Saturday, February 17, 2007

If only I could just teach...

I've been getting very frustrated with other teachers this week. First, there are the teachers who give multiple choice quizzes and overhead notes daily and take only a small purse or even nothing at all home while I have three bags worth of grading. Then there is the teacher who tells me that students can't do this and they can't do that. Interesting, as mine are doing whatever it is...then they complain that her class doesn't have to. There's also the teacher who throws tennis balls during her inclusion classes and shouts over the din of noise coming from her classroom, disturbing all of us around her...but administration insists she "reaches students." In reality, she just runs to tell the principal whenever she's done something for a student. She talked for weeks about the dollar she gave to a student for lunch. Really, how many of us have done that and so much more for a student who's needed it?? We simply don't broadcast it throughout the school.

Anyways, what do these teachers have in common?? They give the rest of us a bad name, and it torks me!! I bust my butt only to hear from non-teachers how the education system is such a mess because teachers aren't professionals and don't know how to do their jobs...and blahblahblah. People lose respect for our profession because, quite frankly, there are teachers who aren't professionals and therefore don't deserve that professional respect. But what can we do about that?

Anthony Cody, a columnist in Teacher Magazine, proposed a hippocratic oath for teachers:

How many times have teachers contemplated the respect accorded doctors of medicine and ruefully shaken our collective heads, wishing we were given a fraction of that? One difference is that physicians traditionally swear on some form of the Hippocratic Oath, originally written in the 4th century B.C.

Teachers adhere to codes of ethics and performance administered by the states that license us, but as a profession, we lack an agreed-upon credo.

He suggests that by swearing to follow this oath, we will gain respect as a profession. I love what he has suggested. In fact, I printed out a copy of the oath and have it laminated and hung up next to my desk. Personally I want to be reminded of the things he includes on his list, and I want to try to follow them in my teaching career. Before I go on, I'll share several of my favorites:
• I will remember that there is art to teaching as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the textbook reading or the multiple choice test.

• If it is given me to enhance a life through teaching, all thanks. But it may also be within my power to cast a shadow over a life; this awesome responsibility must be faced with great humbleness and awareness of my own frailty.

• If I do not violate this oath, may I enjoy life and art, respected while I live and remembered with affection thereafter. May I always act so as to preserve the finest traditions of my calling and may I long experience the joy of teaching those who seek my help.
In reality I should've just copied the entire list, as I really do feel strongly about each and every one. I feel that each one is valid and each helps to create a professional and conducive classroom envrionment; however, I don't know that this is the answer to creating better teachers. I don't think that having teachers swear to follow these standards will create better teachers or gain us respect as professionals. Those teachers who will follow the standards are already doing so without having to formally give an oath. And that respect we seek won't be given by uttering a few words at a graduation ceremony.

I think these problems, unprofessional teachers and no professional respect, are so intertwined that we have to resolve these issues together. Teachers want professional respect, but many don't behave as, how do we get professional teachers? I'm really just asking this question because I'm so frustrated with my collegues at the moment. It's come to the point where I simply shut my door and do my job, as it makes me so angry to think about what they are/aren't doing.

But I hate that they're giving a bad name for the rest of us!! I know Dennis will probably have several answers to my questions of how to get professional teachers...and I hope he does. I have my own ideas, and I began to write them out here...but they're really just a repeat of several posts from Dennis. I know there were others; however, this is one I could find. I do agree with a lot of what he says, and possibly after I grade one of my three bags of essays, I'll share my thoughts.

But I really want to hear what everyone else do we get professional teachers and the professional respect we deserve?

I've finally found an unsecured wireless network that I can "borrow" from my apartment, so I'm hoping to be able to post more often. It's just been difficult to find the time and place to blog without internet at home.


M said...

ohhh, those teachers who talk themselves up really irk me. You're right, they don't do anything more that the rest of us do!

I find that I sort of dread telling people I'm a teacher, because I always get a quip about having so many holidays, and then someone has an opinion on what we're doing wrong.

The problem is that unlike doctors or lawyers we're asked to fix ALL the ills of society through our teaching, we're also asked to fill in all the gaps between home and school. This is an IMPOSSIBLE task and so we set ourselves up to fail - or the education system does.

From a primary perspective, we get shit pay (whereas highly respected careers get good pay - is there a correlation?) and we totally and completely bow to anything the parents want us to do (in highly respected professions client opinion is minimal - the professionals always have final say).

If parents perceive we're doing something wrong then in most cases they get us to turn around. All major decision making is done by parents. Now, while I do believe that parents are an IMPORTANT part of the school and there should be proper communication between teacher/school/parent, they do not and should not run it.

You'd very rarely get patients telling a surgeon that their medical opinion is rubbish or that they could do a better job than a lawyer could do - but parents tell teachers this all the time. There is a perception that since everyone has been to school then everyone knows what it's like to teach - nothing could be further from the truth.

So, why does this happen in the first place? Did it always?

I think for sure, there are things that teachers should do in order to be more professional and the adhering to an oath of some kind is a good idea. Someone over in Oz suggested that teachers who get better results from their classes should get more pay - I think this is a horrible idea, personally. What makes someone a good teacher, is it the results or is it being able to instill a love of learning in their class? And how do you measure that anyway? And how does it not turn into a popularity contest? I think teachers need to stick up more for themselves - we ARE professionals!

Huertero said...

For some reason I don't think the Hippocratic teacher's oath would change much. I like it and agree with it, but the losers among us would not change. I think only if our mistakes were directly connected to actual physical DEATH more regularly, then it might have the weight of a doctor's oath.

Anonymous Student Teacher said...

I agree with M. Many people think they know all about teaching just because they have gone to school. I often hear people say that they couldn't teach just because they don't have the patience for young people. Teaching takes much more than patience!

Everyone has an opinion about how schools could be better or what teachers do wrong. Our politicians even blame teachers and rarely call on parents to be more involved in their children's education - they need their votes. I think education is the key to solving many of society's ills, but teachers can't do it alone. Teachers and their students need parental and community support.

I'm not sure what we can do to make people see teaching as a profession. It will be difficult as long as there are so many unprofessional teachers out there. An oath alone will not solve the problem. I believe that teachers are professionals who perform a necessary service for society. Teachers deserve all of the respect in the world. Those who are professional must remain strong and steady, never changing or giving up on their profession.

Improving teacher education programs would go along way towards creating more professional teachers and getting us some respect in the academic community, but we'll leave that for another discussion.

As a side note, I am a student teacher who just began blogging about my experiences. I am glad to see teachers who stand strong as professions because I am beginning to see so many who don’t in the schools.

B!G said...
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B!G said...

We've tackled that very question regarding teachers and professionalism in several of my education classes here at school. I don't know if it is much solace or not, but there is a generation of teachers (at least coming out of BG) that is having professionalism drilled into them.

Let's hope that helps?

mcisrae said...

You know, I get sick and tired of reading in my textbooks about whether or not teachers are professionals. The absolute truth is that we can't have any other profession or occupation on the planet without teachers. Also, the hell with a moral oath, or ethical oath! Nurses and doctors have to take those and trust me, I have met so many nurses who are unprofessional at work and in their personal lives. I had a gyno once who said something so inappropriate to me that it almost knocked my socks off. I have not seen him since. I had a roomate in nursing school that verbally abused me and eventually tried to become physically abusive. She was absolutely psychotic. Once, she tried to throw a glass bowl at me! Within the next week I moved out, I had enough of that crap. So those codes of ethics can kiss my butt for all I care. There are good and bad people in every profession. Unfortunately, some professions, such as medicine and law, are looked upon as better professions than most others. Let me ask the general population this. Can professionals result from the work of unprofessionals? I don't think so. Anyone who tries to argue about that is a complete idiot. Doctors and Lawyers can't go to college without finishing K-12 grades. If it is true that teachers are not professionals, then the first 12 years of their education(Doctors and Lawyers), has been given to them by unprofessional people. So, yes, teacher unprofessionalism technically can't exist. I wish the general public could give teachers better recognition.

jfm said...

I could see how non-teachers comments on how teachers aren’t professional might make you mad. However, I think that if you are professional in your work and your classroom then this shouldn’t matter that much to you. I think that there are going to be preconceived notions about almost every profession and many people have to deal with that, not just teachers. Yes, you may think your colleague that throws the tennis ball around in her classroom is just being distracting, but who knows maybe she is getting through to these students. I do think that an individual’s professionalism should be taken into account when they are hired into a school district. If you are not doing the hiring however, you can not make sure this is happening. So what can you do? I think the best think you can really do is just make sure you are staying professional yourself and continue to follow the hippocratic oath for teachers that you so strongly believe in. You have to remember that these non-teachers who are talking about teachers being unprofessional are not in classroom every day and they know little about what goes on day to day. The only way you can prove them wrong is by starting in your classroom.

the anonymous teacher said...

m, I have to wonder if pay is a correlation?? Money is very highly valued in our society. And also an excellent point with what our job description entails. A doctor has a specific problem to fix, whereas teachers are required to fix them all. Just like your blog, your comments are making me think...might have to do a follow-up.

huertero, I tend to agree with you. I feel the oath is a lovely idea; however, there will still be those teachers who will do their own thing and ruin it for the rest of us despite the oath.

anon student teacher & b!g, I agree that professionalism must be harped upon in school. Potential teachers must see what they do as a profession, and they must go about their job in that way. I'm glad we'll have at least two more professional out of it when you're finished!!

mcisrae, I love your question, "Can professionals result from the work of unprofessionals?" That leads me to what I'd like to say to jfm...It is beyond frustrating when everyone and their mother has an opinion about how your job should be done and shares it. People who have never been in a classroom feel they can fix it all because it doesn't take a professional to be a teacher. That's where it bothers me. I had a man I was dating tell me, "It's cute you want to be a teacher." And I get those sentiments regularly.
I really am not as angry as I sound, jfm. I have tried the close my door and teach method, and it doesn't work as well as I'd hoped. If I had the same students throughout their entire four years, it'd be easier, but those who are doing our jobs have to make up for those who aren't at some point. It's the same with any other job...if a co-worker isn't doing what s/he is supposed to, someone has to pick up the extra work.

I apologize if this is long and's 6 a.m., and I haven't had my coffee.

JimGym said...

"First, there are the teachers who give multiple choice quizzes and overhead notes daily and take only a small purse or even nothing at all home while I have three bags worth of grading." What a stupid comment, so you think bringing grading home makes you better? How about you become more efficient? The amount of work a teacher brings home has nothing to do with how dedicated they are!

JimGym said...
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the anonymous teacher said...

Jim, I don't know that calling someone "stupid" is the way to make your opinion heard...but, okay. I am an English teacher. I don't know that the English language, including writing, can be taught with multiple choice quizzes. Again, I don't know that a student's understanding of literature can be measured by a multiple choice quiz. Take my comment in context, and it might not appear so "stupid."

CrypticLife said...

"Unfortunately, some professions, such as medicine and law, are looked upon as better professions than most others. "

It's not merely taking an oath that makes something a profession. It's also the body enforcing that oath. Doctors and lawyers can be tossed from their profession for ethical violations by a body expressly designed to monitor them.

You need not agree on this, but here's a note from wikipedia which sort of sums this up:

"Classically, there were only three professions: ministry, medicine, and law. These three professions each hold to a specific code of ethics, and members are almost universally required to swear some form of oath to uphold those ethics, therefore "professing" to a higher standard of accountability. Each of these professions also provides and requires extensive training in the meaning, value, and importance of its particular oath in the practice of that profession.

I'd say this is a greater consideration than pay. Teaching does not require extensive training, and does not require this oath. Law is still a profession even in countries where it is not well-paid.

From new york magazine
"Eric Rosen
First-year assistant district attorney, Manhattan"

from the site

"New York ranks 4th in the nation for average beginning teacher salary, at $36,400, an increase of 3.1 percent from 2002-03."

And, Eric's probably working all year, with less predictable hours, less holiday/vacation time, and with criminals.

"New York State compares favorably with other states in average teacher salaries (selected comparisons below).

New Jersey $56,444
Connecticut $56,444
California $55,181
New York $53,663
Massachusetts $52,274
North Carolina $43,211
Texas $40,476 "

Dennis Fermoyle said...

Hi AT! And congratulations again on your engagement!

Thank you for the plug, and do I ever feel guilty for getting in on this so late! As I've said on my own posts and comments, after coming home from a day of teaching, it's all I can do just to keep up with my own posts. YOU probably know just what I mean.

I wish that I had great answers for you, but I'm afraid I'll probably disappoint you. I know there are some teachers out there that can drive others crazy, but it sounds to me like you are doing exactly what you should be--you are working your backside off at your own job. I honestly think that's the most important thing you can do. Every teacher who does that adds to the credibility of our profession. Every teacher who doesn't detracts from it. Heaven knows that you can't control others.

I do want to share with you what a long-time teacher-coach who retired and became the chairman of the school board in a large district told me a couple of years ago. He said that as long as teachers have the tenure and seniority systems, the profession will never get the respect it deserves. You might have heard this from me before, but I do believe it. I don't think there are nearly as many incompetent teachers as our critics would have the public believe, but there are some. And I know that it is very difficult for schools to get rid of them. There are also too many veteran teachers who don't work nearly as hard as they could because they feel so safe. I know them, and I'll bet you do, too.

the anonymous teacher said...


I completely sympathize with you on blogworld. I can't keep up with my own posts, and I know I fall behind on other's...but thus is the teacher's life.

And I tend to agree with you on tenure being harmful to the teaching profession. I don't know how many times I've heard teacher's say, "I can do that because I have tenure." I hope I don't change the way I teach or behave in the classroom simply because I've got fact, I think the veteran teachers should be attempting to set an example for the students and the younger teachers.

In very few professions can people get away with being lazy simply because they've been there for a designated amount of time.

I do agree that there are fewer lazy teachers than there are good teachers, and that's even true at my school. But the school--and the department--is stuck with those teachers. I'm trying to follow your advice...I just shut my door and do what I can.

caroline said...
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