Do We Really ‘All Love Teachers?’ (No, We Don’t.)

When it comes to the 2012 presidential debates, we have to agree with Lindsay Lohan for the first and hopefully last time: we’re “so relieved that it’s over.”

Both candidates showed up to last night’s event armed with zingers and insults, but moderator Bob Schieffer may have scored the evening’s best line when he expressed his frustration with domestic policy squabbles by asserting that “I think we all love teachers.

Do we, though?

Ask a teacher whether the public truly appreciates the work they do and you might get a different answer. (Hint: the average American teacher’s job satisfaction level is lower today than at any point over the last 20 years.)

Based on recent events, we’d say the teaching profession has something of a PR problem—especially when its members form groups and dare to make (gasp!) collective demands. For example, The 44th annual PDK/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools found that, while a vast majority of Americans still say they have “trust and confidence” in the men and women who teach our children, we remain deeply divided on individual issues–and many of us think that teachers have too much power.

Based on the popularity of aggressive charter school advocates like Michelle Rhee and films like Waiting for Superman and Won’t Back Down that convey strong anti-union messages, we’d say Americans don’t love or trust public schoolteachers much at all.

Surely you’ve heard the derogatory saying “those who can, do; those who can’t, teach”. Turns out that quite a lot of people feel that way (and we wonder why our top Ivy League students go into finance rather than sharing their knowledge with younger generations).

The 2012 Chicago-area teachers’ strike confirmed that “a certain casual demonization of teachers”–or at least teachers’ unions–now “passes for uncontroversial”. While 47% of Chicago residents supported the striking teachers, more than one pundit saw the entire incident as more proof that organized labor breeds “thugs“–and a strong majority of Americans participating in a related Gallup poll now believe that unions have hurt the quality of public education in the United States. Unfortunately, public school teachers are very closely tied to unions in the eyes of the average American, and the vilification of a group strongly implies a lack of respect for the individual members of that group.

Experts can bemoan the systemic shortcomings of American education all they want, but individual teachers will always end up bearing the brunt of the blame for the failings of our schools.

Of course we all SAY we love teachers, but many of us have very little sympathy for their concerns. We can’t expect them to simply disband their unions overnight, so how can the teaching profession get the public back in its corner?

@PatrickCoffee Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.
Publish date: October 23, 2012 © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT