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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Teachers Should Battle Poor Publicity

Heather Wolpert-Gawron

Middle School teacher by day, Tweenteacher by night

The online headline reads, "Does your child have this teacher?" You follow the link and wince as the clip from last night's local news shows the cell phone camera footage of a teacher, veins popping, eyes bulging in anger, using language only a sailor could love.

Why is it that the worst teaching representatives seem to become the viral video villain-celebrities we see on YouTube, as if this level of inappropriateness were a common disease facing education today?

I'm frustrated by the ease in which the news reports these horrible situations. But I don't blame the news. I tire of the publicity behind those YouTube-worthy rants, those rare abuses in schools made seemingly frequent, as if they, along with the achievement gap and childhood obesity, were a chronic problem. But I don't blame YouTube.

In fact, I believe that, rather than spending my day dwelling on how those teachers got there and how they remain there, the more productive way to battle these teachers and the bleeding out of our profession's reputation is for those of us who love this job -- and we are the majority -- to battle the poor publicity with the sword of our own successes.

Education used to be solitary, with teaching and student-teacher interactions occurring mostly behind closed doors. But the job has changed. Collaboration has become a key to our survival. Teaching with transparency and with an open door -- to share evidence of our ability -- has become a necessity. And who can blame the powers that be when our challenges and our horrors have become far more public than our glories?

It sounds so benign, but teaching must become a profession that demands more positive attention. We can't afford to be modest anymore.

I know we wear a lot of hats already -- and some of them should not be ours to wear. But it is our job to control our own reputation as a profession, and we aren't taking that responsibility seriously.

I blame teachers and administrators who don't see that publicity is a must, a necessity to the future of our profession. I always tell new teachers to take a course in publicity, learn to pitch and sell what you do, so that people know your worth. Learn how to control your own public relations, I always say. And it isn't just for the good of the profession. Let's face it -- a teacher with good PR is one a school district is not eager to get rid of.

Overall, I think enhancing public education's reputation should be managed according to the trickle-up theory: Something great going on in the classroom ripples into things great going on in the school, in that school's district, in that district's town, and so on. It keeps growing until the public can't not hear about the great things going on in education.

Teachers have insider knowledge of school successes, so it is our duty to go public with those victories, big and small, from the at-risk student who gets his first B to an award of a grant that funds a computer lab.

So, what can you do? It all starts with the classroom teacher:

Call the front office. Teachers must stop waiting to be observed to show themselves off. They must call their principals when something great is happening. Principals respond to the come-and-check-this-out phone call, and even if they can't come, they know when success is happening.

Contact the press. Teachers must learn the name of the education editor at the local newspaper. If something is newsworthy -- a project, a perspective, an accomplishment from you or a student -- get it out there.

Blog. I discovered early on that there are some elements to teaching that I love and some that I don't. The parts I love are the students, creating curriculum, and lifelong learning.

The parts I don't are the isolation and the negative reputation. And I hate feeling like a victim, so for me, I blog. I write articles. I teach teachers. But if you don't want to blog, that's fine -- just find someone who does, and get them to profile some of what you're doing in the classroom. Share your successes!

Create a display and submit to the school or district publication. OK, so maybe you don't want to share in a blog the coolness of what you do. And maybe you don't want to call a newspaper editor about a challenge you've overcome in the classroom.

At least get your accomplishments publicized at a school board meeting or tap that hallway bulletin board for some of your students' best work. Contact the PTA and write a paragraph about what's going on in your classroom -- a project or lesson that's particularly cool. It doesn't matter what the size of the pond is; be a respected member of it.

Post a project or lesson online. Go to TeacherTube and post a lesson or a project that really rocked. Submit student work in online essay, poetry, and filmmaking contests. Their successes translate to yours and to ours as a profession.

Imagine the power of education if every teacher worked to publicly celebrate their successes at least once a year. After all, it is rarely the saved student we go home feeling good about; rather, it's the one we've lost that plagues us. Shake your head clear of the fog and be proud:

  • You bring students back from the brink of failure every day.
  • You help kids learn how to think, how to share, how to disagree.
  • You are the one that teaches them the rules of the game.
  • You are the one that teaches them how to create their own game.
  • You teach them how to communicate -- analytically, persuasively, and responsively.
  • You are the one that teaches them to question.

So, it's up to you to get it out there. It's not just for the good of you, the individual teacher, but also for the good of the staff, and even the profession. It's now your duty.

Heather Wolpert-Gawron

Middle School teacher by day, Tweenteacher by night
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Comments (9)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

David B. Cohen's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

You're absolutely right on this one. We need to put our practice in the public eye, and put more teacher voices into the debates - not just through our larger organizations, but through all sorts of media, networking, and independent efforts. Keep up the good work.

Jim Berman's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I make it a point to tout the accomplishments of my students and I do it very publicly. We do a lot of community service and, as such, make sure that the local newspapers, magazines and television stations are well apprised of their activities. You would be surprised at how much they want to cover High School students sitting on the floor with six year-olds making gingerbread houses for the holidays or baking 10,000 cookies to provide to local law enforcement. I take tons of pictures and post them all over our website and send them to anybody and everybody that is looking for 'feel good' stories. This approach not only cements our program as a pillar in the community, but provides positive, public reinforcement for the students participating in the service activities. This proactive approach keeps us in the forefront with the 'good stuff' and diminishes the tarnish from the 'not so good' stuff.

Judith McCutcheon's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

It was gratifying to discover that we are not the only teachers who have had very negative things written about the profession. Unless we make the public aware of all of the great things happening in our classrooms, the public won't know. Combine this with the nightly newscast of teenagers being in gangs and committing crimes and you have a very depressing picture of the job we do and the young people we teach.

Heather's suggestions give us all a plan to use to get the good news out there!

Kate Janning's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I never thought of a teacher needing to take a PR class. Maybe this is something that Universities should make a requirement. I know that there is a lot of negativity about schools out in the media. Even if its not true, people still come to believe it. We need to show more people, the good and true side to education. This way they will believe us when we say that we are teaching the youth, and they are learning.

Brandi Brewster's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am currently a graduate student at Walden University and found Heather's writing to be so motivating. Why do we tend to keep our successes such secrets? We go home and toast ourselves after being an eye-witness to student success through creative teaching practices. I look back at my own teaching experiences and see so many lost opportunities to 1. display excellent work by students, 2. expose excellent teaching practices in our school and district, 3. allow the community to see success within local schools, 4. make celebration of student achievement a community-wide event, 5. show children that what they do in their classrooms matters outside of their classrooms, 6. inspire other teachers to be creative. The list goes on and on. We hear so much about teacher burn-out, poor test scores, and decreased funding to schools. Why should the public think there is more to our school systems than the gloom and doom that the media likes to portray? Heather is right. It is absolutely up to us to do what we can to reconstruct the public image of schools by making our successes known. I am so thankful to Heather for the action steps she listed. I can't wait to get started.

Grace Sobkiewicz's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This is a great article and it really got me going. I have been feeling that such wonderful professions that people put their soul into are just taken for granted or not respected, and teaching is definitely one of them. I live near a lot of rich towns hear in Connecticut and the lack of respect for teachers in unbelievable, as if other parents and professions look down at teachers, as if we are not even worth their respect. How are children supposed to respect us if parents don't? The bad media a few teachers get only a few times during the year (out of the thousands of teachers in this country)helps egg on this lack of respect.
I completely agree with you. We need to stand up for ourselves, for our continuous efforts we put into the room, and somehow show it off. I agree with you, it can definitely start in the school with some displays that students may want to be a part of. Gather students and make it a public thing. We can get acknowledged for doing community service, but how do we get acknowledged for the efforts we put into actually teaching our subjects.
...It definitely does not sound benign.

Shirley Lounnivongsa's picture

Thanks for posting this! It is very encouraging and true at the same time. I totally agree with you and believe as educators we have to set higher standards for ourselves. It seems as if the public is watching us and zooming in on failures, not successes. If we set our standards higher as a person and educator, I believe that the public will see us in a positive light.

Albert's picture

It is vital that we improve our reputation among parents. The most frustrating part of my job is dealing with students with behavior issues who say, "My mamma said if a teacher gets on my nerves just go tell the principal." We have to let the parents know that they are a part of a team that educates their child. Schools are not a day care that happens to offer education as part of the entertainment.

My first triathlon - 10724's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

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