Two Reasons "Teachers Get No Respect" And There's Not Much You Can Do About It

It's an odd state of affairs when the people who spend so much time with our children get so little respect, as compared with doctors, lawyers and other fields. It's not just an academic question as to why that's the case, since the lower the levels of respect, the more likely professionals will be stereotyped, and subject to criticism, blaming and abuse.

But why is that the case with teachers?

The History Of Teaching: Only Recently Has It Evolved Beyond The Obvious

It's only recently that teaching has been thought of as a "profession". In older times, nobody thought that teaching children was much different from parenting, and in older times, there wasn't a body of knowledge about how people learn and how to help others learn. So, absent a knowledge base, it was thought no special training and knowledge was needed to teach. As a result, it was treated more as a lower level trade than a field where one had to go to college to learn how to do it.

One side effect of this state of affairs was that the field attracted mostly women who were thought to be "better with children" (let's remember we are talking about a rather sexist society).

It's only quite recently in history that requirements and certifications were made mandatory in order to become a teachers, reflecting the idea that "anyone can do it".

However, as the field evolved, and we learned more and more about how people learned, these perceptions didn't completely change. So, there's a remnant of stereotyping that's based on an older and outmoded conception of how easy or hard it is to teach. In effect, society got stuck, and not only did that affect rates of pay for teachers, but also affected who wanted to become a teacher.

Traditonally, teacher's college entrants had much lower academic credentials and ability as compared to students entering law school, or medicine. That both reflects the societal bias and "ignorance" about teaching as something "easy", and contributed to maintaining the stereotype.

Everyone Thinks They Are Expert About School Because They Attended One

A general observation: When people have a lot of experience with something, they tend to believe they are expert in that field. The analogy is that of a back seat driver who believes he is in a position to advise and criticize the actual driver, simply by virtue of the fact that he's been a passenger all his life.

People believe they are expert in something that's common. Since all of us spend so much time in schools, there's a tendency to believe that that alone is enough to give us insight and sufficient knowledge to advise others. It's easy to be a passenger when one doesn't have any responsibility, because one never has to test one's knowledge in the actual driving world.

It's similar to the baseball fan who believes he can both criticize and advise a major league player about how to hit better, just because the fan has attended a lot of games.

Obviously, watching something, or participating in another role is going to be different from actually doing the job, and/or experiencing it directly.

This "familiarity breed contempt" factor isn't specific to teaching. You find it in other fields like sports, adult training and consulting, and even management. In the latter situation, employees think they can do their managers' jobs better just because they've been employees.

Clearly, it's easy to throw stones from the sidelines, and diminish the skills and knowledge needed to do a job well.

But You Can't Do Anything About It...

It's one of those things. It's stereotyping, and it's the human tendency to believe that something that is "familiar" is somehow easy to do.

So, apart from the obvious things, like acting professionally, and trying to educate people about the challenges of teaching, there's not much you can do to enhance the perceptions of teaching as a profession, and one that should be respected.

But all is not lost, because people WILL change their levels of respect about YOU, as they get to know you. In fact, that's the best way to counter stereotypes on a person by person basis. Every time you interact with a parent, you have the opportunity to conduct yourself in ways that will earn the respect of that parent for YOU personally.