'Mamas, Tell Your Babies To Be Teachers'

There are a few things I have learned since I started blogging about a year ago. One of them is this: If you want to have a successful teacher blog, you should probably write a lot about how tests are bad and how teachers are good. In fact, you should probably buy into comic book style hyperbole, saying that the corporate evil monsters that design tests are hoping to create a generation of non-critical, spoonfed robots who will continue to accept their agenda without protest. The only thing keeping these evil monsters from ruling the world is the superhero teachers, who have to continually find cover in a world that not only doesn’t appreciate them, but slings hateful and mistrusting bullets at them for sucking up taxpayer dollars and using it to push whatever neo-liberal agenda they can imagine on the next generation.

Of course, there may be little pieces of that last paragraph that are true. When I can, I tell my students that if they can only become a perfect mixture of Bernie Sanders, Malcolm X, and Jesus then the world would be a better place. In a world of corporate education, I’m forced to be the last bastion of hope for any reasonable socialist agenda. 

I’m kind of kidding. If you’ve ever read this blog before, you know that we don’t deal all that well in a world of extremes. Teachers and politicians and publishers are probably both good and evil depending on where and how you find them. That kind of nuance makes for shitty blogs though.

I thought of this last week when I read a thing from a guy named Andrew Heller. He is not normally the kind of blogger I would read, because he seems to love hyperbole, but someone shared a post about teachers on my wall so I gave it a click. The post was titled, “Mama, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Teachers.” Andrew claims he is the “best. Columnist. Ever,” in his header, which made me laugh because I always get a little judgy when people keep using the period-after-every-word thing even though it seems like we should have quit doing that at least a year ago. Or when we turned 13. Mr. Heller seems a little trite, like the writing version of that time when I was 20 and I flipped up the collar on my footlocker polo shirt (yes… footlocker sold polo shirts). Adam says we should attack triteness at every turn. He thinks that unoriginality is the worst thing that can happen in the world. That’s why he smokes long skinny cigarettes, wears huge sunglasses, and speaks with the slow southern style that could only be achieved by a northerner who wants to seem mysterious. That’s also why he made fun of me relentlessly when I turned up that collar on that bad shirt. As it turns out, the header with a whole bunch of periods was the least trite part of that article.

I got over my initial shock that the “best. Columnist. Ever.” was still hanging on to the grammatical faux pas of dropping periods after every word. It seemed more like I was reading a text message from my 12 year old niece than something from a quality journalist. I kept going though, now with the same pain-seeking perseverance that makes me read facebook threads from blow-hard conservatives and comment threads from, well, also blow- hard conservatives. There is something satisfying about reading something online, getting angry, and then pounding keys while I start to mistakenly believe that I, as someone who occasionally wastes too much time reading those comments, am somehow better than the people who are actually writing those comments.

I wasn’t mad that he claimed to be the “best. columnist. Ever.” I wasn’t even annoyed that this non-teacher felt the freedom to write about teaching. My anger focused on his belief in a false narrative about the profession that I have devoted a decade to trying to figure out. It’s a narrative that complains a lot, and believes we are the victims in some grand societal scheme to shame teachers. Granted, I live in Pennsylvania- a state that treats teachers relatively well. Our average pay is in the top 5 and we have a top-notch pension plan that will one day enable me to wear bright pink shorts, smoke cigars, and wander aimlessly around Florida golf courses. I’m sure this blog post would read differently if I were writing from the mountains of West Virginia or from some flat country town outside of Tulsa. Those states treat teachers and students terribly, and we should probably all judge them for that.

Heller’s blog talked about all the wrongs that he sees toward teachers. It talked about how we don’t pay them, how we complain about their healthcare and their summers off, how we blame them for how poorly our education system stacks up in the world, and how we can’t let them teach because we are too busy jamming standardized tests and curricula down their helpless throats. He must have struck a chord with a few people, because his post certainly got a lot more reads and shares than anything we ever did on this little blog. Except for maybe that time Adam wrote about cupcakes.

In general, I got angry because I think Heller is wrong. If I were going to write about teaching, I would probably talk about how I have one of the better jobs I can imagine. It is equal parts challenge and reward, it allows me freedom and pushes my creative limits, it provides more social outlets than I can usually handle, and it enables to me to meet, for 180 days straight, some of the most amazing people in the world. While we should be encouraged and heartened by the amazing students from Parkland these days, I think any teacher just shakes their head and imagines the genius they see everyday that could very easily be leading marches and changing worlds.

In other words, I have a really great job. If you are a teacher who thinks otherwise I think it might help us all if you look for somewhere else to work. I don’t think Andrew Heller, or any other non-teacher, has the right to go around writing trite blog posts with complaints that lack nuance and originality. As a teacher who has devoted my life to this, those arguments diminish what we do by making the focus something else.

My fear in saying any of this is that there is some half-dressed republican blowhard somewhere in a basement in the midwest who thinks this is a post about how we should complain more about lazy teachers. To that guy: this is not for you. You should probably go do something and stop commenting on things all the time. There will be a few well-meaning education types out there who think this post starts to discount some of the legitimate problems with the teaching profession. It won’t be pro-teacher enough, or it won’t put enough of  the blame on the politicians and administrators who create systems and policies that wear out good teachers. To all those people: you can relax, put some pants on, come out of you basements and off message boards, and start teaching. I think you will like it. It’s a really great gig.

This is a post for teachers who like your job. We have to keep showing people what we do and why this job requires professionalism, care, intelligence, and support. We need to keep fighting for higher pay for all the good teachers out there. We need to draw the most amazing young people to our profession by having important and necessary conversations about the future of our schools and education.

This is going to happen if we keep painting the profession for all that it isn’t, without recognizing all of the good that it is. We need to start telling everyone who will listen that we are the lucky ones, who get to work with “these magic kids” each day.

    We need to stop sharing and posting the clickbait that is a bunch of tired teachers complaining about their job. It’s a bad look, and it’s not even true. We need to start telling all the “mamas” out there that they should push their kids to be teachers. Not run from it.