I come from a family of teachers. My sister, a few cousins and some uncles and aunts are all teachers. An uncle, an aunt, a cousin and my father have all been head teachers. An aunt founded a school. My grandfather was an inspector of education and also wrote school textbooks. I am on the Board of Governors of a school. As the Americans say, “I have skin in the game”.
It is one of tragedies of modern society that teachers have moved down the professional pecking order. Just a few centuries ago, teachers were among the most revered and well paid professions. Now, many parents don’t even treat them with respect, let alone respect their expertise and insights.
And to make it worse, with an economic crisis hanging over their heads, governments around the world are cutting (in some cases, slashing) education budgets. And very often this hits the teachers hardest, as their already low wages are further cut.
To somehow make this government decision more palatable, in recent months a mythology has emerged in the United States that teachers are lazy and overpaid for the work they do. This mythology has been espoused mainly by right wing media and Republican controlled States. I find it not only offensive, but also indicative of a culture and country in deep decline.
What kind of society stops valuing education? What type of society stops valuing teachers?
The US is already only a mid table country when it comes to education. According to the OECD (industrialised nations) Reading-Maths-Science rankings for 2010, the US is almost exactly on the OECD average for reading and science, and well below it for Maths (see a report here or here).
It is gratifying to know that not everyone in America feels that teachers are overpaid and lazy. Some big names are now starting to fight back. Jon Stewart on The Daily Show spent a lot of time in February this year looking at this issue (see three of his segments: Crisis in Dairyland: Angry Curds, For Richer and Poorer – Teachers and Wall Street and A Message to Teachers). (PS – if you can’t see these videos, please ask me and I’ll tell you how).
Actor, Matt Damon supported the recent ‘Save our Schools’ march and did a number of interviews in which he defended teachers. In my favourite one, he turns on a cameraman who is making outrageous claims. Watch it at YouTube (or below):
We need to find ways to value our teachers. That starts with paying them more. But it also includes changing our attitude to their profession. And it might involve you personally changing how you treat the teachers you engage with.
PS – a really interesting site you might want to check out is Ranking America that ranks America in every possible way it might be ranked (from chocolate exports to teen pregnancies, and spending on guns to long term unemployment).