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Dear Parents,

You do not respect my profession. Full stop.

Which is why, in all likelihood, you are going to lose me – a passionate, extremely talented and effective teacher of 10 years.

Why do I say this? It would be folly (and self-indulgent) to chronicle all the slights and abuses I've absorbed at your expense. However, perhaps an anecdote from today will suffice.

Today, at parent-teacher conferences, I slid your daughter's portfolio across the table and explained, in measured tones, that her proficiency in several core areas were slipping, that in order to best help her we would be enlisting the assistance of the support team to develop an optimal learning plan.

You scoffed. Slid the folder back and said, "She did fine in the past. Maybe you're the problem?"

"Excuse me?" I responded.

"Her teachers said she did fine last year is all I'm saying. And anyway, why are you using that new curriculum? It's ridiculous."

I held my tongue, explained the data-driven research supporting our choice of curricula, its brain-based approach. Explained how we would help your child as you grimaced, sighed and waved me off with a flick of your wrist.  

You do not respect my intellect because I professionally reside in a world teeming with your children, a world which must definitionally require less brainpower given my audience.

You do not respect my training because, well, what kind of sophisticated training must one attain to sit in a room all day with your pre-teens?

You do not respect the complexity of pedagogic pursuits. You do not respect the fact that I must focus on the differentiated, individualized needs of 20 students while simultaneously managing the pace and structure of a collective entity.

You do not respect that I must not only perform this intensive juggling act, but that I must do it flawlessly for your children to succeed: that I must not only break down complex thoughts into digestible nuggets, but into digestible nuggets for which your children hunger. Nuggets your children want to devour, hands raised, jumping out of their seats, yelling, "Oooh, oooh, I know! I know!"

The sad part is that, if you knew of my multiple advanced degrees, if you knew of my professional experience teaching at the university level, if you knew I was also a published writer with a forthcoming book, you'd respond to me differently. You'd view me as a more valuable entity.

And you'd be a fool for doing so.

There are thousands like me who, even in this difficult economic climate, have one foot out the door, who have other opportunities, who have remained in teaching for one reason: it is a calling.

But even a calling cannot be sustained when those who I serve reject the pursuit itself as a low-level, necessary but wholly simplistic cog in society's ever-churning engine.

Yesterday, I read Pearson's global report on the best educational systems in the world, ranked by such factors as graduation rates, international test scores and the percentage of students who seek higher education.

Finland, South Korea and Hong Kong ranked among the top systems in the world. And while these systems share many pedagogic qualities not normatively seen in America, one correlative factor stood out: all these societies place great prestige on the profession of teaching.

As Pearson notes from its findings, a societal respect for teachers is one of the most important factors in building an elite educational system:

Respect teachers: Good teachers are essential to high-quality education. Finding and retaining them is not necessarily a question of high pay. Instead, teachers need to be treated as the valuable professionals they are, not as technicians in a huge, educational machine.

You have never stepped into my classroom. You have never seen me inspire your child to analyze a narrative with such enthusiasm that he begs to stay inside during recess to finish his task, a request I will always deny.

You have never seen me negotiate the emotional terrain of bullying, navigate the ethical quandaries that permeate children's social networks, soothe the tears that well when your child fails.

And if you continue to devalue my contributions to your child's intellectual and social growth, you will never see me again.


Originally posted to Writing by David Harris Gershon on Wed Nov 28, 2012 at 04:07 PM PST.

Also republished by In Support of Labor and Unions.

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