What 2012 Has Taught Me #1 – Public Opinion

I teach in Michigan where “right-to-work” is brand new. It hasn’t even taken effect yet, that’s how new it is. Before that, the public education sector has undergone many changes to the retirement system, laws capping benefits, curriculum overhauls complete with new standardized tests, etc. The transitions are swift and seem to be ongoing.

The opinions on this are as diverse as they are extreme. From the left, it’s called “attack.” From the right, it’s called “reform.” Whatever you call it, it seems like everyone and their mother has an idea of how I should do my job, what my students ought to look like when I’m done, and how I should get compensated for the time I take to do it.

It also seems like an awful lot of educators are getting very caught up on all that attention. The fact that so much is being made of what is wrong with public education is distracting to many. At times, it is distracting to me. But 2012 has taught me this:

The job of a teacher is not to sway public opinion. In fact, it is time we stop being surprised how the public views us. It isn’t new. It isn’t even a problem just here in America. Shoot… scrutinizing society’s educators isn’t even new in this millennium.

Sometime in the 6th decade after the birth of Christ, a Jerusalem man who came to be called “James the Just” wrote a treatise after the stoning of his friend, a Christian deacon named Stephen. In his treatise, James the Just writes:

My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment.

Translation: Be cautious in becoming a teacher. You will be held to a higher standard. You will be scrutinized for more of your actions. If you can’t handle that, teaching isn’t your calling.

(By the way, that quote was taken from the opening of chapter 3 from The New Testament Book of James. You can read about his friend Stephen in the 7th and 8th chapters of the New Testament Book of Acts, if you’d like.)

I can remember during my undergraduate studies in the college of education being told about the nobility of teaching, the challenge of teaching, the skill of teaching, and so forth. No one was preparing the students for scrutiny of teaching. A scrutiny that isn’t new. A scrutiny that shouldn’t be surprising. This is the way of it.

I do not believe that people simply do not like teachers. But we have all been taught. We all have experience in this field. Everyone can tell you with the utmost conviction a favorite teacher and a teacher who wasn’t fit to park in the parking lot. In reality, the favorite teacher might have been a dreadful educator and the hated teacher may have been very skilled and successful.

When the entire society has the means to form an opinion, the scrutiny will be intense.

2012 has taught me that there is no sense fretting over it. The more I fret over it, the more energy I am devoting to worry that won’t make me better at my work. Because if I am trying to stop something that was being commented on matter-of-factly almost two millennia ago, it doesn’t seem like I’m going to have much luck in changing it.

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