Warren Buffet, the famous business magnate, investor, and philanthropist, asked a provocative question documented in Alice Schroeder’s biography of his life, Snowball:
Lookit. Would you rather be the world’s greatest lover, but have everyone think you’re the world’s worst lover? Or would you rather be the world’s worst lover but have everyone think you’re the world’s greatest lover? Now, that’s an interesting question. “Here’s another one. If the world couldn’t see your results, would you rather be thought of as the world’s greatest investor but in reality have the world’s worst record? Or be thought of as the world’s worst investor when you were actually the best?
Frowning and stressed over a pile of student essays, Mary wrings her clenched hands and searches her desk drawers for another working red pen. Had all of them died already? Within only four hours of marking? “Oh, well,” Mary thinks to herself. “I’ll stop by the dollar store to get some on my way home from school.”
At 6:30 PM, she pushes the school doors open and says her goodbyes to the night custodian as she scrambles to her car, shoving the unmarked essays in the back seat—her hated companions for the night and the next morning.
Teachers face disrespect; facing disrespect is tiring; disrespect causes some teachers to burnout and leave teaching. These are stories of real teachers and the disrespect they faced. Their names have been changed to protect their identities:
When I began teaching years ago, I entered the profession with dear friends, people I knew to be the most resilient, kind, and ambitious. Within six years, half of these friends had left the teaching profession burnt-out, tired, and bitter.
Research across countries shows us that teacher attrition is generally higher than in many other professions, with attrition among teachers cited as affecting 30-40% of our profession.
Nobody wants to become THAT teacher. The teacher that has given up on teaching, treating his or her classroom as a holding cell from 8 AM to 3PM, and a place for hungry and haggard inmates—teachers and students—to escape from at the first ring of the end-of-day bell.
Nobody wants to become THAT teacher. The teacher that photocopies his PowerPoints and throws these packages at students with the instructions: “Silent reading, then summarize.”
It’s the little things that chip away at your sense of self-respect as a teacher. The parent that screams at you over the phone at the end of the day because you disciplined his child. The parent who, across the table at a parent-teacher interview, tells you how to teach writing. Another parent who has a gripe with you, and instead of talking with you, emails your principal. The child who says, “My mom said that those who can’t do, teach.” The strangers who call your job “glorified babysitting.” Or the child you tutor who tells you that in his home country, he had two teachers who he called servants.
Yes, all of this has happened to me.
I can imagine you have experienced these moments too. You have been treated by adults and children alike like a dirty rag to be pushed around. I know other teachers have been treated with disrespect because their words and actions are telling. All of it may have even made you reconsider teaching and made you say things like this:
“I’m just a teacher.”
I have to stop you there. You’re not just a teacher. You are a teacher. You direct, guide, scold, and embolden the future. You encourage the gutless in the gutters. You set high standards your students cannot even envision. You rile kids up and take bullies down. You make speeches and promises and you deliver. You analyze novels and poems so deeply that these poems and novels—and even parts of life—become understood.
You are a teacher. That is nothing to be ashamed of, and it is nothing to hide.
To develop self-respect as a teacher, teach louder.
Don’t let anyone treat you like a dirty rag. Dress like a modern-day queen or king. Every day, prepare yourself for school. Iron your button-up shirt so firmly that the iron lines show on the arms. Starch your pants and brush the kinks out of your hair. Shine your shoes and look down in them to see your precious teacher face.