I still remember how delighted I was to see one of my schoolteachers passing by on a street. The mere knowledge that I will be able to go to school the following day and boast about seeing Mrs. Khazen or Mr. Yanni outside school was enough to keep a smile on my face until I went to bed. Back then, similar to today, being a teacher did not mean financial riches or professional stability. However, those were the days when teachers gave their heart and soul to their profession as it earned them the community’s respect and appreciation. Those were the days when the opinion and input of teachers were heard and valued. Those were the days when teachers had a voice.
Since then, the academic and professional qualifications of teachers have advanced extensively; requirements for teacher licensure and professional development have been established; and teaching practices have evolved to be more student-centered, inclusive, technology enabled, and a whole list of educational terms that focus on student empowerment. However, the value of the teaching profession has deteriorated drastically. Many current teachers openly admit that it was not their first, or maybe not even their second, option when thinking of their professional career. More alarming is the high level of attrition from the profession with a substantive number of teachers looking for other opportunities outside the school walls, be it “brick and mortar” or “virtual” ones. So where did we go wrong, and why is one of the most needed professions—as proven by the pandemic—becoming so radioactive to qualified and committed teachers, pushing them away, and draining the teaching workforce.
Before going any further, a disclaimer is warranted to make sure that my message is not misunderstood. I admit that schools in previous days were not ideal; practices where not all evidence-based and student-centered; and while most teachers were committed and knowledgeable, not all may have been nurturing and loving. Moreover, not all schools today are wonderful educational havens; nor all teachers are beacons of knowledge. Like all other professions, we have the whole range of profiles with the majority of teachers being effective and strong and many being exceptional and stellar. Hence, the following reflection and call for empowering teachers is presented with all the qualified, committed, passionate, and hardworking teachers in mind, and not the few squeaky wheels who are giving the profession a bad reputation.
So here we go...
While admitting that teachers’ salaries are not the most attractive among professions, I believe this is not the key issue. As a teacher myself, I know very well that teachers’ satisfaction and drive to give their best has never been financial. After all, no monetary value can be placed on the knowledge, skills, time, effort, and most importantly passion needed by teachers to perform their jobs day in day out. Parents who worked with their children during the remote emergency learning times can easily attest to that. Rather, two of the biggest challenges we are facing in the education sector are the devaluing of the teachers’ role in our communities, and the higher powers’ belief that educational quality assurance and excellence can be achieved with forms, checklists, and external audits.
The devaluation of the teaching profession has been going for quite some time, with George Bernard Shaw’s undermining statement “those who can, do; those who can’t, teach” being one of the most hurtful. Unfortunately, we are reaching a point where the term “teaching” is becoming borderline taboo in some places with many individuals trying to convince the younger generation not to join the profession. Moreover, and with the hope of avoiding the negative connotations that come with the term, many teachers are trying to rebrand their titles on social media as instructors, tutors, academics, and educators, with the term “educationist” being the latest in the ongoing list of terms picked up by schoolteachers. However, and similar to Juliet’s famous words:
What is in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet
One can say:
What is in a name? Them whom we call teachers
By any other name would still be as praiseworthy
Anyone who questions the validity of this statements need only be reminded of the 2020/2021 school year.
As for quality assurance, the unfortunate reality of the education sector in our present day is accurately reflected by the ant and lion fable which goes like this:
“Every day, a small Ant arrived at work early and starting work immediately, she produced a lot and she was happy. The boss, a lion, was surprised to see that the ant was working without supervision. He thought if the ant can produce so much without supervision, wouldn’t she produce more if she had a supervisor!
The decisions that followed included hiring:
- A grasshopper as supervisor, who set up a “clocking in” attendance system.
- A spider as secretary, to manage archives and monitor phone calls.
- A fly as IT manager to help monitor data and produce reports.
- A cicada as department manager where the ant worked who conducted a study which showed a decline in the ant’s productivity
- An owl as a consultant, who ran an audit that showed after 3 months that the department is overstaffed.
Guess who the lion fired first?
The Ant of course "Because she showed lack of motivation and had a negative attitude.
These two issues are the real reason behind losing qualified, strong, and passionate teachers in the academic sector. What adds salt to injury is the fact that teachers around the globe are asked to empower their students and support them as they find their personal voices, while they themselves are put in straitjackets and robbed of their own voice.
The pandemic has affected all sectors drastically, with the educational sector being one of the most important in today’s knowledge-based economies. However, it has opened the classroom for everyone to see how complex the teaching and learning process is and how demanding the teaching profession is. With all its challenges and frustrations, the emergency remote learning has validated Ryan, Cooper, Bolick, and Callahan’s statement:
“Those who can, teach”
If policy makers and educational leaders really want the education sector to flourish and evolve, they need to empower teachers within the organizational structures they are working in, and give them back their voice.