Like the temptation to gaze at a car accident, I cannot help but stare speechlessly when teachers attack one another in cyberspace over policy opinions, personal beliefs, or teaching pedagogy. Disagreements are unavoidable in this political climate, but teachers have a choice to disagree respectfully instead of crushing each other monster-truck style. It’s time for more professional dialogue.
I’ve been fascinated by a recent disagreement in cyberspace over the new hashtag #rebrandteaching. A few people got really offended by the idea that we should redefine the noun “teacher” to reflect the complex, multi-role identity that teachers serve in 21st century society. I certainly do not intend to criticize people for their opinions about this topic, but I was fascinated by the backlash. If teachers don’t positively define ourselves, then who will define us and what will they say?
Last week, I typed the word “teacher” into a Google News search to see what people are saying about us. The first page of results included the following headlines: Teacher accused of committing lewd acts on a child, A strange definition of a ‘bad’ teacher, and Teacher arrested on child porn charges. Those were the first three news articles! Need I continue? Further down on the page was the headline: Veteran teachers continue to leave. Perhaps teachers are leaving because we allow the media to define the word “teacher” with horrendous news stories, making teachers like me feel sick to my stomach.
I continued my Google search and found that there were no positive news stories about qualified teachers excelling in the profession until page 9! (Well after stories about teacher strikes, drunk teachers (without pants!), teacher arrests, more teacher arrests, teacher shortages, and other stories that reflect our troubled times). I was really surprised at the scarcity of positive stories about teachers. Shouldn’t headlines reflect the fact that great teachers around the country are returning to their classrooms for another year?
As a teacher, I am really worried about how the word “teacher” is being defined today. Ubiquitous stories about “teacher” scandals do not define me as a professional or as a human-being. These stories are the antithesis to my beliefs about what is right in the world. Further, these stories oppose my passion for protecting kids in a safe place where they can learn and grow.
Additionally, I am worried about how the profession of teaching is being defined as a whole. I think that teachers absolutely MUST be part of the dialogue to define teaching. In Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paulo Freire, an educator and philosopher, writes about “naming the world.” Freire writes that oppressors name the world on behalf of others. In contrast, Freire asserts that all individuals should engage in dialogue to name the world because this process liberates humanity. Yet, teachers are often excluded from naming the world of education. Political officials name schools with their own terminology. They call schools high-achieving or under-performing. They assign letter grades with the capacity to distinguish or embarrass. They determine whether student performance meets, exceeds, or falls far below. They declare that some teachers are good teachers and others are bad teachers. These words are not the vocabulary of teachers naming the world. These are terms designed to separate and shame us. Why should teachers allow outsiders to name our schools, students, and colleagues with terminology that damages student confidence and school culture? Teachers cannot resign to silence. Instead, teacher leaders must encourage other educators to participate in naming the world, avoiding deficit-based terms that oppress and destroy.
I think teachers should take a painful, reflective glance at the stories that are defining us in the media and consider how we can define ourselves. I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to redefine the word “teacher” in my own words.
Here are some headline stories from my school last week: Teachers pledge to be “all in” for their students this year, Husband helps wife get her kindergarten classroom ready (sighted helping at school multiple days!), New teachers passionately prepare for a great year in teaching, Kids visit their past teachers during Back-to-School night to say “You made a difference,” and School bustles with excited learning during first week back.
Here are some adjectives to define the teachers I know: courageous, committed, passionate, talented, dedicated, educated, professional, strategic, reflective, engaged, intentional, and focused. I am fully committed to redefining teaching in my own words. I hope that you will join me in the dialogue.
Inspired? Check out this video and follow #rebrandteaching and #tobeateacher.