If This Keeps Happening, The Teaching Profession Is Doomed

Jose Vilson Education, Jose

Last week, NPR Ed interviewed me and four other teachers for its 50 Great Teachers Series in an article entitled: “5 Great Teachers On What Makes A Great Teacher.” I was gassed because they actually took the time to draw a cool sketch of me for the piece, and the drawing looks like me. Just as important was the fact that we actually took a reflective look at the teaching profession from the lens of “why teach” and not “why does teaching suck?” That opens up a different dialogue than I currently see in [hyperbole alert] 90% of all teacher blogs right now.

Then I jumped into the NPR Facebook comment section. For why, I’m not sure.

Maybe I wanted to know if what I had to say made any sense. My friends seemed to like what I had to say, but they’re not a good measure of my writing because they actually like me. What about the people who haven’t read my blog, my book, or anything I’ve written in the last five years, before I became a mainstream rapper?

Parsing through the comments, I’ve selected just a few to respond to because these ideas, even coming off Facebook, are prevalent enough that I think the teaching profession will go nowhere if we keep letting the errorists win. I stripped their identities because you can find it for yourself.

  1. I’m tired of teaching taking this sort of focal point – as if we’re trying to justify our jobs 1) to the nation 2) to our communities and 3) to ourselves. We’re never going to see an article called ” Five great butchers on what makes a great butcher” or “Five great code writers on what it takes to be a code writer” because those jobs aren’t constantly getting ripped by outsiders and politicians or by anyone in an armchair who thinks they can do it better than we can.
  2. I’m looking for the piece that finds five teachers who are great without anyone in the public eye knowing it. Five teachers who are so busy doing their job that they haven’t become bloggers, administrators, college professors, etc. They are the really great teachers because they love it so much that it is all they do.
  3. (the follow-up) The real best teachers wouldn’t be interested in this type of self-promotion.
  4. I’d like to hear from five teachers who have remained in public school classrooms for their entire careers (at least 30 years). I tire of hearing from the teachers who were so great that they left the classroom to instead discuss and write about it.

I know, I know. It’s my fault for jumping into comments, but these folk attached their real names to their opinions, not to mention that I’ve heard some of these on more than one occasion in other forums. (I replied to all of these personally, so there.)

Let’s start with the contradiction that many teachers currently harbor: teachers do a thankless job, but many of us want to be thanked, not just in person, but in the media. Which one is it? And when an entity decides to do a piece with actual educators and folks respected in their fields, we decide to crap on their efforts because they couldn’t possibly be real teachers? Is this a profession of long-term self-loathing? Do they genuinely believe the featured teachers didn’t somehow deserve the accolades, or is it because they wanted to be interviewed?

The other contradiction we clearly face is what it means to be in the public eye. We can’t simultaneously say that teachers don’t seek the media or writing opportunities and then get mad when we don’t get to speak about education in the public. Which one is it? Do we want a profession that can’t speak about its own profession for fear that teachers are seen as too ambitious? If so, we can’t get mad when others don’t speak about teaching the way we want them to.

For many folks, it’s unbelievable that a teacher wants to write an article about their jobs, get on television to speak about how proud they are to teach students, or have meetings with policy officials about the ways in which laws and mandates affect their profession. That’s leadership, too. We need to stop buying into the idea that teachers only teach at the behest and under the thumb of whoever their district leader is.

In other words, rise up. Yes, it’s worth prefacing all of this by asking ourselves what makes a great teacher. But if we don’t even want to hold each other up, what chance does the teaching profession have for growth? I don’t know three of the panelists personally, but Renee Moore doesn’t see herself as the “only one,” but one of many, all of whom deserve to shine. I’d say more, but she would blush because, as hundreds of folks would attest, she’s a forever teacher, regardless of where she is now.

It’s one thing for a teacher to get out there without real pedagogical skills or experience in the classroom, but we have to find ways to revere the profession even amongst and within our ranks. That helps us all.

The old adage is that the comment sections of any blog are where debate go to die, but we might have also found the gravesite for the future of teaching. What do you think? Am I onto something or am I nuts?

photo c/o