"Well, I'm okay with struggling financially. I teach because I love my kids, not to get rich."
"Well...I'd like to move to that job in Central Office, but I don't know if I'm qualified."
"I don't know if I could ask for what I wanted. They may not let me do that."
As educators, we've all heard these statements from our colleagues as they've discussed some aspect of our job. These statements are not meant to be depressing, but instead are supposed to show the world how dedicated teachers are to the kids we teach. These sentiments are usually met with a shake of the head and the sympathizing look that says, "Bless your soul. You're a teacher." When we teachers hear that, we feel good (even if for that moment) that someone understands our struggle educating today's youth.
While these statements are meant to raise morale, they actually help to brainwash ourselves to thinking that we are not valuable assets in education. In addition, statements like those are a road blocks in building our brand in order to be dependent on a district for our professional worth. One of the first steps in building your professional brand is to start putting actual value into whom you are as an educator. You have to start thinking like major brands.
As a fellow educator, I'm constantly asked, "Why is it important for teachers to have a brand?" In a time in education, where teachers are laid off at a "drop of a dime" it's important for a teacher's expertise to speak for them. For example, 14 months ago, I was threatened with losing my employment due to no fault of my own. It didn't matter that I loved the kids or was considered an expert in my building, I was expendable. Once I saw how easy it was for a district to get rid of me, the more I began to reason that I had to put more value on myself as a professional and make sure that I was able to position myself as the expert.
Think about these scenarios of famous brands and esteemed professions. Would Oprah tell her consumers that her channel, OWN, wasn't "good enough" to compete with other top notch channels? Would Sony ever tell their consumers that their products can't compare to their competitors? Let's take this a step further as we look at other professionals who have to have a brand to survive. What physician would feel guilty about charging a patient more for a more complicated surgery or procedure? Would an attorney be hesitant to demand more money, for a high profile case? Or would a fairly successful electrician tell his clients he was hesitant to start his own business because he was only an electrician and didn't have a business background?
Of course not. However, as teachers (despite us having numerous degrees, professional experience and practical solutions to issues in education) we doubt our existence as the experts. Most veteran teachers know how to help students raise their reading levels within a school year, but rarely are we consulted when districts seek out "big names" to lead professional development on reading issues. I know at least three Math teachers who are so phenomenal that they not only wrote their own Math Curriculum, but help kids who are grade levels behind begin to speak the language of math. These people are experts, and in an ideal world, they would be the ones making six figures, showing teachers how they've been successful. Instead, they're stuck in a school, worrying about how they will provide for their families as the cost of living increases and our pay decreases. How did this happen?
Easy, subconsciously teachers are taught that teaching is meant to be a self sacrificing job and to demand more is selfish. If you don't believe me, think about what we're asked to do as teachers:
- We're expected to work well past a 40 hour work week and not demand a raise.
- We're expected to work in work conditions that (at times) can be both dangerous and depressing.
- We're taught that even if we've given a system(s) several decades of our livelihood that our pensions will at best may help us cover the household bills.
- We're taught by "well meaning" political pundits, administrators and the media that we can be replaced by some bushy tailed, fresh eyed college graduate that can "out teach" us...right out of college.
- We're told that unions that protect our collective bargaining are bad because they "hide" bad teachers.
- We're expected to deal with verbal (and sometimes physical) abuse by our customers (parents and teachers) and not to say anything in any way that would report these injustices.
The above injustices are all ways to brainwash teachers, so that we can be made to believe that our voices do not matter.
According to Dictionary.com, "brainwashing" is making (someone) adopt radically different beliefs by using systematic and often forcible pressure.
No wonder by the time most teachers have reached year five, many of us actually believe we don't matter. To make matters worse, if we stay in the profession we will have to endure numerous other injustices that we never even speak about for fear of retaliation.
While this is ingrained in our job duties, what would happen if every teacher in America demanded respect and/or quit their job until it was given? Parents would be forced to home school their children and not work. Administrators would have to educate the children that still came to school and politicians would be forced to enter a classroom and do our job that they claim is so easy.
I guarantee that if the above happened, the truth would be even more startling.
Not only are teachers NOT disposable, but GOOD teachers who can not only teach content, manage a class, deal with parents and connect with their students are invaluable.
For the past two weeks, I've been lucky enough to sit down with two experts, Cari Harris, Author of How to Finish the Test When the Pencil Breaks and Lori Rice, Author of Keep the Fire Burning: Avoiding Teacher Burnout and each time I was floored after interviewing them. Both women are so knowledgeable about their content areas that I left the interview learning something new. So what is the rationale for these professionals not making six figures? Why was Cari laid off by her district and has been searching for a way back into the classroom for the past two years? Why isn't Lori making six figures by training other elementary school teachers on how to be experts in the field?
That is why it makes me cringe when I hear teachers make self sacrificing statements like at the beginning of the article. It's crucial for teachers to take care of themselves as both a brand and as a professional. Instead of teachers making self sacrificing statements like above, we instead should make self affirming statements like these :
1. "I'm just a teacher, of course I could do that." Teachers are not made, but are born. Our gift is God given, so we have to believe that we are capable of doing what others can not. Whenever I'm afforded an opportunity to do something outside the classroom, I always have the mindset that I can do it. The process may be painful, but nothing is out of reach for me -- I'm a teacher. An example of a former colleague of mine who happened to be a Chemistry teacher. Distressed by our job conditions, she decided to look for other professions. As this veteran teacher scanned the employment ads, she lamented that she didn't have any of the skills the hiring managers were looking for. I was floored -- here was a person with a Doctorate in Chemistry who doubted their skills! I had to convince her that her skills were indeed marketable and wanted. A couple of months later, she found a job in a pharmaceutical warehouse where she was respected as a professional both financially and professionally.
2. "I'm not okay with struggling financially." I'm not comfortable with having multiple advanced degrees and having to justify why I deserve a raise. Whenever this issue comes up, I'm never apologetic for demanding more money, I'm a teacher, and I'm worth it.
3. "I'm an expert -- why wouldn't anyone hire me?" Sometimes after spending endless days in a classroom we forget about our self worth as a professional. As educators, we hold degrees that are difficult for most people to earn. Stop downplaying your work in the field -- you are needed. If you don't believe just look at the companies who are hiring for Learning Specialists or Instructional Design -- these are all skills that all professional teachers already have, but are unaware that they are in such a demand.
As teachers, it's our job to ensure that we take back the reigns of our career and professionalism. Step one would be to stop "buying in" to the lies that we are not valuable professionals. Stop the teacher brainwashing.