Monday, July 14, 2014

The Mythology of Education - Time to Bust Some Myths

Several weeks ago Readers Digest published its 2014 Trusted Professions list.  Teachers were the 11th most trusted profession, up one from the previous year.  Teachers haven't been in the top ten since 2010.  Prior to that they were at least 9th.

It got me wondering, why don't the public trust us more.  It really is concerning when you consider how every single day of term, parents drop off to schools and educators the world over, that which is most precious to them.  Far more important than their car, their house or any material possession.  For educators this is a huge responsibility, privilege and one of great significance, for parents, it is one of high trust.

Given how important little (and not so little) people are to their parents, why is teaching not one of the most trusted professions?  When you trust your Vet more than you trust your teacher, then that leaves me asking why.

After some navel gazing on the matter, I thought about some of the myths that surround education.  In particular the ones that are prevalent in todays world, often trotted out by right wing neo liberalists to push the G.E.R.M agenda.  It is not the list of all lists, merely the ones uppermost in my mind.

Time to bust some myths.

Myth: All teachers are raving Unionists  Fact: Not all teachers are Unionists  

Whilst it is probably true that most teachers are union members, to suggest all teachers are, is quite categorically incorrect.  On my own site, not all my team are union members.  This is a choice they make, and although I may quietly disagree, I keep this to myself.   We live in a democracy and in Education in our country there is no mandate that says one must dictate union membership as a prerequisite to being a teacher or support staff.  Interestingly, not all teachers who are members of the union are remotely interested in being active, and more often than not, this is the majority.   Therefore, when the right wing factions wind up the public with statements like 'its just the unionised teachers stirring trouble again', or 'because teachers are unionists they are only about self interest so don't trust their opinion', take the time to really think about that.

Myth:  Teachers are all about self interest  Fact:  Teachers are all about student interest 

This follows on from the above myth about unionisation.  Every time I see an opinion piece or blog that cries teachers don't like this policy or that policy because of 'self interest', I find myself rolling my eyes and thinking unkind thoughts.  The IES policy is a case in point.  If it was about self interest then teachers would applaud the additional money for salary - the fact they don't and think the money should be spent elsewhere suggests student interest is the motivation.

It is one of those insidious and ignorant myths that dissenters can glibly roll off their tongue in the hopes to gain traction when they teacher bash.  If we are to examine this a little closer and apply some logic, what you discover is that teachers are not about self interest at all - teachers are all about what is in the best interests of their students.  We do not enter the profession for reasons of self interest - and those that might don't last long.  The pay, the stress, the hours and the high stakes accountability (not to mention the right wing teacher bashers) are not what keeps a teacher in the profession.  Students, and making a difference, is what keeps educators educating.  To suggest self interest is simply ludicrous and not something anyone who has ever spent time in a classroom would ever say.  

Myth: All teachers are lazy  Fact: Not all teachers are 'lazy'

Type 'teachers are..." into google and thats the second thing that pops up.  In todays high stakes world there is no room for a 'lazy' teacher.  It is probably the one myth that irks me the most, and I suspect it stems from the old chestnuts of 'you are always on holiday' and 'you start at 9 and finish at 3'.  The reality is I would struggle to see how a 'lazy' teacher would even survive in todays educational world.    You never hear a person who lives with a teacher suggest such a thing, and again, it is one of those handy myths that feeds the prejudices  against teachers and suit the right wing neo liberal anti teacher agenda.

Myth: Teachers are not tax payers  Reality:  All teachers pay tax just like every other hard working person 

For this one you need to be able to think outside the box a little.  I am taking some poetic license here, but there is a point.  Its not a myth as such, but more misunderstanding.   When educational policy is being bandied about and the anti teacher brigade are making statements like 'teachers shouldn't have a say about policy because of self interest',  then I would like to gently remind them that teachers are tax payers.  They most certainly do have a vested interest in how their tax dollars get spent, and so when they say a policy is not fiscally smart or in the best interests of students, I would think that would be a warning sign for the public to ask why they feel this way.  Like all taxpayers, teachers do not want to see their contribution (and Im guessing its a big one) wasted.  This myth is an extension of the self interest myth.

Myth:  All teachers don't have a life  Reality:  Teachers most certainly do have a life outside teaching and many are parents 

Once again, I am exercising some poetic license.  Like above, this is more a misunderstanding than a myth.  Whenever teachers and educational policy are being debated, the debaters forget one very important thing.  Many teachers are parents as well.  As parents they also have a vested interest in what happens in classrooms and what shape educational policy takes.  Just like the public, they do not want their children being taught in overcrowd classes, by incompetent teachers, or subjected to ridiculous policy changes.  Like above, if a teacher who happens to wear a parent hat as well says a policy is not in the best interests of a student, then listen to them.  Ask them why and ask them what it is about that policy that concerns them for their child.  Think, if it was good, then they would want their child to benefit.  Quite logical really.

Myth:  Teachers have it easy, anyone could do it  Reality:  Teaching is not for everyone, and it most certainly is not easy

This is my favourite myth, and it always makes me smile.  Every teacher in the world knows this is rubbish.  For all those who think its so easy, you come and do it.  Take a class of 32 students, 3 with significant behaviour needs, 12 who are struggling with basic literacy and numeracy despite intervention programmes, 2 who are regularly late, 1 who is often truant because they are kept at home to look after the babies, 4 who are special needs (I am being generous) but not eligible for teacher aide support, 1 with a signifiant special need and a part time teacher aide, 3 gifted students, a handful of difficult parents, and then throw in students who come from extreme poverty or abusive backgrounds.  Plan, prepare, teach and assess, throw in some pastoral care moves and hold down the duties, meetings and paper work requirements of an average teacher on an average day, and do this for two weeks, maintaining levels of progress.  Teaching is a diverse, and complex inexact science where no two days are the same.  This, ironically, is its biggest appeal but most difficult to prepare for.  This is teaching, and it is by no means an easy option.

Myth: All teachers are card carrying Labour party supporters  Fact: Not all teachers are Labour supporters 

In case you missed it, I will repeat, not all teachers are members or supports of the Labour party.  Teachers are like the rest of society in that they are diverse in their political leanings.  This spectrum ranges from 'I don't care', to those who swing left and those who swing right.  One of my colleagues that I have a great deal of respect for, has been a card carrying ACT member for a long time, and others I know are ardent National supporters.  It is ridiculous to suggest that all teachers are left leaning and/or Labour supporters.  Every time I see that mantra trotted out by some right wing journalist or blogger I wonder what my colleagues who are not left leaning think about that.  Interestingly, what I have noticed over the years is that when you mention politics in the average staffroom many teachers eyes tend to glaze over.


These are but a few of the myths that impinge on having a good public debate on educational policy.  Teachers need to be a part of the debate for all the reasons outlined above, and more.  If you trust a teacher to look after your child's social, emotional and academic needs when they are at school, why would you not trust a teacher to explain the ins and outs of a policy.

The next time you read about teachers in a less than satisfactory way, or you hear someone indulging in some teacher bashing, remember that most of what people are basing things on are in actual fact, myths and not reality.   It is important for our society that we trust our teachers and not buy into the myths that those with less than pure motives would have you believe.

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