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On Teaching

Up until a year ago, I could have written about my profession with few qualms. I could have written about the joys and challenges of teaching without fear of what readers might think. But during last year's legislative session in Idaho, things began to change. Not only did education law change, in Idaho and other states, but my perspective changed, as well. I read just about everything the Idaho Statesman printed regarding the new laws, and as disheartening as those laws are, even more disheartening was what I read in the public comments, both in the Statesman and in other on-line sources from throughout the nation. Granted, many of the comments were wholeheartedly supportive of teachers and schools, but without fail every comment thread included those who see teachers as lazy, underworked, overpaid, and whiny. I saw comments that insisted teachers only work five or six hours a day. And anyone who attempted to correct this ridiculous notion was immediately dismissed by the critics as someone who must surely be one of those lazy teachers.

Now I know, I really do, that reading comment threads from on-line sources is just asking for trouble. In fact, this year I am resolved to avoid this practice entirely. I know that even one mean-spirited, inaccurate comment can wound me. Unfortunately, anonymous on-line commenters are not the only people who dismiss the opinions of educators. I read an article last fall about one of our state legislators who held a meeting with his constituents about one portion of the new legislation. The interviewer asked the legislator to defend his support of this legislation in light of the fact that so many of those at the meeting spoke up against it. This legislator remarked that those speaking against the new policy were likely educators. The implication seemed to be that the protests of educators are irrelevant, when it comes to education issues. I am lost for words.

Let me make this clear. This is the job I signed up for. If I wanted to do something else, I would do something else. I did not choose to teach because I could not think of anything else to do or because it seemed like an easy choice. I was inspired by many fine teachers--particularly Gerald Bell at Meridian Junior High and Vince Howard at Kellogg High School--both of whom taught me subject-specific lessons that I remember to this day and who made the shy, insecure, teenage version of me feel smarter and stronger than she ever had. I entered this profession inspired by these two fine educators and countless others (Betty Ableman, Joy Persoon . . . so hard to stop). And I love it. I don't love it every minute (like today, when I really do need to score at least 80 essays--as I do most Saturdays), but when I think of what I get to do, day in and day out, I am filled with joy and satisfaction and a desire that seems to increase with each passing year to improve my instruction, while at the same time showing the shy and the bold, the weak and the strong, that they are capable of much more than they think.

And let me make this clear. I don't yearn to improve my instruction so someone will pay me more. I do not work any harder than I did when I brought home that first paycheck for $901 in the fall of 1988. I like to think I work a whole lot smarter--because I have continually pursued education, I have sought out collaborative relationships, and perhaps most of all, I have made it a practice to regularly reflect on the effectiveness of my lessons (and to revise, accordingly).

You see, this is where I could get into trouble. Hmmm, how to explain the nuances--the many facets--of this pay issue? Yes, I think teachers should be paid well for the work they do. Yes, I am aware that we have more vacations than most professions. Yes, I work almost every evening and weekend during the school year--as well as during lunch, break, etc. Yes, I know teachers who work extra jobs just to barely make ends meet. Yes, I think it would be great if there were a complex, careful, time-intensive, balanced way to measure the worth of what I do. But no, I do not think basing our pay on test scores or parent input makes sense. Oh, and, student achievement is not the same thing as student learning.

There might be "On Teaching, Part Two," at some point in the next weeks or months. I realize I may have failed to take a clear position on any of the difficult subjects related to education, and some part of me is filled with foreboding about the prospect of who might read this and misunderstand my intention or my character. But for now, I am resolved to return to the task at hand, feeling surprisingly emboldened by my own words.


  1. Replies
    1. Thank you, my friend. It's been rolling around in my head for a while. I'm glad I finally got it down on paper.

  2. I am completely on board with what you say. I have a friends who are education majors and some of them are good friends with other teachers in districts around this valley. Some of the stuff I have heard about teachers having to cut their regular lesson plans just for the sake of having to meet the demand for better test scores is just surprising to me. At Mountain View they have increased the required sick days to eleven days where they have to have a sub on those days. It just really amazes me. We are ranked like 47th or 48th in the country as far as education goes, and this is NOT going to increase the QUALITY of education in this state. Maybe it will increase test scores, but there is far more to life-long learning than being able to answer a multiple-choice question. Hopefully one day Idaho's legislature can understand that. You carry yourself in a very calm and respectable manner while writing about this! That is more than I am able to do sometimes!


    1. Thank you, Pamela! I appreciate your passion, even as you appreciate my calmness and respect. Just between you and me, in my final revision I removed two items that I thought were questionable, in terms of remaining respectful. I am profoundly saddened by the lack of civility in public discourse, and I want to make sure I don't add to that lack of civility. Again, thank you for your response!

  3. Well written. People need to read this kind of perspective on teaching. It would be easy to react with anger at the poor opinion many of the public, and our legislators, seem to have. Love that you stayed on the side of civility. Will be looking forward to Part Two!

  4. Comment forwarded from Kevin:

    I too appreciate the fact that you have entered the fray by taking the high ground. Part of the difficulty in this discussion is to choose from which angle and which perspective to enter the conversation. I believe that for educators, one of the painful points is that as voters we allowed a man to become a leader of education in our state who isn't interested in working with educators to help our legislators or our patrons understand the complexities of how our educational system or its complicated funding work.

    Your teacher in the classroom angle is so much better. The reality for us is that we, and so many like us, will go back on Tuesday, despite the negativity, and do what we do to educate and make life better for the students in our communities.

  5. I've always been willing to hand my job over--to a legislator, a taxpayer, or even the Superintendent himself--for a year, a month, or even a day, and challenge that person to teach 100+ teenagers all about literature and then tell me that teachers don't need and deserve EVERY break they get. Oh, and I'd love to show some people of the "teachers don't need 3 months off in the summer" mindset exactly what I've done with EVERY summer since I started teaching--a second job and/or back to school for me.


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