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I'm Probably Just Asking for Trouble....
but I'm going to do this anyway.

I don't understand why the group that sends me the most hate mail tends to be teachers.

I write a syndicated column every week, and frequently I write about education issues simply because it's supposed to be a family column. I get lots of hate mail, but whenever I criticize the teaching profession, the hate mail increases exponentially.

Lately it's related to this column, called "Teaching Disabilities", which I wrote last week. In it, I posited that a lot of the problems that kids may have in school may be due to poor teaching, as is evidenced by the rate of success of early intervention programs which drive down the learning disability rate exponentially. Intervene early, and teach phonics, and suddenly kids don't have learning disabilities.

In the column I never said all teachers were bad. In fact, I included this paragraph:

My husband, as a doctor, knows that not all physicians are wonderful. He’d be wary if someone he loved had to be treated by several of his medical school classmates. I’m sure good teachers feel the same way about some of their fellow educators. They know who can’t teach worth beans, but they can’t say or do anything about it.

I took care to say that some teachers are good. At the beginning of the column, I also said this:

After all, not all teachers are good teachers. Over my public school experience I had about forty teachers. Five were exceptional. The vast majority were competent, but sometimes blah. And then there were those who actually made me stupider

I never said that the vast majority were awful. I said that there were exceptional teachers. I never maligned every teacher. I even said that it may be the methods, and not the teacher, that is at fault. And the teacher is not necessarily responsible for the methods, after all.

But the emails I've received back from teachers accuse me of hating teachers and doing just that. I don't get it.

I know a lot of teachers (they seem to be overrepresented in my group of friends). Most are just wonderful. I have several close friends (Kellianne, Wanda, Anita, Lisa, Heather, Tom, Evelyn, Rob, Adrian) who are just great teachers. They love what they do, they feel called to it, they care about the kids, they feel privileged God has let them serve in this way.

But then there are others who complain constantly about the unfairness of everything. The marking is too demanding. The kids are horrible. Everyone expects too much out of them. I don't understand this. I really don't. They get the summers off! I know it's hard to teach (that's why I didn't go into it), but they made that decision to launch into that career. They are better paid than most university grads. They get a lot of vacation. What is it with the constant griping?

I know it's a hard job, but lots of people have hard jobs. And at least teachers have a degree so that if they do quit, it's easier to find another job. Teachers in Ontario, the province where I live, are getting a 12% raise right now in the middle of a recession. So why so defensive?

Surely teachers must realize, too, that not all teachers can teach? My husband realizes that not all doctors are good doctors. I know that not all writers are good writers. My dentist knows that not all dentists are good dentists. So can't teachers know that not all teachers are good teachers? Can't you write a column that says that some teachers can't teach and not get teachers beating you up over it?

I know it's a minority (I've had a whole lot more positive emails from parents than I have from teachers), but I do wonder why teachers are so sensitive to perceived slights. Is it that they sense the resentment from parents and others about the terms of their job? Is it because they know that not all kids are getting a good education?

Now I also know that I write in a rather inflammatory manner, too. That's the nature of a column (and it's the nature of a 600 word limit). I can't make all the points I want to make, or soften as much as I may want to. But I also don't want all my columns to be squishy. I do want to make people think, and I don't apologize for that.

But why is it that teachers respond in anger so much more than other professions when I write? I'm honestly clueless about this, so any help would be much appreciated!

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At 6:31 PM , Blogger Julie Simmons said…

I went into teaching as a 2nd career, after six years of being a school social worker. I just finished my first year of teaching. I have been blessed with a supportive, knowledgeable principal who constantly challenges us to try new, innovative approaches to teaching. Teaching is a difficulty job, but also very rewarding as I see students making progress and overcoming obstacles to their learning. (And summers are great!)

I have noticed that so many teachers are negative, gossipy and have a "martyr" complex. I don't know the reason why or the solution, but I want to make a conscious effort not to become this way as I gain more experience teaching.


At 8:44 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

I completely agree, teachers (and their union) are so whiny and defensive. I sometimes wonder if this immaturity is due to the fact that many have never worked out in the 'real' world- outside a school where there's competition/layoffs/ pay decreases/ nasty bosses with no one to complain to!!!

Many go from highschool, to university and then straight back into a school. They exist in a fishbowl and never grow-up.


At 9:55 AM , Blogger Mrs W said…

I too am sick of the constant fussing and whining of teachers. Especially when they say they don't get paid enough. My husband works at a public school, NOT as a teacher, but as an IT technician, and he gets teachers complaining to him about their salary. Thing is, he makes far LESS than ANY of them. We go to their houses and their houses are huge and luxurious. We have outgrown our house but can't afford to live anywhere else so we stay even though it's not practical.

I think a lot of them whined about you column because, although they are teachers, a lot of them are quite stupid and have NO reading comprehension whatsoever.


At 10:41 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

I worked as a teacher's aid for 5 years before having my youngest child and I found that a lot of teachers were very negative people. I believe that the problem comes from 2 different sources & that they affect different types of teachers.

One, some teachers only teach because of the benefits that go with the job, mostly the retirement, and the job security. After all you hardly ever hear of a teacher getting fired because they don't do the job well. In fact I don't think there is another job out there that offers the kind of security they enjoy. These teachers will not tolerate critizisim.

The second reason is I really think the biggest. There are good teachers out there that are being told how and what to teach to such an extent that they have no freedom left to adapt the lessons to their students. They are often told to teach things that in some cases they don't agree with or that they feel don't even need to be addressed at their grade level, such as homosexuality in kindergarten like they are being forced to in many states. On top of that the parents will often blame the teachers for decisions that are made by administration.

I feel sorry for a lot of the teachers in our school district. Their hands are really tied & I believe that is why they are so resentful.



At 11:45 AM , Blogger Sheila said…

Thanks for all your comments! I think we're pretty much seeing the same thing.

Toni--I would agree that teachers have their hands tied (in fact, I have another column coming out about that, too!). And I would think that would lead to a lot of frustration.

What I don't understand, though, is why that frustration isn't more directed at politicians and school boards? They're the ones tying the teachers' hands and putting unreasonable demands on them. Yet instead, I have found that what teachers are most defensive about are methods and results. The whole language vs. phonics debate, for instance, is one in which many teachers are on the whole language side, and many parents on the phonics side.

I just find so many teachers really invested in the WAY that schools do things, even though it's exactly those methods that tend to alienate parents. It's just too bad we can't sit down and have a reasonable discussion about a lot of this stuff.

I just find the attitude that "I'm a teacher, so I know how to educate" a little off-putting. Parents are the ones who know the children best, and they should get some respect, I think.


At 3:13 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

Amen! I couldn't have said that better no matter how hard I tried.



At 9:36 PM , Blogger Mélanie said…

It's too funny for me to read all of this and the comments, being a high school teacher in Ontario (started out in 2000)! I have been blessed to have a dad who taught high school math for 30+ years in very non-conventional ways and an uncle who is a principal in Alberta who once gave me sage advice as I was getting into the profession: teach the STUDENTS, not the curriculum. That sure puzzled me as I was in the midst of my studies, but with time, I got what he was saying (and I saw my dad have the same philosophy in his class)...

There's no question that we as teachers do have the pressure of working through the curriculum and making sure that students are prepared to move on to the next level in whatever subject matter... But you've got to start where they are at, and sometimes that means changing the way the programs are layed out, your approaches, etc...

I'm also a teacher who likes to change things up. I've taught many different subjects, in various schools in 3 different school boards. I think that moving around (due to my husband's work) has been a blessing in disguise, as I've been able to see how different places do things. I've seen that it's natural for people who have never been elsewhere to not think of challenging why things are done the way they are (I don't think that's true just of teachers...) I am forever challenging the "it's just how we do it here" mentality and I love that I've been able to incorpororate things that I've been learning along the way into my teaching wherever I am.

Yes I agree that not all teachers should be teachers, that not all teachers are great teachers. I think I've been encountering more and more awesome teachers in recent years compared to the grumpy teachers I kept bumping into in my earlier years of teaching (though they are still out there in their not wanting to share resources, etc... truly a weird bunch when you come across those types, I don't get it).

Why the negativity? Who knows... I suspect it depends on if they're the types to really get into the politics (which I tend not to when it comes to teaching), or if they're more focussed on just doing their job and being there for the students. (And yes, even in high school, I'm a big fan of home-school communication... parents need to be aware, though by high school, allow the students the freedom to take responsibility for their own learning... a fine line)

I think the negativity is also partly due to public perception. Coming out of university, they already had us on the defensive... "if you can't do, teach"... would be the banter from people in other programs... I think I've gained perspective and lost that initial defensiveness from my years of teaching interspersed with maternity leaves...

I actually feel that I'm a better teacher, not only due to my moves, but also because of my maternity leaves. I always come back from a leave thinking more as a parent - seeing the students more like whole people with complex lives beyond my classes... less like a teacher who is doing things just because it's how it's how I'm told to... being SO thankful for the pay after only making E.I. with a husband in school!... and of course loving my summers off with my kids after I've worked my butt off all year (and already planning ahead by August with September lurking around the corner)...

I've heard my share of teacher put downs over the years, but I stopped being as defensive as I was in the early years... rather anyone who knows me and sees how hard I bust my butt during the year, come to respect the teaching profession a bit more I've noticed and stop making their joking comments about us teachers never doing any work with our summers off... ;)

(sorry, didn't mean to write a book!)


At 3:25 PM , Blogger Amy Elizabeth Butler said…

I agree on all accounts. The negativity and martyr syndrome seems to plague like the oldest child syndrome: as teachers they see a need, try to fill a need, but find the filling a hard and less than glorified job. When the world doesn't recognize the need in the same way they do and jump in to help or make their job easier, its easy to grow resentful of everyone.


At 4:00 AM , Blogger The Peterson Family said…

As a mother of four as well as a student about to start her professional year (student teaching) for Elem. Education, I have to say that I agree that there is a lot of negativity in the teaching profession. I think a LOT of this is from the teachers that have been teaching for a while. And in all honesty, I understand why they are feeling that way.

At least here in America (I can't say how it works in Canada) teachers don't get paid enough, whether we have summers off or not (and in my home state our "vacation" is less than 5 weeks). In fact when I start teaching fall 2010, even if I get the most pay I can, I will still make less than the poverty line for my state - that just sad.

Pay aside, I think the teachers that have been teaching for years are feeling like they are being pushed aside - newer, better teachers are coming in to replace them because they're not good enough. And even if that's not really they case, I can see how they would feel that way. With the US's No Child Left Behind dictating how and and what can be taught to which children, it can put a lot of pressure on a teacher. And these are HUGE changes. Changes that I personally believe are mostly for the better, but change is hard, especially if you were taught to do things one way and then told to do them a different way - now - after the old way has been working well for them for years.

Well, I don't know if any of that is making sense. I too agree that teachers tend to be overly sensitive, but with good reason. And really what it comes down to is that if you're not happy with how your child is being educated, do something about it. Education is NOT just the responsibility of the teachers. Parents need to be involved, too. I think if you look at those children who are misdiagnosed with learning disorders, it's not just the teachers that aren't doing their jobs. So parents need to step up to the plate, too. Talk to your children's teachers, move them to a different school, homeschool them yourself. There are many options for your children to have great teachers.


At 3:14 PM , Blogger Mrs W said…

Who CARES if you pay is above or below the poverty line? YOU chose to teach. QUIT the whining about the pay and five WHOLE WEEKS vacation already. It's so tiring to hear American teachers fuss and whine when 1) they chose to teach and 2) they get paid more than a LOT of people I know. My husband works at a school and gets paid much less than the teachers, but you don't hear him complain, but he hears THEM complain all the time. Get over yourselves already. Everyone is sick of it. Really. Your pay isn't "sad" it's what you CHOSE when you chose to teach. Why can't you just take responsibility for the fact that you chose to do a job you aren't happy with and stop whining at the rest of us?


At 3:15 PM , Blogger Mrs W said…

Oh and by the way, if we got paid at or above the poverty line, we'd be very rich indeed. Even now, all our needs are provided. The "poverty line" just makes people who have more than most others in the world think they are hard done by and therefore "entitled" to something for free.


At 3:49 PM , Blogger Sheila said…

Mrs. Peterson--

It's great to hear a teacher with so much honesty and a willingness to admit that teachers can be negative, but also writing about why this is the case with humility.

I understand what Mrs. W is saying about the pay, but I can also understand the problem teachers face. Many people go into teaching because they do feel a calling to it, but it does get tiring after a number of years when cynicism can set in because of the system, and you realize you're paid so poorly. Still, I do think there's the point that people chose that profession, and you do have a B.A. You could go work somewhere else.

That's one thing that isn't true in Canada. Here, police officers and teachers are both paid far better than they are in the States. It's not uncommon for teachers to be making $60,000 a year, if they have extra training, and that's still with all the vacation.

I think teachers have a LOT to complain about. It just seems, though, that too often they complain about the things that just alienate the parents--having to spend so much time marking, the prep time, the lack of pay--rather than the things on which parents would agree--the ridiculous curriculum, the lack of parenting on the part of some parents, the inability of discipline.

It's unfortunate, because we could be allies to fix the educational system if teachers' unions stopped portraying it as a money and time issue and more as an education issue.


At 2:47 PM , Blogger Mélanie said…

Yes Sheila, (referring to your last comment), speaking as a teacher, we are blessed in Canada to have a very decent pay! As for the question of chosing the profession, I know my dad (a teacher himself), tried to discourage me as he said kids just weren't the same anymore (maybe that links back to your comment about lack of parents not parenting and being friends instead you were mentionning - leads to lack of respect on all fronts). But my response to him was that if there aren't good teachers out there, who is going to teach these kids?? I have no regrets with my choice of a profession!

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Name: Sheila

Home: Belleville, Ontario, Canada

About Me: I'm a Christian author of a bunch of books, and a frequent speaker to women's groups and marriage conferences. Best of all, I love homeschooling my daughters, Rebecca and Katie. And I love to knit. Preferably simultaneously.

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