Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Teachers: Paragon or Pariah?

Friday, I got an email from my sister at one in the afternoon.
"Lynn's kids were at that school. They are safe."

One of my sister's oldest friends has kids at Sandy Hook Elementary. They survived. The fact that I actually knew someone with kids at the school changed my relationship to the tragedy. Made it more personal, and less distant.

This weekend--like many of you, I am quite sure--I have spent quite a bit of time reading about Sandy Hook Elementary. And I have been thinking about the adults, all people who worked in the schools, with children.

I've been thinking about some of the ways we have talked about teachers and other school staff. In fact, I even heard one of the Sandy Hook parents say something along these lines in an NPR interview today. In lifting up one of the teachers who was murdered, she said something like this, "She wasn't one of those teachers who was done at 3 p.m. She always went the extra mile."

Speaking to teachers around here, many of them are feeling under attack and undervalued. Yet here we see the teachers and administrators at Sandy Hook lauded as heroes and wonderful teachers. [Don't get me wrong--they were heroes. But their heroic action has to do with the way they protected their students, and not how they taught their students.] Were they also all above-average teachers? [I have no idea. Is Newtown Lake Wobegon?]

In hindsight, everyone says yes. The truth is, even though a lot of so-called educational reformers are busy slamming teachers, it has been my experience that most people I know like and value their kids' teachers.

Now I wonder, is this more proof of the feminist analysis that says that in public discourse, women [and most teachers are women] are either put on a pedestal (described as a Madonna) or vilified (described as a whore).

If you haven't done so already this year, take a moment to thank your school's teachers, administrators, custodians, "lunch ladies." This doesn't require money--a handwritten note or even an email will do.

And if you like to make resolutions, might I suggest this one? Next year, pledge not to put school staff on pedestals as paragons of virtue, or vilify them as pariahs. Next year, pledge to treat them as the people with jobs that most of them are, people who are trying to do a good job and may sometimes fall short. Next year, pledge to thank them more, and support them when you can.

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