05/10/2013 12:35 pm ET Updated Jul 10, 2013

In Defense of the Teachers of America: What We Can Learn From Jeff Bliss


It was the viral video of the week. Jeff Bliss, a sophomore at Duncanville High School in Duncanville, Texas was asked to leave his World History class by his teacher, but he didn't go without a passionate speech about his teacher's lack of passion for her profession. I won't waste time reiterating what other articles have already said though. Long story short, Bliss expressed his frustration with his teacher for "teaching" by giving out packets instead of engaging with her students. The video's core message is summarized when Bliss says "You got to take this job serious, this is the future of this nation... this is my country's future and my education."

But is Jeff Bliss a hero for standing up for his beliefs, or did he overstep his boundaries big-time?

A lot of students blame their teachers for everything under the sun. In many ways, it's a very easy thing to do because teachers are such public figures within the schools across the country. I know how easy it is to "teacher-shame" because I've before -- mainly during my freshman and sophomore years -- and although I'm quite ashamed of doing so now, it was very easy for me back then to do so when I did not know what I know now about teachers. The way most students justify blaming teachers for everything under the sun is -- in a strange way -- mutiny. It's easy to get together with other people in the class -- even those who you don't like -- and talk endlessly about how hard the teacher makes the tests, how the teacher doesn't give out the proper study materials, how unfairly tests are weighted in comparison to home work assignments, how hard life has become because of this class and how it's the teacher's fault. Just moan and wail about any of the grievances I just listed and you surely will get sympathetic nods and vocal agreement from the people that are enduring your childish ravings.

Yes, "teacher-shaming" is almost too easy to do and it doesn't help that in the United States, being a teacher is unintentionally -- although maybe not so unintentionally when you look at the facts, figures, and laws in the United States concerning teachers -- one of the most-looked down upon jobs and certainly one of the least rewarding. Of course, this is where many teachers would chime in and say that teaching itself is its own reward. Just the other day, one of the best teachers I've had in high school told us on our last day of his class that even the worst days are worth it when he sees former students graduate from college and move on to great things because he knows he had a part in that. I don't dispute that. Although I personally don't feel a calling to be a teacher, I am sure that for many teachers teaching is its own reward as is being able to be a part of students' lives. But when I see the way that teachers are treated by students, parents, the county, the state, and the country I can't help but feel that there are probably a lot more cons to the job than there are pros. After all, they quite literally oftentimes have the entire nation against them.

Here are two interesting statistics:
According to U.S. teachers spend more time teaching than other countries. But the salaries don't reflect this... teachers in Korea spend the fewest number of hours teaching but get paid more than almost all other countries.
• In 2010, McKinsey & Company reported that Singapore, Finland and South Korea not only offer competitive compensation but do many things differently than does the United States such as offering "opportunities for advancement and growth in a professional working environment, and bestow enormous social prestige on the profession. Officials in Singapore, Finland and South Korea view the caliber of young person they draw to teaching as a critical national priority."

Consider the fact that many districts across the nation strip teachers of their rights -- the right to strike and the right to negotiate contracts comes to mind -- then consider the fact that this country is obsessed with pressuring teachers to boost test scores and subsequently forces teachers to subject themselves to inane in-class reviews by administrators in order to see if they are teaching in the "most effective way" and the job of being a teacher in the United States becomes even more unappealing to the ordinary person. How do you make this profession even more unrewarding? Add in ungrateful students who actively avoid putting in any semblance of effort to learn and insert their parents who seem to relish opportunities to complain to the administration about how their children have a "bad teacher" and go on to pressure their local politicians to cut funding for teachers because it obviously isn't worth investing in "bad teachers."

So, let's get back to Duncanville, Texas. It may be that Bliss' history teacher was one of the very few teachers who truly just doesn't care about teaching. I would like to believe that's not true though and that she is instead just fed up -- like Linda DeRgnacourt and Gerald Conti -- with a system of students, parents, and politicians that are so against her. I firmly believe that teachers have more passion for their careers than anyone else in the world. I really, really do. In the U.S. anyways teachers certainly don't go into it for the money, or because it's an easy profession, so the only conclusion I can make is that the vast majority of teachers really do go into it for the kids.

The thing that stuck with me from Bliss' tirade was when he said "you got to take this job serious, this is the future of this nation... this is my country's future and my education." But how can we expect teachers to take their jobs seriously when we as a nation don't take them seriously? Time after time again at the local, state, and federal levels we have essentially given teachers the bird, stripped them of the power to teach their way, and made their profession one of the most undesirable ones in the country. Then, when we are 13th "best" country in the world to get a public education in, we "teacher-shame" and say "well, I guess they need to be observed more and given more regulations because they just don't do their jobs." We give them more bureaucratic red tape to drown in, we impose ridiculous programs like No Child Left Behind on them and then when we still don't get the results we want we do it all over again. That's the thing though, when we don't take teachers and their profession seriously, we aren't taking our futures or our kids' futures seriously. When we don't take teachers seriously, we don't take the education of ourselves or our kids seriously and we finally have something we can't pin on the teachers; we only have ourselves to blame. By not investing in teachers and by not investing in reforming the public education system we are not investing in the futures of our kids or of this country.

I wouldn't be writing this post if it weren't for the great English teachers I've had, from Mrs. Jacobs in 7th grade at Southampton Middle School who first believed in my writing ability and inspired me to make more of my talent; to Mrs. Sostak at C. Milton Wright High School who taught me everything I know to this day about writing journalistically at the high school level; to Mrs. Mergen at Ooltewah High School my junior year who helped me develop in a few short months into the writer I am today. I wouldn't have the interest that I have in politics and history if it weren't for teachers like my 9th grade Honors Government teacher at CMW, Mr. Holston or my 11th grade AP U.S. History teacher at OHS, Mr. Henson. I wouldn't know how to be a leader or have developed the confidence I have today if it wasn't for my Band teacher at CMW, Mrs. Twentey. I could go on for a few more paragraphs about how so many of the teachers I have had over my 13 years of public education have changed my life. I know it sounds sappy, but I am a better person because I knew these teachers and had the opportunity to be a student in their classes. Yes, they taught me about their respective courses but I always left their classes having learned so much more than they could have ever imagined.

So what can we learn from Jeff Bliss? A lot of things, but I wouldn't call him a hero like some are. I sympathize with his point of view and maybe I have no right to criticize what he did because I do not know his situation or what his teacher really is like, but I think what he had to say could have been said without an entire class watching. If nothing else, Bliss has opened up conversation. The news stations are talking about this, the morning disc jockeys as well, but most importantly, teachers, students, and parents have been talking about this. Will others feel as I do and seek to end the "teacher-shaming" culture we have allowed to go on for so long and begin seeking honest reform both in the way we treat teachers but in the way we let them teach? Who knows? Believe it or not, I am an optimist and hope that they will. All I know is that something has to change because the longer we continue to hold back our teachers from their full potential, the longer we hold back our nation.