Teaching “Profession”: Standing up for ourselves

I write this post because I recently attended a family funeral. Four of my immediate family members on teachers, and when we got together, we compared notes on what we had to do to get out of work to come to this funeral. My brother and sister lied and said the relative was their “uncle” so they could come. My sister only got half a day off, so she couldn’t make the luncheon after the funeral. My nephew, who is also a teacher, couldn’t come because the person who died wasn’t close enough, apparently, to merit a day off.

Here is the official policy from the United Federation of Teachers.

On the other hand, my in-laws, many of whom are not teachers, didn’t have a problem in getting off of work to attend the funeral. This single example got me thinking about the entire public education system and the myth of the Professional Educator.

As a teacher, I am constantly hearing other teachers complain about their jobs. Most of the complaints are institutional. The administration does this or doesn’t do that. They are not allowed certain liberties. Too much of their time is spent on things that don’t seem to really matter. Teachers are constantly under pressure to improve the American Education system. We’re on the front lines, in the trenches, doing the heavy lifting of trying to get students to care and succeed. But we are constantly told to do things that are counter-intuitive to our understanding of our work.

One example is the incredible world of standardized testing. I know that elementary teachers have it the worst because they are expected to test all of their students all of the time in every subject. Sometimes these teachers tell me how many days they spend preparing for and taking tests and it boggles my mind.

However, I am not writing this blog to complain about the world of standardized testing or to lay the blame of the education system on the system or administrators or any other factors. I am here to ask the question, why don’t teachers stand up for what they believe?

Whenever I hear a teacher complain, I ask them, “Why don’t you change it?” And most of them are honestly afraid of losing their jobs. My point is always that if WE ALL work together to make change, they can’t fire all of us.

If truly professional teachers make decisions in the best interest of their students and the classroom and the students are successful, then I don’t see how any sane system can punish us for that. The best administrator I ever had told me to “shut the door and teach.” He didn’t micromanage or question what I did in the classroom as long as my students performed well. This is when I felt like a true professional teacher. I made all of the decisions about my classroom. But most teachers don’t have this luxury.

I feel privileged to teach where I teach. I’m given quite a bit of freedom and as long as I uphold my end of the education bargain, I am left alone.

So the question is why don’t teachers have more power? If teachers in a given school or district worked together to promote healthy institutional change, I don’t see how they could fail.

So remember that we are professionals. We do have a say. We can make change.

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