Rising Above The War Against American Teachers

Teaching is not a lost art, but regard for it is a lost tradition. Jacques Barzun

As I sat in the art room watching the students take the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) End of Year (EOY) Assessment, I started to question my purpose as a teacher.  This was the first year during my 20 years of teaching where I felt disconnected from my job as an elementary school teacher and disenchantment with education in general.

I had worked hard during these 20 years to help my students experience success in the classroom. I have continued to learn about my practice through professional development courses including receiving my Masters Degree and achieving my initial and renewal status as a National Board Certified Teacher (NBCT). I enjoyed my first year as a Basic Skills/Intervention Teacher, and I was looking forward to exposing my students to new literacy and math activities. Now during my 21st year, one moment summarized what my role as a teacher had become: PARCC Test Practice Helper and Assessment Proctor. I have carried more laptops between two floors of a school than the average computer technician. 

Positive Teacher Quote by Queen Latifah
Photo from article by Eve Epstein, 2013, Best Teacher Quotes Ever, TakePart.com

This moment did not happen overnight. In fact, during the past five years, my New Jersey colleagues and I were bombarded with messages from our governor about our teaching and the burden our salaries and pensions were placing on New Jersey homeowners. We were blamed for failing our students, supporting colleagues who were ineffective, and following our union blindly as they caused homeowners to pay rising property tax rates. This lack of support from our governor filtered down to parents in communities statewide. However, my colleagues and I were not alone.

Nationwide we heard stories about the “bad teachers” and the evil of unions, specifically teachers’ unions. Throughout the United States effective teachers, great teachers were being vilified because of a few misguided individuals who happened to be teachers. Every day there was a new story about how teachers were the reason our society was not competitive with other industrialized countries. We had this burden alone; administrators and parents were not included in this narrative. The war had begun; every teacher in the United States was now placed on the battlefield of public opinion armed with their extensive education, their arsenal of pedagogy, and their desire to help children succeed. Who would not go home each day feeling as if they were the worst society had to offer? 

Frederick Douglass quote about buiding strong children instead of weak men.
Photo from article by Eve Epstein, 2013 , Best Teacher Quotes Ever, TakePart.com

After I came home lamenting my “testing” day, I realized that I now had the “complaint tape” in my head that I said would never be there. I had always believed when I reached that point I would retire. I am not ready to retire. I am also surprised and ashamed that I have embraced the role of complainer. That goes against my nature as a teacher, and it goes against the beliefs I uphold as an NBCT. That is when I realized I was embracing the narrative that the media and a few misguided politicians and their followers created for us. They wanted American teachers to accept their version of what we do in the classroom on a daily basis.

We have the power to change their narrative and to control our place in American social consciousness. Many of my colleagues have organized on social media, at state capitals, and in front of politicians’ offices to protest the policies that impact our ability to help our students succeed and to earn a decent wage and pension. We can use the same social media tools to share our stories to support our colleagues around the country.

Photo from article by Eve Epstein, 2013 , Best Teacher Quotes Ever, TakePart.com
Photo from article by Eve Epstein, 2013 , Best Teacher Quotes Ever, TakePart.com

My “Aha Moment” came after reading the article “Transforming the Narrative About Teaching,” by Julie Hitz. Her article was a wake-up call to my inner teacher narrative: “Share your positive teacher story to counteract the negative interpretations of our profession.” Hiltz has started the journey for us. She has worked as a teacherpreneur with the Center for Teaching Quality since 2014. She has developed the #TeachingIs project with her colleague Jaraux Washington and the TeachLearnLead project. Her goal was to use the impact of social media to share teachers’ stories, our positive stories about teaching. Both projects highlight the positive impact teachers have on the American educational system. Hiltz stated an interesting point about people’s view of news on social media versus regular media.
Hiltz stated an interesting point about people’s view of news on social media versus regular media.

Humans love bad news, and it stays with us longer than the good kind. Researchers Marc Trussler and Stuart Soloka observed that people have ‘negativity’ bias, a desire to hear and remember bad news.” Even people who don’t engage with traditional media are absorbing negativity through social networks and daily conversations. Julie Hiltz (smartblog.com)

This is why we have to share our stories. We have to share our successful strategies in the classroom, our moments of success with our struggling students, and our expertise as professionals to help our colleagues perfect their practice. Hiltz has given teachers the platform to share their success stories. These projects are the tool to help enlighten American citizens about our practice. We can also share our own stories on social media and on our personal blogs. Every story about your teaching experience is relevant and can serve as useful advice for teachers entering the profession.

It is time to change the negative narrative about American teachers. It is time for American teachers to share their successful stories because there are many we need to recognize. So let me start by sharing my positive story.

I have the blessing of working with first, second, and third grade students to help improve their reading and writing skills. There is one classroom where I have spent a considerable amount of time throughout the year. I have five students that I work with in this classroom. Recently a new student in this classroom was added to my list. He had witnessed me working in the classrom with the other students. Unfortunately, I missed a few days due to PARCC testing. One afternoon, this student asked if I would be coming in to see him soon. I had only seen him for one session of math and reading prior to PARCC. He made me promise that I would come into his classroom soon. This is why I teach.  I rearranged my schedule so I could stay for a double session to help him and his group members with math. His words made me realize that I was making an impact, even if I worked with him for a short period of time. This is why I teach. Trista Lanette Pollard, NBCT

Share your story and help change the negative narrative we did not ask to inherit. Let the positive quotes in this post be your guide and encourage you to be the author of your story. American teachers are awesome, and they should be celebrated as professionals. Let our positive stories be the narrative that shapes our future in the tapestry of American education.

Photo from article by Eve Epstein, 2013 , Best Teacher Quotes Ever, TakePart.com
Photo from article by Eve Epstein, 2013 , Best Teacher Quotes Ever, TakePart.com