Wednesday, May 4, 2011

When generals don't understand the battles

When generals don’t understand the battles their own troops are fighting
It is Monday afternoon.  It is forty-five minutes after students have left for the day and twenty-five minutes after my contract hours have ended, and I have just read a “letter of appreciation” from our school district superintendent.  After reading the nine-sentence, four-paragraph “appreciation letter” one resounding thought struck me:  the Head Honcho, the Big Kahuna, the Grand Marshall of the parade, our five-star general – our leader – has about as much “appreciation” as he does “understanding” of what his troops – his teachers in the classroom – are facing every day.
In the nine sentences he wrote to express his appreciation for teachers, who for the last five years have continued to raise the level of achievement among students in our district, our Commander in Chief failed to make ONE specific reference to the efforts teachers make on a daily basis.  Oh, sure, he used phrases like, “it is through your hard work…” and “I commend you for rising up to the task…” but there is not one specific or direct mention of what teachers do.  He did, however, manage to reference the tough economic conditions district personnel are facing not once, not twice, not three times but FOUR times – four times in nine sentences.  In essence, he really isn’t recognizing what teachers have done or accomplished; he is recognizing and appreciating what HE and his staff have accomplished - financially.
In this blog, I have made the statement that teachers don’t do what they do for the money.  Before I go any further, let me make one thing clear.  Teachers – like all professionals – want to make a fair wage.  They want to be recognized – personally and financially – for what they do.  They have mortgages.  They have college tuitions to pay.  They have day care bills, auto loans, and medical bills, too. 
What the “generals”  - both local and state officials – are failing to understand (or maybe just failing to acknowledge) is that teachers – the soldiers on the front line  - are struggling and experiencing low morale, not because of their pay check.  Teaching has become infinitely more difficult over the past three or four years and morale is so low because despite everything that is going on around us financially, we are doing it with less support on a moral and professional level.
In a recent New York Times article, an analogy between teaching and the military was made rather effectively.  In that article, the author made the assertion that when U.S. troops are struggling or facing an increasingly insurmountable foe, we don’t blame the troops.  We look for different ways to support our troops.  More often than not that support comes from letters of support from the home front.  It comes from words of thanks and encouragement from legislators.  It comes in the form of better training, more personnel, more reconnaissance and more cooperation among the factions involved in the fight.
What has happened in education is the exact opposite.  Not only are teachers facing a more vocal, mobile and aggressive foe, at the same time, the support from our leaders, our generals, our legislators has evaporated.  It has been replaced by a condescending, underhanded and adversarial attitude.  Teachers are now seen as the enemy and not the dedicated soldier in need of moral support.
Since our field general is obviously out of touch, I decided to write my own teacher appreciation letter.  Like the commercials that urge Americans to simply say “thank you” to a U.S. soldier, my appreciation letter is going to be a simple list of “thank you’s” to all teachers, staff and administrators:
ü  Thank you for coming to work early and staying late.
ü  Thank you for working nights and weekends.
ü  Thank you for coming to baseball games, track events, car washes, bake sales, school plays, open house and parent conferences
ü  Thank you for tutoring students before school and after school.
ü  Thank you for taking time away from your own families to support other families’ children.
ü  Thank you for being patient with that child who has exhausted the patience of so many other adults in his/her life.
ü  Thank you for taking on one more student, who just could not get along in his last class.
ü  Thank you for engaging in all the mindless state and district “accountability” efforts , like writing standards in your grade/lesson book even though you could probably recite them from memory.
ü  Thank you for re-inventing the wheel each and every year so that you might find a new way to make learning exciting and engaging for a generation of students raised on television and video games.
ü  Thank you for listening to – and not arguing with – irate parents who want to blame you for their child’s failures rather than taking a more critical look at themselves.
ü  Thank you for enduring “workshops” and faculty meetings on such “important” topics like how to comply with even more mindless “mandates”.
ü  Thank you for making your grades and lesson plans public so that parents can review them and/or criticize them when their children either don’t do the assignments or claim, “He never told us about that.”
ü  And thank you for caring about the future of our county, our state and our country in your efforts to teach more than just your subject area, but teaching young people how to be loving, caring and responsible citizens.
Have a great week, and know that you are honored, respected and loved.


  1. Truer words have never been spoken. Thank YOU bringing attention to this with such a great analogy. There are so many of us who are dedicated and strive to give it our all every single day - and sadly, many are finding it nearly impossible to keep on doing so. I have never heard so many teachers discussing other career options in my 18 years as a teacher. I never once considered doing anything else...but here I find myself in that exact position. Can I hang on long enough for the tide to turn?

  2. Awesome article. You have articulated beautifully what many, many teachers are feeling these days. Teachers are demoralized and many are leaving the profession. Who will replace them?

  3. Great article, thanks!

    My daughter, a straight "A" high school student wants to be a Special Ed. She would be amazing. But I am telling her to think carefully about the choice because of how teachers are treated these days. I never would have told her that a couple years ago.I imagine a lot of college students are rethinking their career goals about now.