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Ten common myths about teaching

“One highly misconceived idea is that today's teachers are not as dedicated to their work as teachers in other eras," says one reader.

It seems everyone has an opinion about teachers and their profession these days … and most of them aren’t teachers.

Perhaps it would be a different matter if the conceptions of teaching were like those of NASA engineers: smart, genius! Or maybe like those of firefighters: brave, self-sacrificing! However, in our nation’s current climate, saying the word “teacher” is like Forrest Gump opening a box of chocolates: you never know what you’re going to get, as teachers too often are seen as a convenient scapegoat for the perceived problems that are plaguing public education.

eSchool News recently asked readers: “If you could clear up one misconception about teachers and/or teaching, what would it be?” Our goal was not only to help others understand these misconceptions, but also to learn how teachers feel they are perceived by others.

Here are 10 misconceptions about teachers and teaching that emerged from readers (responses edited for brevity):

1. Those who can’t do, teach.

“The one misconception I would like to clarify is around the phrase, ‘Those who can cannot do, teach.’ While many educators are active contributors to the particular area in which they have domain expertise (i.e. Science, Language Arts, History), K-12 educators … have committed themselves to developing skills in how to engage and foster growth of young people around the content and processes that comprise that area of expertise. It is the very special practitioner [who] makes a good educator; however, good educators need to have enough knowledge of their areas of expertise to cultivate excitement, curiosity, and spark the passion to commit to a vocation or avocation. Maybe a better phrase is, ‘Those who teach create those who do.’” —Michael Jay

“One of my favorites is, ‘Those who can’t, teach.’ Teachers must be well educated in their field of study, of course, but that is only the beginning. Teachers need much pedagogical preparation on topics including educational psychology, classroom management, assessment, curriculum instruction, communication skills, and budgeting. And that is all before a teacher steps into a classroom. The requirements for a qualified teacher include all of the skills needed for the 21st-century workplace.” —Mary Montag, teacher, St. Teresa’s Academy

2. A teacher’s day ends at 3 p.m.

“The main misconception that I would like to see corrected is the belief that we all quit work at 3:00. My work day usually extends to 8 or 9 p.m., and I have to work on the weekends. On the days that I do leave the building at 3 p.m., I am taking my work home with me.” —Anonymous

“I would love to clear up one misconception about teaching: that teachers have an easy job, working 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. with summers and holidays off. The sad thing is that too many people become teachers for this very reason. The good teachers I know work before school starts and long after the students go home, and work all summer, too—taking classes and attending workshops to become a better teacher; working on developing activities, units, and lessons to help students learn better; and learning new skills to integrate technology into their classrooms.” —Pam Mackowski

3. Teachers get their summers off.

“Misconception: Teachers only work nine months of the year and get summers off, so the salaries they’re paid should reflect that.” —Carol K. Schmoock, assistant executive director of program services, Tennessee Education Association

“Contrary to popular belief, we do not have summers off. We spend them doing professional development and planning for the coming year—even more so if you are changing grade level or subject for the coming year. Also, we don’t stop working when that last bell rings—often we spend our evenings and weekends grading papers, planning lessons, and responding to parent eMails and phone calls.” —Susan J. Walton, computer teacher and technology coordinator, Academy of St. Adalbert, Ohio

4. If teachers are good at what they do, student grades and test scores will be good, too.

“The best teachers among us can never be identified by the performance of their students on tests. We should seek to find those teachers who instill in students a belief that they can and will be successful when they are confronted with challenges. Teachers who provide real-world challenges in which students can try, fail, and try again until they master a thing are teachers in the truest sense of the word. If a third grader scores 100 percent on a math test, the teacher has not necessarily taught [that student] a thing. It is the student who fails the test, yet subsequently finds a way to master the material, [who] has learned something. Let’s assume everyone has a lifetime of learning ahead of them and not judge based on how much or how little is left to learn.” —Todd Harris, director of technology, Copiague Public Schools

“A big misconception about teaching is that ‘a teacher’s job is to teach.’ In actual fact, one cannot teach anyone anything; for students [who are] motivated to learn, teachers can facilitate that learning. And teachers (facilitators) can provide an environment that is conducive to increased motivation to learn; but again, teachers cannot motivate learners … any more than they can teach unmotivated students.” —John Bennett, emeritus associate dean/professor, University of Connecticut

5. Teaching is easy, and anyone can do it.

“The major misconception that the general public has is that teaching is not a profession. We teachers must complete professional development and continuing education in order to maintain our licenses. Not only must we master pedagogical theory, but we also must put it into practice daily. I think that particularly the early childhood educators bear the brunt of this. Most outsiders to education see preschool and kindergarten as no more than playing games and glorified babysitting, when in reality the ‘play’ is used to develop social, motor, and other important life skills.” —Monica Wagner

“Last year I worked enough extra hours to add four more months of employment time. When you manage 20-30 students an hour, it is a 24/7 task. You don’t get a chance to go to the bathroom and hide for five minutes because you are having a bad day or someone yelled at you. Unlike the phone or the papers on your desk, I can’t leave my students unsupervised because everything they do, in my sight or out of my sight, I’m responsible for. You eat a 20-minute lunch while continuing to manage 20-30 students eating their 20-minute lunch. Many days, this will be the only time all day long you get to sit down—at least for a moment. You go hours, sometimes days without meaningful adult conversation during the day—no chance to gossip at the water cooler or the break room. There isn’t time or opportunity to sneak out on lunch break to let the service repairman in the house or drop off that bill payment, much less to make a doctor’s appointment or schedule a meeting. Teaching isn’t a job—it is a lifestyle—a calling, and those of us [who] do it and do it well can’t imagine doing anything else!” —Jennifer L. Kelly, M.Ed., NBCT-Literacy

“If I could change one idea about teachers, it would be the idea that teachers are inherently lazy. Teachers are the hardest working multitasks there are, next to parents. Actually, during business hours, we are the parents. We love the children, discipline the children, play with the children, and finally teach the children. Then we go home and do it all over again with our own families.” —Charlotte McNeary

“That our jobs are easy, as we only work with children—especially when it’s young children such as the kind I work with.” —Angela Achim, elementary art teacher, American International School of Bucharest

“The biggest myth about teaching is that someone coming directly from industry will be more capable because of his or her content knowledge. Those are the people who usually flop. Teaching requires much more than a knowledge of content; it requires passion and skill in working with children, engaging their interests, keeping them motivated, managing a classroom, and much more.” —Anonymous

6. Teachers are solely responsible for learning.

“Teachers alone are not responsible for your child’s learning. Parents need to play an active role [by] following up at home with study skills, health, nutrition, and reducing time spent watching TV and playing games!” —Lynette Jackson

“Parents believe it is a teacher’s job to teach everything to their children—from moral values to basic hygiene. It is my job to educate their children in a specific content area and to teach them how to use their minds and critically think. I am not their child’s best friend, nor am I a replacement for mom. I cannot raise their child for them.” —Michelle Turner

7. If you went to school, you know what teaching is.

“I think the most important one is that because you went to school, you understand teaching. I am not sure where this idea stems from; most people don’t feel that because they drive a car, they know everything there is to know about cars. But in education, it seems to be a common misconception that because you went to school, you know how to teach. We have policies and procedures made by people every day without any input from educational professionals, which just don’t make sense.” —Sherril Studley

8. Teachers are well-compensated for what they do.

“We all do not make $100,000 a year, and we are not retiring with $100,000 pensions; many of us work second and sometimes third jobs to help raise families.” —Patricia Swiatek

“People do not realize that many hours of preparation are required, not only to do our jobs but also to do them well. In fact, those hours take place [on] weekdays, weekends, and even during vacations. If you added up all of those hours, including our actual hours of teaching, many teachers are probably earning minimum wage or even less.” —Alene Model

“Teachers are not paid for the summer while they are off. Teachers are paid one amount for the number of days they work. Some have their pay checks [10] months a year, and others choose to have the amount divided by 12 so they are paid year long. It is not being paid for taking time off!” —Anonymous

“That college professors are well compensated and supported. The adjunct, or part-time/non-tenure-track, faculty population had grown from 3 percent of the teaching faculty nationwide in 1975 to 75 percent now—and to as much as 85 percent at community colleges. These faculty members, who number close to one million, are regularly denied access to basic, professional working conditions, including access to offices where they can meet with students, equipment with which to do their work, paid office hours, professional development, unemployment compensation, a living wage (most make under $20,000 per year for full-time work), benefits, and access to due process, like fair hiring and evaluation processes and protection against administrative retaliation. All of these conditions are essential to providing college students with a rigorous, high-quality education but are regularly denied to [adjunct faculty] while administrative costs and tuition at colleges have skyrocketed (see The Delta Cost Project). Most college students make more at their part-time jobs than their professors do working full-time hours. Burnout among college faculty is high.” —Maria Maisto, president, New Faculty Majority and executive director, The New Faculty Majority Foundation

9. Teachers aren’t as good as they used to be.

“One highly misconceived idea is that today’s teachers are not as dedicated to their work as teachers in other eras. I’ve watched teachers for five decades. We still have young teachers eager to work and who will give their all. My great worry is that because of the cutbacks in state and federal budgets, many of these teachers don’t have the opportunity to even begin their careers. In order to support themselves, they are moving on to any job they can find. Many will leave teaching altogether. The teachers in our charter school still show excitement each day and work long hours dealing with a difficult population to reach.” —Craig Frederickson

10. Teachers are all the same.

“That a statement about one teacher (or a select group of teachers) is a statement about all teachers.” —Holly Dilatush, adult educator

“Most damaging to student achievement: teachers are interchangeable widgets.” —Joni Johnson

See also:

Opinion: This ‘Superman’ doesn’t fly

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