The truth behind the teaching ‘thank you’

I recently read an article on washingtonian.com about how DC public schools have adjusted their school system to paying teachers as professionals, with salaries in excess of $100,000. This article really resonated with me for a number of reasons; particularly the verbiage about how society views teachers. Since moving to Florida, I have been consistently amazed as to how many times I have been thanked for being a teacher, and not just by the children, or the parents of the children I teach, but by random members of the public. The first time I mentioned I was an elementary school teacher to a stranger, they touched me on the shoulder and commented “Oh wow, thank you for all that you do”. I really wasn’t sure how to respond. I felt like a surviving soldier returning from Afghanistan or someone who had just rescued a puppy; surely those acts warrant a thanks, but, a thank you for being a teacher? I have since realised that the common ‘thank you’ I receive, is a culmination of ‘thank you for doing that so I don’t have to’; ‘how on earth do you do that?!’ and ‘thank you for not being intelligent or motivated enough to pursue a business career so I can enjoy mine’.

Now I realise teaching isn’t for everyone, but is any career? So why does teaching receive so much thanks here in the States? Firstly, yes, the pay isn’t great, but there are many other professions that are underpaid too. Also, I am consistently told ‘I appreciate you’ by my colleagues, which I also find very strange. Why do I need to be told that purely because I am in work? I feel that the words are to try and paper over much bigger issues that exist. As I mentioned in a previous blog post, I fundamentally disagree with lots of the American education principles and the priorities are in the completely wrong place, and I believe that this also attracts an interesting collection of people to the profession. From my experience, people are teachers here for these reasons:

  1. They love teaching. And education. And children. I think this covers the minority sadly, though I am lucky to be working alongside someone who encompasses these values. She is incredibly intelligent, witty, creative and is damn good at her job.
  2. It is an easy option. Now, before someone jumps down my throat, I definitely think it attracts the demotivated, not overly intelligent women who can do the bare minimum and get by. They aren’t particularly career driven and they are not anticipating making large amounts of money, but teaching pays well enough for them to live and to keep them busy.
  3. They view it as some kind of right of passage, or doing God’s work, or they are blessed. I will offer no further insight into what I think of that…

Praise without cause for praise is very false, and is not very successful. I realise that my colleagues, parents of children I teach and random strangers are trying to be nice, but I would really rather them save the ‘thank you’ for when I have done something beyond sign a contract to be a teacher.

 

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