I don’t know if you watched Obama’s job speech the other night. It was pretty good, even to my (now) skeptical ears. He was clear, poignant, and directive – and in all the right ways (for a change). But one of the most striking moments of the debate (striking, not surprising) was when Obama stated that more financial backing needs to go to teachers and the vast majority of Republicans remained absolutely silent. No applause. The Democrats applauded. Republicans applauded other things in Obama’s speech – but notably not for teachers.
The sad truth: conservative America (i.e., most of America) does not value public teachers.
This truth has become more and more evident since last spring when the Walker administration began their antics to kill collective bargaining for most public employees (including teachers). While there were huge protests at the capitol, many Wisconsin people thought (and still think) that teachers have it way too good and that they need to be knocked down a few pegs. I heard people on call-in radio shows slam teachers for being too whiny, too greedy, too dumb, too liberal, and not as important as they think they are. You might think that all that means is that people want teachers to be on the same financial page as everybody else. But in conservative America, if you are a teacher (and in particular a college professor) you are thought of as a piece of liberal crap who is out of touch with reality, unable to do real work for a living, snooty, and a legitimate enemy of the state because you make your students think for themselves and question assumed beliefs. For God’s sake, Michelle Bachmann wants to abolish the Department of Education. I even heard someone yesterday say (in person) that she is homeschooling her kids because she does not trust the public school system to educate her children “right.”
Since last spring, including the other night, that kind of broad negative sentiment towards teachers has remained strong.
Ironically, even UW-Whitewater itself perpetuates a negative sentiment towards teaching. For some reason, research is much more highly valued than teaching at UWW. Of course everyone says that teaching is of highest priority, but if you look at the rewards and promotion process, a different picture emerges. The tenure process, while a complex beast, is more heavily weighted towards the right kind of research than the right kind of teaching. As long as one reaches at an adequate benchmark for teaching, that category is checked. Yet research is looked at much more closely. There are also for more grants and fellowships available for faculty to do research than for faculty to pursue teaching excellence.
So I cannot help but have the feeling that the value of teachers is going down. And this saddens me because I find teachers to be one of the most important jobs in America right now. Now, more than ever, we need good teachers to rise up and educate our people in right knowing, skills, and values. If we don’t, who will? Our country is not thinking well as it is quite plain to see from our media, politicians, and general crap for TV. Without good teachers, our country will die from a lack of innovation, collaboration, cooperation, and ability to adapt.
For some reason, many Americans not only miss that fact, but they believe just the opposite. They believe that defending and helping teachers are not worth it.
So I say in defiance: public teaching is one of the most valuable jobs in America. They are the backbone of education. And the more we help their cause, the better this country will be.
[Sidenote: I am well aware that there are many bad teachers who are still in the public school system. Thus, in tandem with my remarks above, there needs to be measures for the continual training of public teachers (college professors too!), a rewards systems to encourage good teaching, and a more effective mechanism to remove bad teachers.]