If I see one more headline about a trysting teacher lawsuit, I am going to scream. Well, maybe I should start screaming in advance because the media loves little more than a disgraced authority figure and some illicit sex.
In the past two weeks, I have searched "teacher" in Google News on three occasions, and each time, scandals, usually involving sex, dominate 20 to 30 percent or more of the resulting headlines. You see a few local Teacher of the Year awards, followed by a triple shot of "Teacher's Bond Set At $1M In Sexual Assault Case," "Baton Rouge elementary teacher faces charge of simple battery," and "Diocese fires Catholic teacher for alleged sexual contact."
This is bad. With similar methods in how the media has skewed and perverted perceptions of the dangers and criminality of African-American men, teachers are in the crosshairs of disproportionately sensational, negative reporting. This kind of coverage preys on people's fears and weaknesses, and it poisons an ostensibly informed citizenry.
I support the First Amendment wholly, and am not calling for certain egregious incidents not to be reported, but here in the blogosphere, I must shout into the amorphous vacuum of media interests: Why the hate on teachers?
Teachers are the backbones of great civilizations. They are the distributors of knowledge, advocates for children, and role models --overwhelmingly very good ones at that. They are trained, well-educated professionals. Teachers often spend more time with their students than the students' parents do. Teachers' successes are incredibly gradual, measured in tiny, baby-step breakthroughs over the course of a long school year: A boy beats a fear of public speaking. A girl writes a poem that she believes expresses her true self. A boy endures a personal tragedy and confides in no one about it but his teacher. A girl discovers her dream to run a business, just like her teacher used to before an altruistic and adventurous spirit propelled her to switch careers.
The media has dismissed the grinding, day-in day-out march toward empowering young people as simply not news. The moguls and deciders find the development of America's youth uninteresting to consumers or advertisers or both. However, there are bad apples in every profession. Exposing a bad--or criminal--teacher, a relied-upon paragon of honor, offers consumers free-of-cost, unequivocal righteous indignation--a bull's-eye for media producers. A guy in Arizona has alleged sexual relations with a minor, and it's splashed all over the place. Building an educated, empowered citizenry is mundane; registering shock and outrage at an individual's bad behavior is enticing.
The dangers of these patterns are great. Such disproportionate coverage of the negative slowly, steadily engenders a mistrusting, criminalizing, arm's-length discrediting of teachers, a very dangerous road for our country to travel. People hear "teacher" on the news and they are instantly skeptical or suspicious of creepy inclinations. This manufactured skepticism of teachers has devastating fallout when it comes to creating politically viable education policy.
The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2002, soon to be up for renewal, is based on a tacit mistrust of teachers. Within the legislation, virtually all accountability is defined through a very small number of high-stakes standardized tests, forcing teachers and students to endure rigid, test-centric, "teacher-proof" curricula. The idea is that every child needs to demonstrate the same proficiencies on the same few tests and nothing else matters.
This is not the way to run schools, places that build the future of the country. Every school is a community, and the dedication of teachers provides the lifeblood to keep that community alive. We can still institute widespread standards of quality without ripping out the human element of pedagogy. Laws and media attitudes must change in order to celebrate and empower teachers, not to cut them out as untrustworthy middlemen or mar them as members of a lecherous, scandalized subgroup. The media is feeding voters and legislators the doubt in teachers that those lawmakers need to keep rubber-stamping the suffocating, anti-teacher NCLB mandates.
America needs to wake up from the nightmare of demonized and marginalized teachers. For a start, everyone could give three minutes to watch Taylor Mali's "What Teachers Make." Our country's teachers are an invaluable resource; let's leave behind the smearing and work to let their dedication and abilities shine.