Teachers: Unionized Crybabies or Unsung Heroes?

Christine Mazzarino I Education I Commentary I June 14th, 2013

Tomorrow morning, millions of workers will wake up, roll over, and hit the alarm clock. Inevitably, some will turn on the television to check the news. There are mornings when they are greeted with headlines celebrating teachers as beacons of hope in moments of terror. One such headline, " Paula Fauble, Hero Teacher in Oklahoma Tornado, Shielded Students with Her Body," was in the Huffington Post recently, recognizing a teacher who took extreme measures to protect her students during a tornado. Another, "Teachers Union Leader Lauded for Tragedy Response," was published in Newstimes to credit the Newtown Teachers Union for their response to the Newton shooting earlier this year.

On the flip side, the media has also made a show of demonizing teachers. Headlines about topics such as greedy unions, lazy teachers, and a lack of teacher accountability are all too common in the news. Headlines such as "UFT, PBA Bosses Say Billions Owed in Back Pay for Union Members," or " Illinois Unions Are So Greedy and Drunk On Power They're Even Crushing Democrats Now," have become commonplace in the media.

While headlines painting teachers as greedy have permeated the media over the past few years, we have seen numerous external tragedies that have affected the educational system in the United States. The shooting in Sandy Hook and the tornado in Oklahoma are two recent examples of these tragic events. Such events have revealed educators as selfless protectors of our children, who if need be, are willing to sacrifice themselves to save the lives of their students.

The media wants to have it both ways. By painting teachers as greedy, lazy people who don't get evaluated in their jobs, and as do-gooders who are willing to save the lives of innocent children, the media simply shows its penchant for sensationalism and ignorance of the profession of teaching.

Media outlets are portraying the duality of the teaching profession. Politicians state that teachers are expected to work towards the academic goals of their students in a climate of constant budget cuts, changing standards, and high stakes tests. Despite challenges such as larger class sizes and less supplies, teachers are still expected to put up results on standardized tests; and they are expected to do so for less pay, less benefits and less job protection than they previously had.

Simultaneously, teachers are applauded for protecting their students when the time comes. We have all heard the story of the Sandy Hook teacher who shielded her students in the bathroom during the shooting. We've also heard the story of the teacher who used her body as a shield to protect her students during the Oklahoma tornado. We applaud these heroes, and rightfully so.

However, there are also the heroic stories we don't hear, such as the teacher who brings breakfast each day for the student whose parents don't feed him regularly, or the teacher who purchases new school backpacks, notebooks, and pencils for the students she knows can't afford them. These teachers are heroes too, volunteering their own time and resources to support the students in their classrooms. While they may not be heroes in the eyes of the media, these teachers are certainly heroes to the students they serve.

The media can't have it both ways, and neither can society. If, as a society, we want to attract and retain teachers who will produce educational results while caring for their students, we need to change our attitudes towards the teaching profession. Teachers are expected to educate our children, socialize them, serve as role models, and support and protect them. Considering that teachers are tasked with such lofty responsibilities, they should not be bullied by society for getting paid a professional wage for the challenging, dynamic work that they do. Rather than demoralizing the teaching profession, the media could be used to initiate meaningful conversations about equity and fairness in school systems.

So, are teachers unionized crybabies or heroes? Society, you decide.