Saturday, May 7, 2016

The Media, Teaching and Censorship

Recently, in a very active group I'm part of on Voxer, we were discussing how the media portrays teaching. This portrayal often has a negative slant because the sensationalism sells (or as is the case online, sensationalism garners the most clicks). Multiple sidebar discussions came from this including how "disruptor teachers" (those of us who speak up about things we don't agree with) can often be censored or told to not speak our minds because it makes other people feel uncomfortable.

It's a hot button discussion for sure and one I feel very passionate about. When you're the first person to do something in your region (earn a prestigious award or certification for example), you become someone that people watch. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it can and usually does, change the way you might present yourself to other people. If it doesn't change you immediately, you might be forced to change because you are asked by a representative of the district to cease and desist because your words and actions are making other people feel uncomfortable. {Note: in case you were wondering, no that has not happened to me.} 

The discussion then turns to what are we allowed to say as citizens who pay taxes who also happen to be teachers? On the one hand, teachers are people. They have feelings and emotions just as everyone else does. These feelings and emotions may or may not be tied to their school building or district. On the other hand, however, because they are associated with a school board, it can become a little dicey in voicing their opinion without making it sound as though they are discussing their school district in particular. 

Teachers are pretty active on social media. There are groups on Facebook that are for teachers to discuss book studies or just share ideas and lessons with other teachers. Teachers are on pinterest or have blogs such as this one for sharing and connecting with other teachers. There are chats on Twitter surrounding current hot button topics in education. When teachers participate in the groups or the chats, they are there as themselves, not necessarily as a representative of their district or school board. 

Part of the problem, however, is that they are part of a district. As such, the way that they present themselves in the media could reflect back onto the district in a positive or negative way, even unintentionally. It becomes somewhat of a catch-22. I don't know many teachers who don't want to be true to themselves and their opinions; we are human after all. Alas, spouting off on social media, even in response to a post written in a forum or that someone else shared could potentially bite one in the behind because others could associate that person's opinion as being one the district shares as well.

So where does the line get drawn? In recent years, teachers are increasingly more vocal about the realities of teaching as teacher morale has dropped. Teachers are more willing to share the "grunt work" that no one realizes we are doing. There have been multiple so-called "viral" posts about teachers who read their resignation letters detailing all of the things they have had to do that they don't agree with. {Side note: I suspect much of those letters are shared solely to propagate the sensationalism that people love so much.}

I'm not afraid to tell people that I am physically in my school building 15 hours per week over what I am paid for, which doesn't include any work I complete at home. Do I say that to make my district sound like they are overworking me and treating me poorly? Not at all. Let's be honest, they do not require me to be at my school all of those extra hours. I choose to arrive 90 minutes before the students. I choose to stay late some days to get things done. I make this choice because I know I would not be able to make the lessons I teach as meaningful as they are if I only worked to contract. I know that idea ruffles feathers with some teachers (not necessarily in my district but in general) but I'm good with it because it is my choice to do those things.  

If in reading the above paragraph someone was offended and complained, would I be asked to cease and desist? I would hope not....but the reality is some teachers are asked to not speak about their jobs really at all. Why? What is wrong with sharing the actual work we do? What is wrong with helping the general public see that our jobs are difficult? There is a huge difference between explaining and complaining. I don't complain about the extra hours (well maybe by Friday afternoon, I might grumble a little because I'm tired!), I just explain that is what I do. I'm not sure many people know the difference between those words: explain or complain. 

Another topic that sparked from this discussion was to do a documentary on "A Week in the Life of a Teacher" and literally show what we do behind the scenes of teaching. The vast amount of things I accomplish between 5:30-8:30 am when I get out of bed to when I greet my students on the playground. The actual work I do with children. The after school meetings along with the other things I do in my personal life for my family and doctor school. Why is this even an idea? Because the media portrays us as whiners who are "overpaid". We only work 8-3 so why are we complaining? We get paid to sit on our behinds all summer....but anyone who has taught or has friends or family who teach know better. 

We get paid over the summer because we asked our districts to hold part of our pay for us so that we could get paid in the summer. The checks I receive at the end of June, all of July and the beginning of August are for work I already did. My paychecks would be much, much bigger if I elected to not be paid in the summer. I, like most teachers I know, elect for the summer pay so we don't have to try to get a summer job. We have to pay bills too and having a steady paycheck makes budgeting easier. 

It saddens me that we even have to justify these things but it is because sensationalism sells and people only vaguely read before they speak and decide teachers are overpaid whiners. I have told people on social media they are more than welcome to shadow me for a day or a week. None of them take me up on it. Perhaps it is because they know, deep down, that my job is a difficult one. Don't get me wrong, I love teaching. I can't imagine doing anything else [people laugh when I tell them I initially went to business school after HS...they are like "what?! You?!], but that doesn't mean I don't work hard and deserve to be respected for the work I am doing. 

As Teacher Appreciation Week draws to a close, I feel it is important that we consider our stance in society. Share the good, amazing things that are happening in education. Let's turn that sensationalism into a showcase for the positive things teachers do every day. When we complain, it only perpetuates the problem of the media and society at large thinking we are overpaid babysitters who whine. Let's explain and showcase instead. 

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