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Making the Grade

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Mind Your Own Business

Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach; and those who can’t teach, teach physical education.
That mildly humorous saying was quite common 40 years ago when I was starting high school.  I haven’t heard it recently and I certainly don’t believe it is accurate – well not most of the time anyway – but I do think it accurately sums up an ongoing problem in our materialistic world; mainly that teaching is not a highly respected profession…and that’s a real shame because I can’t think of many ways of earning a living that that are more important to the future of our society or hold as much potential for job satisfaction.
As the parent of two teenage daughters, the quality of our teachers and their general happiness while they are teaching our kids and while they are not is very important to me – which is why I’m writing about it now – and ideally I would like to see the brightest and most well adjusted students being encouraged to consider the profession.  But really, even teachers themselves rarely encourage top students to take up a life of training and shaping future generations when they could make far more money as doctors, lawyers or accountants.
This problem of lack of respect for teaching is so obvious that even the Christian right wing in the United States has cottoned on and used it to push for one of their main demands, as you can see from the following tale I found – quite accidentally – when an internet search for teacher jokes deposited me in one of their sites:
After his interview, a teaching applicant said to his potential employers, “Let me see if I’ve got this right: You want me to go into that room with all those kids, correct their disruptive behaviour, observe them for signs of abuse, monitor their dress habits, censor their T-shirt messages, and instil in them a love for learning. You want me to check their backpacks for weapons, wage war on drugs and sexually transmitted diseases, and raise their sense of self esteem and personal pride.
You want me to teach them patriotism and good citizenship, sportsmanship and fair play, teach them to balance a chequebook and apply for a job. You want me to check their heads for lice, recognize signs of antisocial behaviour, and make sure that they all pass the state exams.
You want me to provide them with an equal education regardless of their handicaps, and communicate regularly with their parents by letter, telephone, newsletter, and report card.
You want me to do all this with a piece of chalk, a blackboard, a bulletin board, a few books, a big smile, and a starting salary that qualifies me for food stamps. You want me to do all this, and then on top of that you tell me… I CAN’T PRAY?”

Despite that support from the right and possibly from above, many parents here seem to think teachers have rather cushy jobs since they don’t spend all that much time, by normal work-week standards, in front of the class and they theoretically can go on holiday three times a year when students get their breaks.  But that’s not the whole story; there is a great deal of preparation work and grading that goes on outside the classroom and there also seems to be loads of not too essential paperwork that some administrator somewhere came up with to occupy teachers’ free time – and of course there is the question of pay. Teachers don’t get paid a lot.
Not too surprisingly, when my wife was working in the government school system half her colleagues had outside business interests to supplement their incomes and they all seemed to be looking to move on to what they considered real jobs that would pay them real money.
Now the thing is, as a parent I wouldn’t mind one bit if my children’s teachers had loads of free time and plenty of cash on hand.  All I really want for my kids is for them to grow up into happy adults, and since I believe the very best way to teach is by example, I would really like for them to be taught by well-balanced professionals who were happy with their lot in life.