A meme on social media made this college professor think about the perception of American educators and the stark reality.

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If social media can be counted on for anything, it is reliable in the ability to tick me off and throw me into a spiral of rage-induced overthinking. The most recent spark came from a simple meme stating, ” I read today that in Denmark, empathy is taught as a school subject. We really should be doing the same.”  On the surface, this is a harmless, positive message. Posted by “Give a Shit about Nature” and made viral by kind-hearted folks, it speaks to the ailing cultural climate of public school education. This climate, including the general public, legislators making education policy decisions, and many education administrators, fuels our current teacher shortage for American educators.

A significant overhaul is needed

 As an assistant professor of education with 27 years of experience in our public schools, I can say without a doubt that the U.S. public education system needs a significant overhaul. But that does not mean that our public school teachers are an epic failure, which is what most social media posts about “our schools” imply. As I teach future educators about current issues in education, I always share my fundamental belief that every single education reform, including the outrageous testing disease created by NCLB, is initiated with legitimately good intentions. The same could be said for well-meaning social media enthusiasts who suggest we add empathy to an already overloaded and developmentally inappropriate curriculum. 

There needs to be more than good intentions to make real changes to teaching and learning in the United States. Research, experience, and real-life understanding should fuel legislation, policy, and programs. In-service public-school educators are our best resource for all three. However, we educators are rarely invited to the table, and when we are, it is often a gesture to tack onto a decision already made. The reality is that teachers agree with the need to teach the whole child. Still, our efforts to caution against the growing pressure of standardized testing and fitting humans into a standardized developmental box are silenced.

We are a group of professionals trained in the science of human development and motivation, the science of teaching (i.e., pedagogy), and various content-specific sciences, such as the science of teaching reading. Yet, we receive a different professional respect than other degree and certification-holding professionals like social workers, nurses, or lawyers.

Assumptions are not frameworks

Beyond healing the misperception of American educators, accurate knowledge of what’s happening in our schools today can be the only starting point for evolution. Assumptions are not the framework of reform. Case in point: we are teaching empathy. Across American schools, different approaches to Social Emotional Learning are widespread. Programs emphasize teaching students how to get along with others, self-regulate, and manage emotions. Empathy is a component of social-emotional instruction.

U.S. public school teachers keep on keeping on through growing pressure, budget cuts, and endless criticism. The answer to improving our schools is changing the American misperception of teaching. It starts with regular citizens doing everyday things like sharing (or not sharing) a meme on Facebook. Most people appreciate educators and want to help make our schools better.

So, what can you do to shift the culture of misperception?

  • Take everything you read on social media with a grain of salt, education-related or otherwise. Don’t trust everything you read. Fact check.
  • Before you share, take a moment to empathize with a tired teacher who may come home and read your post at the end of the day. If that changes how your post may be perceived, consider passing on the tap of the share button.
  • Give more positive feedback than negative. Even better—make positive affirmations of teachers’ hard work the rule. 
  • Visit our schools. Volunteer. See what’s happening, especially if you plan to voice your opinion about reform.
  • Take every chance you have to build up the teaching profession and the actions of individual teachers, systems, and schools.
  • Help us change the lens through which teachers are viewed. We are not babysitters. We are intelligent, trained professionals with precise technical knowledge of teaching, learning, and multiple content areas.

From elementary to post-secondary educator

Seven months ago, The Educator’s Room invited me to write a piece on my role in education as I moved from elementary to post-secondary educator. It took a simple meme to help me understand my role is three-fold. As a professor of education, I am bound to the thousands of K-12 students the teacher candidates I train will eventually teach, along with being a model of effective teaching for the teacher candidates themselves. I am also bound to my profession and building the culture of teacher as scientist and professional.  You can help shift the culture of education with the choices you make on social media.  Help spread the good news of  hard-working American educators.  

Dr. Aimee Cribbs has twenty years of elementary classroom experience in Georgia's Title One schools....

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