Sunday, September 2, 2012

Apparently we still have confidence in public school teachers

This post comes from guest blogger Melissa Martens, a masters degree student at Peabody College, Vanderbilt University.

Reading through the vast blogosphere of articles relating to educational policies and opinions can be a rollercoaster ride. Someone portrayed as a mighty hero in one article is the greatest villain in another. Often, I find that “bad teachers” get the attention and “good teachers” are forgotten (their stories are much less juicy and stir up less controversy and interest). As politicians, committee members, and news outlets debate and criticize the teaching profession, they highlight failures to prescribe personal ideas of the illusive panacea.

With all this bad press and criticism, I can’t help but wonder when we stopped respecting teachers. During the year and a half that I taught in South Korea, one of the things that I found most striking about the educational system was the admiration their society had for teachers. Teachers were valued and esteemed for their hard work and dedication to students. From what I observed, parents supported them and their decisions instead of questioning or undermining them.

Could I say the same about public opinion of teachers in the United States? I questioned if my society saw teachers this way or if they viewed them as problems. The way some education reformers, politicians, and authors speak, teachers sometimes look like selfish, horned creatures that only cared about raises and tenure (and would rather eat children than teach them). However, I knew this could not be the case. Why would someone enter the teaching profession with that mindset? It’s not a glamorous, six-figure job; it’s hard work! I had to believe that people who went into teaching had the best interests of students at heart. Did anyone else agree?

I saw an interesting article on Education Week by John Wilson entitled “New Poll Shows Public Confidence in Teachers.” I hate to say that I was a bit surprised to read this headline in light of recent news, but most of all, I was encouraged. The article talks about the 44th annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll of the “Public Attitudes Toward the Public Schools” and quoted that “For the third year in a row, three out of four Americans say they have trust and confidence in the men and women who teach in the public schools.” Although they did not necessarily think that public schools nationally were doing a great job, they had more positive perceptions of their local schools and reported faith in teachers. This is a very interesting societal perception. It also mentioned that the public was split about using student test data to determine teacher effectiveness and thought that schools should be involved in the discipline of bullies, even if they are bullying others on the Internet or outside of the school day.

In the midst of education reform and political elections, it seems easy to blame teachers for the problems in education. We certainly hear powerful people criticizing them, but it gives me courage that most of the American people still have confidence in public school teachers. Do you?

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