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How to Respond to the 6 Biggest Misconceptions About Teaching

How to Respond to the 6 Biggest Misconceptions About Teaching

One common belief about teachers is that we never work during the summer. Umm.Not.So.Much.

If you're a teacher—or if you've even thought about being a teacher—you've probably heard a few of these common misconceptions about teaching. I can't attend a single event without one or two of these comments popping up. If you're in the same boat, here's a handy cheat sheet to help set your lunatic cousin Larry straight when he claims to know more than you do about your own vocation.

1. "Teachers Have a Cushy Schedule"

"Teachers have an easy schedule" is a frequently heard misconception, often followed by, "you're home by 3 p.m., and you've got weekends off." If your head doesn't explode upon hearing this comment, take the time to explain the endless lesson planning and grading teachers do after school, at home, and on the weekends. You can also describe the numerous meetings and committee work you're involved in. Sometimes I just give these folks a little rundown of my week. But unless they live with, or are close friends with, a teacher, it might be challenging to change their minds.

Further reading:
10 Tips and Truths of Living with a Teacher

2. "Teachers Have a Paid Summer Vacation"

Each year, teachers must take an unpaid furlough during July and August. In many districts, teachers elect to have their salary divided over a 52-week period so they still have money coming in over the summer. Most teachers I know work other jobs during the summer months. Many attend mandatory professional development, and some work to get their master's degree. In the 24 years I've worked as a teacher, I've never had a single summer "off."

3. "Teachers Don't Make Any Money"

Teachers in the U.S. do make far less than similarly educated professionals. But here's what teachers do make: a difference in the world. Teaching is the profession that makes all others possible, and what it lacks in salary, it makes up for in job satisfaction. There is nothing like hearing a former student tell you about the positive change you've made in their life. There is nothing like seeing your students succeed.

My students have gone on to become doctors, nurses, legislators, activists, business owners, musicians, social workers, and yes—teachers. There are few jobs that offer this kind of reward. Plenty of studies conclude that higher teacher pay leads to better teacher quality, which leads to improved student performance. If your Aunt Sally really wants to help, she can vote for legislation that ensures teachers are paid fairly.

4. "Kids Today Are Entitled, Dangerous Brats"

I can assure you that most of today's students are hardworking, fun-loving, eager-to-learn youngsters. My students work extremely hard to overcome obstacles and achieve. They want to learn and are interested in making a contribution to the world. The best way to answer this question is by sharing a few stories of your own.

Further reading: A Chance to Build Meaningful Relationships with Students

5. "Teacher Unions Impede Education Reform"

Politicians often like to say that teacher unions are part of the education problem, but as someone who has been teaching for decades, I can tell you that teacher unions are good for both teachers and students. Feel free to quote Diane Ravitch, one of the most respected voices in education, who notes that unions protect teachers' rights, support professionalism, and check administrative power. As our own founding fathers knew, we need checks and balances in our schools. It's never wise to centralize power in one person, whether that's a superintendent or a mayor.  

6. "Teacher Tenure Means Teachers Can't Be Fired"

In 2016, I was outraged when a politician made an untrue statement about teacher tenure, so I turned to Facebook to express my anger. I created a meme about the misconception, and almost immediately, a former classmate of mine wrote, "It also makes it almost impossible to get rid of bad teachers."

I was shocked that my Facebook friend didn't understand teacher tenure either, so I posted its legal definition. I explained that tenure is a right to due process, so a teacher can't be fired without the administration presenting evidence that the teacher was incompetent or unprofessional. I explained that teachers must advocate for students and how that can often get them in trouble with administration, but tenure protects them. I wrote an entire paragraph to which my former classmate responded: "We can agree to disagree." Clearly, some people will hold onto their mistaken views no matter how much evidence you present them.

There are so many more misconceptions about teaching that I could easily write a Part II to this article. Hopefully, the ones listed here will help you respond in the right way and shed some light on the truths of the teaching profession.