“Oh, Jesus, you teach middle school? I’d NEVER teach that.”
“Oh, you’re a teacher? Hmm. Well, bless your heart, you must be a saint.”
“Well, at least you get summers off. I wish I had a break like that every year!”
Stop. Stop. Stop.
Aside from being endlessly irritating, comments like this underline a problem in our culture. It is a very specific, very important problem in our culture that plays into a lot of other problems in the education system. It is the idea that teaching is not a worthwhile profession. Usually, thrown into the mix, is the idea that it is either easy (it is not) or that it is a boring or ridiculous or insane or pick-your-negative-adjective career (your opinion, not everyone’s).
People don’t say this outright. People rarely say something insulting outright. But it is embedded in comments like these. It is underwritten in our culture.
Saying “those who can’t do, teach,” suggests that only people who are absolutely talentless would enter the teaching profession. It also suggests that teachers don’t go into the profession to help kids (the main reason) and to make a difference in the world around them (other main reason). It is condescending, it is ruthlessly wrong, it is ignorant. It is also embedded into our pop culture’s set of overused jokes. Start paying attention. It’ll be in sitcoms, articles online, movies, songs – maybe it’ll be twisted, maybe only the first half of the quote will appear, but we will all know the ending of the original line: those who can’t do, teach.
Education is one of – arguably the – most important areas of a democracy. The ability to think critically, analyze, communicate, cooperate, have intellectual agency, and continue to improve as a person all come from being educated as an individual. Even your ability to be a massive ass in your attempt to joke about my profession is a sign that somewhere deep, deep in the recesses of your brain, you have thought critically and realized that the education system is flawed. (Your decision to put the mockery on teachers instead of trying to improve that system is also a sign that you’re not thinking critically enough.)
To make fun of a teacher or the teaching profession is to have a deep misunderstanding of the education system as a whole. If you’re laughing about a quip that teachers are in those positions because they can’t do something else, then look harder: look, and you will see the mountainous hours of dedication, endless patience, and often wise silence at your ignorance.
Those comments also encourage another idea, a far more dangerous idea. By implying that teaching is easy, or worth mocking, we are encouraging the idea that education and learning of the individual is not necessary. If the profession, if the act of teaching, is worth laughing at, should we not also laugh at the act of learning? Hearing jests like these are not just irritating or insulting. It is deeply concerning. Language is powerful, and this type of language deepens a crack in the foundations that we should be wary of letting crumble. The cultures that value education are the cultures that don’t just survive, but improve. The cultures that mock learning are the cultures that will, in the end, fall behind.