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Wisconsin Protests: Giving Teachers a Bad Reputation?

Meghan Mathis

Wisconsin Protests: Giving Teachers a Bad Reputation?Watching events unfold in Wisconsin over the past few weeks has left me feeling both uncomfortable and confused. As I watched my fellow educators fighting on the steps of the capitol in Madison, I was confronted with the fact that, right or wrong, we were not presenting ourselves and our concerns in the best light.

 

Listening to the comments of strangers in the grocery store check-out line or reading comments online, my fears were confirmed. There is a lot of anger being directed at public school teachers nowadays - and most concerning to me is the fact that we don’t appear to be addressing the causes of that anger.


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Teacher Misconceptions: Great Hours, Summers Off

Most people will tell you they respect public school teachers and know that we work very hard at what we do, but as the reports of teachers skipping school to protest and teachers with salaries and benefits packages of $100,000 began to leak out, suddenly many privately employed citizens let us know what they really think of those individuals who choose to work in public education.

 

“Fire them all and replace them with people who want to be there!” “If you don’t like your salary go get a job in the real world!” “You work from 8 till 3 and get summers off – shut up and get back to work!” These were just a few of the comments I saw on message boards where people were discussing what was going on in Wisconsin and with education in general.

 

Political commentators were quick to add their opinions as well. Michelle Malkin wrote, “If public school teachers spent more time teaching in classrooms and less time community-organizing in political war rooms, maybe taxpayers wouldn't feel as ripped off as they do.” Mary Grabar commented, “Teachers, thanks to unions, shirk their responsibilities to parents and citizens, and feel emboldened to use their classrooms as bully pulpits.”


It seems obvious to me that even if one believes that what the teachers in Wisconsin were fighting for was legitimate, the message that public educators are trying to get out: that we are talented, well-trained professionals who care deeply about what we do and are trying to do our best to help every student succeed despite numerous challenges, is not being heard as clearly as it needs to be.


Missing the Message

So where have we gone wrong? Somewhere along the way, we have failed to educate the public on the truth about the American educational system and the challenges it is currently facing.


How else is it possible that so many people who have gone through the public education system in this country and have benefited greatly from it are now telling us that we are the main reason their children are failing, that we are over-compensated and under-worked, and that we should be prepared to improve test-scores or start looking for a new line of work? What is most dangerous about these misconceptions is that with the education poised to be one of, if not the most discussed issue of the 2012 presidential campaign, they are likely to be repeated over and over again until they are accepted as fact. Unless, that is, we do something about it.


Educating People About Public Education


Where to begin is, in my mind, the biggest challenge. I don’t claim to have the perfect solution to that question. I know, however, that many teachers tend to avoid getting involved in political discussions about education for fear of upsetting friends or family or out of concern that they simply do not know enough facts to make a coherent argument. This seems to be a great place to start.


As teachers we need to educate ourselves about what is going on, so that we can be ready to educate others when the moment arises. How will you be able to respond when someone attacks your profession, or even questions you about something they heard on the news if you haven’t taken the time to get yourself caught up on what is really going on?

 

The more we, as educators, really know about our profession, the better we will be at defending what we do to those who criticize us. More importantly, the better able we will be at participating in the national conversation about what needs to be done to improve the American educational system.


Do you think the public has an unfair opinion of teachers? Share your take and how you propose teachers should change that in the comments section!