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Teachers: Stand Up and Speak Out for Your Profession

Teammates put hands togetherBy Brian P. Gatens

Ok, let’s cut to the chase.

You’re not a victim.

Yes, yes, the teaching profession has been battered and bruised these past several years. We’ve been swept up in an economic tsunami that has engulfed all public-sector workers. Yes, people who have never taught a single class now wield tremendous influence over our effectiveness, and they’re working hard to convince us that the quality of our work can be boiled down to a single formula. If you take into account the breadth of what we do — that we pass along the collective history of our people — there’s no way a formula can capture our influence.

Society entrusts us with the young. Let me write that again in big letters, ENTRUSTS US WITH THE YOUNG. That’s an amazing concept when you think about it.

You’re a member of a noble and historic profession. Throughout history all sorts of people and professions have come and gone, but our profession has prevailed. Can someone please find me a Victrola repair shop?

There has always been a need for us and there always will be. America has turned time and time again to schools to help solve its problems. When Sputnik launched in 1957, what did America do? We increased funding for teachers. When a problem befalls society, what do policymakers do? They look to schools. In their eyes, we’re the silver bullet. It’s under our supervision that worlds open up to children. It’s under our supervision that lives are changed.

So what should we do? For starters, we shouldn’t take any of these challenges lying down. I encourage you to consider the following:

1. Send a Packet Of Redacted Student Work to Your Local Legislator.

I’ve always felt that if policymakers knew how busy we actually were, they’d double our salaries. Feel free to provide your legislator with evidence (with names withheld) of the phone calls you make on your time, the birthday cards that you buy for students and even the amount of school supplies you buy with your own money.

2. Call Out Those who Hurt Our Profession.

One downside of our profession is that we focus too hard on being “nice” and “keeping the peace.” If we’re to grow as a profession — and free ourselves from the yoke of those who want to control us — I suggest that we confront the forces that are making it harder to do our jobs. Talk back when people outside the profession say ignorant things that damage our ability to fund our schools and educate our kids. Work up the courage to call out toxic co-workers who are ruining things for everybody. Malevolence thrives when good people stay silent.

3. Carry Yourself With Confidence and Pride

It’s almost as if some of my colleagues feel a need to apologize for being teachers. As if somehow we’ve become a drain on society. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Think of how a doctor walks down a hallway — with confidence knowing that her profession helps people get better. They take confidence from being healers of the body and we should take confidence from being gardeners of the mind.

4. Cut Away all that Hurts Us

Take down the classroom sign that says, “The three best things about teaching — June, July and August.” Dress professionally and appropriately every day of the week (dress-down Fridays, by the way, were a cheap corporate trick designed to pacify employees who didn’t get raises). If the effects of state tests are getting you down, set aside some time to write to your local newspaper and encourage reporters to take a hard, critical look at these tests.

5. Spread the Word

We’re a noble and venerated profession. Tell everyone who will listen — and even those who don’t or won’t.

Now, go get ‘em!

An educator for two decades, Brian P. Gatens is superintendent/principal at Norwood Public School in Norwood, N.J. Gatens has worked at the K-12 level in public and private school settings in urban and suburban districts. He has been a classroom teacher, vice principal, principal and now superintendent/principal.

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