (September 28) and Singapore’s (first Friday of the month). India makes a teacher’s cushy job even easier because on that day senior students take over the responsibility for teaching.

The only month that does NOT have a “Teachers Day” to call its own is, predictably, August. June has four (Bolivia, El Salvador, Hungary, and Guatemala), March has five (the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Albania, Lebanon, and Iraq), but the merry month of May tops them both, with six country celebrations: Iran, Bhutan, Jamaica, Malaysia, Mexico, and Colombia.

Teachers really live the life of Riley in Vietnam. November 20th is set aside to allow students “to express their respect to their teacher. Students begin preparing a week in advance, and many classes usually prepare literature and art to welcome teachers’ day, while other students prepare foods and flowers for the parties held at their schools. Students usually visit their teachers at their homes to offer flowers and small gifts, or organize trips with their teachers and classmates. Former students also pay respect to their former teachers on this day.”

To be serious for a moment, what are we to make of all these celebrations honoring teachers? While I am all for honoring those men and women, I hope the respect neither begins nor ends on that particular day. Somehow I keep thinking of Jon Stewart’s wry comment at the end of February when he noted that, now that Black History Month was over, we could get back to White History Year.

I have a modest proposal. In addition to the celebrations, how about a concerted effort to end the dishonoring of teachers and teaching? I’m talking about the Fox News commentators who rattle on about overpaid teachers; those school principals who treat teachers as interchangeable parts; union reps who bargain for rigid and bizarre work rules that hamstring dedicated teachers and administrators alike; curriculum designers who labor to create ‘teacher-proof’ curricula; education school leaders with low standards and undemanding programs; cheap-shot politicians and so on. I am sure that there are a few million teachers who would like to see any of them try to do for just one day what teachers do every day of the school year.

Me, I would give anything to capture that on film. We could call the ensuing television program “Real Hypocrites in Classroom 203” or maybe “America’s Got Bozos.”

Thanks, teachers. Enjoy the day — and the career.

15 thoughts on “Honoring teachers — again?

  1. In respected professions, they don’t have to always be claiming to “honor” the professionals. Duncan’s and Gates’s soundbites, for instance, are doubling insulting because a) we’d have to absolutely stupid to not see the truth. They are trying to turn us into widgets, widgets claiming to honor us by ending the “widget” effect. And b) an indication that teachers have such a low self image that people think they can sooth us with patronizing sound bites.

    The funny thing is that I became a teacher at the age of 39. I’d been both a professional and a blue collar worker. Had I thought about it, when I became a teacher I’d have identified myself as a worker. After all we were routinely treated with the same disrespect I’d been treated with while digging ditches, unloading trucks, or slingin’ iron in the oil patch. And as workers, weren’t we equally deserving of being honored? (My first day in the oil field we were told to “frack” after dark which is a great way to kill an entire crew, but we didn’t ask for a “roughneck day” to honor us)

    We should worry less about the indignities dumped on teachers and more about the disrespect that flows down to students due to this testing madness.

    But John, I have never heard of “union reps who bargain for rigid and bizarre work rules that hamstring dedicated teachers …” Nobody stops us from working through lunch or after school. If we get an unfair evaluation, we aren’t required to file a grievance. Have you ever seen with your own eyes a workrule that hamstrings anyone other than management?

    That being said, we could dramaticall reduce workrules if we did not have such a culture of disrespect for teachers. But, that’s a chicken and egg situation, if we want real, we need to start taking some risks and earn that respect the way industrial workers did. If we didn’t allow ourselves to be humilated so easily, if we showed some guts in challenging the system, they’d find some other “profession” to humiliate.


  2. John, sometimes the best ideas are first stated tongue-in-cheek. John Thompson is right that the underlying problem is our culture’s failure to give teachers due respect. However, that may be because few of us ever see the sorts of things that you covered in your litany. Most of us don’t have kids in schools, and those who do have precious little opportunity to look behind the scenes. Symptomatic of the problem of awareness is the PDK/Gallup poll that annually finds that respondents are concerned about schools, but not THEIR schools.

    More than a few large foundations invest heavily in improved K-12 learning. I wonder if any of those foundations would be willing to fund a sort of guerilla effort: a program to document cases of the sorts of abuse you speak of. You have what may be an unmatched knowledge of what can be done with disseminating education ideas to the public. I wonder if you could find a way to publicize what the program came up with.

    Fleshing out the idea so it leads to increased respect for teachers even while it focuses on the constraints that many teachers face in seeking excellence would be quite a job. Indeed, it almost sounds internally inconsistent. That said, I hope the suggestion triggers some imaginative thinking on your part, and that of others.


  3. I’ll more than second John Thompson’s response. The problem with running a blog that attempts to capture a broad audience is that you end up trying to butter everyone’s bread — or pissing in everyone’s soup.

    There are, however, some villeins in the world, in places high and low, with both the inclination and wherewithal to reach and “punish” insufficiently meek voices.

    Despite the common habit of talking in solemn tones about education as though it were a holy vocation, there are many practitioners and “educational” advisors more than adept at self-service at others expense. See http://tinyurl.com/3h5lgjm


  4. Yes, John, I have been in schools where the contract prohibited teachers from meeting after school for more than 30 minutes unless overtime was paid, and other silly stuff. Sure, some stupid school board also signed the contract, but it’s still offensive to any professional.


    • We also have a prohibition ON MEETINGS meaning that individual teachers can leave and some do when the meetings become interminable. But nobody prevents teachers from staying through endless idiotic meetings forever. I’d say that is a huge difference between preventing teachers from working as opposed to deterring the system from disrespecting teachers on our time. Many teachers leave the meetings to go back to work with the students, others go back to other jobs and responsibility.

      Such a reality-based rule doesn’t offend me, so if opposing a rule that facilitates common deceny is what defines a professional, I’ll continue to define myself as a blue collar worker.

      Even if all meetings were valuable, think about the value of such a rule. A day should have a start and end time. All things considered, a restrcition on meetings is a reasonable rule of thumb, and it is simple. Anyone who wants can work early or late. That’s also fair. And I’ve never seen a teacher take advantage of the rule is the meeting was important.

      So, I don’t think its fair to criticize such a work rule. Let’s just say the rule was repealed. Dollars to donuts, it would be quickly reinstated. If featherless bipeds were angels, we’d need no rules. In a respectual environment, we’d quickly lay down sensible rules like the one you criticize and honor it as a common courtesy, sorta like saying “please,” when you ask someone to pass the butter.


  5. Or here’s a proposal – why not honor education?

    If we valued and honored (or did not dishonor) education, then we are broadening our thinking beyond the us vs. them mentality of teachers, unions, media pundits, testing organizations, policy makers, administrators, etc.

    Imagine if we had national education day (or month, or year…), in which we spent effort and emphasis focusing on education, not only on one group of the education family (teachers). I’m a full-time HS teacher, but I’d love to see the focus shift beyond the us vs. them mentality to a shared responsibility whose explicit aim is improving learning.

    I’m not trying to sound obvious or even glib; I actually mean it. If we shifted from being AGAINST all these elements of education (teachers! unions! testing! politicians! no school choice! lazy students! lazy parents! poverty! NCLB!) to a shared goal of being FOR education and learning, imagine all the parties (teaches, students, parents, policy, understanding, community) that would be honored.

    If we decided that our common aim was student learning, then we would have some serious discussions to engage in about whether we are ALL (and yes, that means us teachers, too) working toward that aim every day or not.


  6. Alexis’s helpful comment reinforces my fortune cookie insert from last evening:

    What we are AGAINST weakens us.
    What we are FOR empowers us.


  7. There’s a line somewhere in the Gospel according to Matthew where Jesus says to his disciples words to this effect: “Those who are not against us are for us.” That turns our usual way of thinking on its head, assumes the best, and makes possible a big tent, a large circle of tolerance. Jesus is berating his disciples for their having attacked a man who claimed to be preaching in Jesus’ name even though he wasn’t one of the disciples.

    Echoing Alexis Wiggins, I think it would help us all if we could focus on education, learning, and the needs of children and put aside our adult issues for a while.

    BTW, the comments that follow this post over on HuffPo are a stitch. A few readers didn’t bother to read all the way through before attacking me, which prompted some interesting responses. Before long, however, the thread turned into an attack on Karl Rove (!!)


    • So John, just between us (and not the Huff Po) we can conclude that including that union prevents teachers from working extra canard is just a way to push for a big tent. Actually, I assumed that. If the worst soundbite is an attack on contracts of the past, then that’s nothing to get fired up about.

      I didn’t read the Huff Po comments about Karl Rove, but we should not forget his take on NCLB. He told David Remnick of the New Yorker that he was using NCLB as one of three issues to destroy the Democratic Party. He stressed that his goal was not to defeat the Dems but to completely wipe them out. He said that NCLB would do that by destroying public sector unions that fund the Democrats, and by getting Democratic constituencies to fight each other, with people of color fighting teachers and liberals fighting unions. Rove did not draft NCLB or care about education. He just saw its essence – coming with a sword to prompt a civil war on the Left.


    • Thanks, John. While I am not a religious person, I was struck by that passage from Matthew and the notion of a large circle of tolerance. Defenders of teachers often cannot accept any criticism like my objections to bizarre work rules, and more than a few readers have dismissed me out of hand because I occasionally criticize some aspect of teaching. They exemplify ‘If you are not for us, you are against us’ thinking and, in that respect, are not much different from Tea Party hard-liners and other fanatics.
      I am sure there are lines in the sand that must be drawn, but in my view there’s plenty of justified criticism to go around. We need to find common ground where we can.


      • – and that’s probably beasuce it is a very complex topic. As I said then, and say again now: value-added teacher evaluation is a generally bad idea. I tend not to speak or think in the extremes of black and white, but that is very different from even cautious endorsement of the obsession of with test scores churned through extravagant formulas that do more to hurt education than help it. This, for me, is not even close to a close call. I did probably take a little time to explain how value-added works,but explanation is not agreement. If the goal is a better educational system, there are no advantages to having test scores be a prominent factor in teacher evaluation. Teacher evaluation by test score is hugely imprecise in New York City for example, they have a 60 point margin of error on the result (30 points on either side). Value added results take us away from, rather than bring us a step closer to, understanding the underlying problems in our classroom. In fact, VA results tell teachers exactly nothing about their classes that is useful or actionable in any way. The teacher results may not be completely random, and with enough students and years of data they may represent small window into the performance of a teacher so long as there are no biases in the formulas. But even with all those things in place (enough students, no biases, enough years) huge inferences are made on very small differences (tiny difference in test score gains from on class to the next can make one teacher a super star and the other in line for firing). None of this helps students. Thanks to the Young Democrats for all their enthusiasm. It’s great that so many people are interested in education.


  8. THANK YOU for your comment on the bad grammar in this article. I know deadline pressure may lead to an occasional typo, or even a slip in proper diction, but this set a high water mark for lack of education in someone who believes herself to be a writer.diablo 3 gold


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