Traveling on Airplanes and Current Perceptions of Educators
How do Americans experience teachers and education in general? My great research based litmus test is when I fly, on an airplane. On trips I take domestically and internationally I can almost always validate American impressions of an educator by the person I am sitting next to on the plane. If I am sitting next to an American, and we begin talking and they ask me what I do, I tell them I am an educator. They pause and say, “a teacher?” with the tone of strangeness and curiosity as if something must be wrong. I then tell them that I was previously a teacher and now I’m a principal. That statement usually puts them more at ease, but the conversation typically stops dead in its tracks; it’s as if they have met someone whose English is not so great and it is hard to engage a real conversation. The talk usually ends with, “That’s so nice,” or ”that’s a hard job.”
When I am sitting next to a foreigner traveling or a recent immigrant to the United States, party on! They give me the impression that they have just sat down next to George Clooney or Bill Gates. I am an absolute rock star. A teacher? Amazing. A principal? drinks all around!! They cannot stop asking questions, they cannot stop talking about their old school days, their teachers that changed their lives and they cannot stop talking. I am a towering cultural figure, a fortune 500 CEO and a thought leader all wrapped up into one. If this were not so tragic, it would be a hilarious contrast of cultures.
In a twisted sort of way, the current environment is actually what makes anyone who goes into education today fairly extraordinary.
Another important benchmark of experience, which I also believe is a recent phenomenon is the lecturing we get from completely unqualified people, mainly parents about how to do our jobs. Every teacher and educator has war stories regarding these discussions. No one goes into a lawyer’s office and says let me tell you how to conduct my case or, upon getting wheeled into a surgery, no one gives the surgeon advice on where to make the incision. And, only in education do people come to our classrooms or offices and say, the following preamble clauses:
“You know I’ve visited two other schools and…”
“I taught for a couple years and…”
“I sat on the board of a school and…”
“When I was in school and…”
From the highest offices of political power to television and radio talk show hosts to the many who send their kids to school, they all think they know what schools need, what teachers should be doing every day and how schools should be run. No other current profession in the United States has to contend with everyone having an opinion about what we do. The outside impression of incompetency in the field of education is high. And, the idea that the profession itself has a certain set of learned skills and competencies and required nuances in order to be successful is almost completely gone.
I also believe this current value proposition has to do with the perception that education is a field for women or what has been called the feminizing of education. Such as in other professions, the more women take leadership roles, salaries and pay do not go up or even stay the same; instead, they, on average, go down. The parallels between taking women seriously in what they have to contribute and taking seriously what education has to contribute to a society intersect in all sorts of ways.
In a twisted sort of way, the current environment is actually what makes anyone who goes into education today fairly extraordinary. Those who last for the long haul must constantly be standing in contrast and contradiction to the value proposition of our current American culture. They must also have a sense of faith and belief which routinely dismisses all the silly noise around them.