When Teachers Were Proud to Be Teachers

 

Do you remember the phrase, “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach”? I was thinking about this cynical comment, attributed to H.L. Mencken, and wondered if the teachers who chose to be teachers in the 20th century were aware of his statement and if their decision to become teachers was affected by it.

Nowadays, I wonder if teachers appreciate being in the profession. Was there a time when they were genuinely proud to be teachers? Did the requirements of the profession drive them away? Did the types of students they had to try to manage make teaching too difficult? In my exploration, I found that teachers joined the profession for a wide assortment of reasons, and they also left for just as many. I also thought about recent posts I’ve written about the teachers’ unions that were making outrageous demands for their members, and that the teachers didn’t necessarily agree with what they were demanding, but didn’t know what to do about it. What I know at this point, however, is that teachers were highly regarded at one time, and their reputation as a profession has taken a beating. So I wanted to know why at least some of them signed up, and why others decided to leave.

I remember the time when parents would almost always support a teacher over the complaints of their children, especially if it was obvious that the children were probably misrepresenting what the teacher had done or said. The parents insisted that the teacher had the last word and that the children should straighten up. Although it’s unclear whether a parent should have always sided with a teacher, their reaction to a child’s protest demonstrated that the teacher was held in fairly high esteem.

These days, rightly or wrongly, parents are more likely to defend the child and criticize the teacher, sometimes before they even have the whole story. Since I believe that many children today are raised with little respect for adults, with little discipline or boundaries, it’s entirely possible that teachers have had to tolerate overindulgent parents defending their kids. And that the kids, especially in the higher grades, were difficult to manage as well. It doesn’t take a lot of misbehaving children to disrupt a class or to damage the authority of a teacher. So much for respecting one’s elders.

   *     *     *     *

So how have teachers found their way through this muddle of mixed messages, disruptive students, and inconsistent support from parents? Based on the people who were interviewed for one survey, respondents said repeatedly that they were passionate about teaching children. That they had been taught by dedicated teachers themselves and wanted to carry out that kind of commitment in their own lives. That they could make a difference in the lives of children through their teaching. Their own love of learning motivated them to pass on that love to the children they taught.

What situations made their roles as teachers difficult? The expectations of the school administrators put a strain on many teachers. One person described a teacher friend’s experience in this way, and I suspect the friend’s not alone:

This year she has had multiple new programs to learn: a new grade book program, a new online lesson planning program, and a new reading series. She admits her confidence in her technical abilities is lacking but she tries. She attends every mandatory and voluntary information session offered. She spends weekends reading and watching the how-to videos. She asks questions of co-workers and tries to get as comfortable as she can with these new processes. She is learning it all, but it takes time and patience…and more time. This time comes from her personal life.

These requirements do not include writing lesson plans or grading papers.

There are also administrations who are continually requiring student testing, which has its own issues, such as teaching to the test by some teachers, or limiting creativity in the classroom:

The teacher I met last week could no longer tolerate the endless testing and measuring; grades on report cards had been replaced with dozens upon dozens of ‘academic outcomes’ she was required to evaluate and document. She could no longer tolerate the shelving of her previous professional training and classroom know-how, not to mention common sense honed by her life experience (that’s right, she over 40) with a rigid lesson plan passed down from on high that required every teacher at the same grade level be on the same page of the same book on the same day or certain sanctions would be applied. Spontaneity and curiosity were all but outlawed. Besides, there wasn’t time, and teachers would get in trouble if caught using an unauthorized book. She knew this wasn’t good for the kids, and in good conscience she couldn’t continue. She quit.

All of these difficulties do not apply to all teachers, administrators, schools, and students. But I suspect enough people are affected that when we try to understand how teaching has gone so far off the rails under the control of the unions, we might come to a few conclusions, particularly when it comes to the unions’ insistence that Critical Race Theory is included in the curriculum.

I wonder if it’s not possible that many people who have joined unions today are some of the most disempowered people in the teaching profession. They feel they have been misunderstood, discounted, and overworked. They feel abused by administrators, parents, and children. And they are prepared to do anything they can to become empowered. Their efforts go far beyond wages and benefits: they intend to punish everyone who has made their lives difficult. I don’t think they are so much invested in CRT, as they are determined to get their power back by choosing the most controversial issues they can. They began their efforts long ago at the university level with the undermining of American history; much of that history is now being taught through lies and propaganda. With transgenderism and all its contentious requirements, they have made substantial inroads, destroying the lives of children, in spite of the pushback from parents and the community.

We’ve been talking about racism in this country for years, but it is now widely promoted as CRT with all its accouterments such as systemic racism and white supremacy. And we probably won’t have to wait long to see their next steps for attacking and undermining the education system as a whole.

*     *    *     *

Although teachers are afraid to fight the union system, parents can’t do this alone. Somehow teachers, just like parents, must prepare themselves to resolutely challenge the union leaders, and parents must support them in any way they can. Administrators must set limits for the unions, stop letting them make these kinds of decisions, and listen to the parents. Legislators, too, must get involved, in spite of their indebtedness to the unions.

Everyone must join forces to fight back.

[Photo by Monica Sedra @unsplash.com]

Published in Education
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  1. Jimmy Carter Member
    Jimmy Carter
    @JimmyCarter

    Susan Quinn: “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach”

    And those Who can’t teach, teach P.E.

    • #1
  2. Jules PA Member
    Jules PA
    @JulesPA

    Susan Quinn: Do you remember the phrase, “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach”? I was thinking about this cynical comment, attributed to H.L. Mencken, and wondered if the teachers who chose to be teachers in the 20th century were aware of his statement, and if their decision to become teachers was affected by it.

    Never heard it, until wellninto my career. Definitely cynical, if only partially true.

    I’m a teacher who can, and that’s why I do.

    I resent the teachers in the profession who give voice to the cynicism, but know that many many teachers prove it wrong.

    Teachers are hog-tied by the people in charge. Especially the stupid people in charge.

    I do not encourage anyone to go in to teaching. Its really is something people are called to, and dont need pushing. Plus it sucks. Truly.

    But it was not this way when I got my training, and has only been unbearable the past 6 years.

    I’m getting ready to leave, but will continue teaching in may own terms, because I’m a teacher who can, and a teacher who will do it, probably forever. It is in my blood.

    • #2
  3. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Jules PA (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn: Do you remember the phrase, “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach”? I was thinking about this cynical comment, attributed to H.L. Mencken, and wondered if the teachers who chose to be teachers in the 20th century were aware of his statement, and if their decision to become teachers was affected by it.

    Never heard it, until wellninto my career. Definitely cynical, if only partially true.

    I’m a teacher who can, and that’s why I do.

    I resent the teachers in the profession who give voice to the cynicism, but know that many many teachers prove it wrong.

    Teachers are hog-tied by the people in charge. Especially the stupid people in charge.

    I do not encourage anyone to go in to teaching. Its really is something people are called to, and dont need pushing. Plus it sucks. Truly.

    But it was not this way when I got my training, and has only been unbearable the past 6 years.

    I’m getting ready to leave, but will continue teaching in may own terms, because I’m a teacher who can, and a teacher who will do it, probably forever. It is in may blood.

     

    G-d bless you, @julespa. The sentence I bolded says a great deal. I think it is a calling. I love to teach, too, but only work with adults, which is completely different. I so admire and am grateful to those who have given their lives to teaching children. Thank you.

    • #3
  4. sawatdeeka Member
    sawatdeeka
    @sawatdeeka

    SQ, I appreciate your care to not generalize individuals’ experiences to all school districts.  I may have further comments, but I’ll need to reflect a little longer.  And once again, I’ll link to Dave Stuart, who has done more than any other individual in the last five years, IMO, to provide a balm for teachers in their various struggles: burnout, extra burdens from administration, low student motivation. He’s coming out to our small town to speak to the district’s teachers.  I’ll be crashing that venue. 

    • #4
  5. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    sawatdeeka (View Comment):

    SQ, I appreciate your care to not generalize individuals’ experiences to all school districts. I may have further comments, but I’ll need to reflect a little longer. And once again, I’ll link to Dave Stuart, who has done more than any other individual in the last five years, IMO, to provide a balm for teachers in their various struggles: burnout, extra burdens from administration, low student motivation. He’s coming out to our small town to speak to the district’s teachers. I’ll be crashing that venue.

    I looked at some of Dave Stuart’s writing–very impressive! I think he has a very good understanding of human nature, and certainly of children in particular. Thanks for the link.

    • #5
  6. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    Susan Quinn: Nowadays I wonder if teachers appreciate being in the profession.

    I wonder if there’s any profession these days where being a SJW is not a requirement . . .

    • #6
  7. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Stad (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn: Nowadays I wonder if teachers appreciate being in the profession.

    I wonder if there’s any profession these days where being a SJW is not a requirement . . .

    I hope you’re not referring to the photo. Otherwise, you’d probably have to go undercover if you weren’t an SJW,

    • #7
  8. DonG (2+2=5. Say it!) Coolidge
    DonG (2+2=5. Say it!)
    @DonG

    Here’s my go to formula:   good families make good students and good students make good schools.

    Teaching is harder these days, because the students are harder.  Many come from households that are not English first.  Many students are on some kind of accommodation plan (504 plan).   Those items add to the overhead of teachers.  There is also a lot of standardized testing (thanks GWB) eats up a month of instruction time or more for struggling kids.  Teaching is a tougher job and that retaining good teachers harder.

    Here are my suggestions: (1) focus on getting fathers involved in kids schooling/lives (2) stop standardized testing (3) switch to year-round schooling with 6 semesters of 6 weeks on 2 weeks off (tutoring for those that are behind) (4) use a higher proportion of tax dollars in the classroom by cutting regulations.  

    • #8
  9. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    Stad (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn: Nowadays I wonder if teachers appreciate being in the profession.

    I wonder if there’s any profession these days where being a SJW is not a requirement . . .

    I hope you’re not referring to the photo. Otherwise, you’d probably have to go undercover if you weren’t an SJW,

    Naw, I wasn’t referring to the photo.  I couldn’t delete it for my comment.

    • #9
  10. sawatdeeka Member
    sawatdeeka
    @sawatdeeka

    DonG (2+2=5. Say it!) (View Comment):

    Here’s my go to formula:   good families make good students and good students make good schools.

    Teaching is harder these days, because the students are harder.  Many come from households that are not English first.  Many students are on some kind of accommodation plan (504 plan).   Those items add to the overhead of teachers.  There is also a lot of standardized testing (thanks GWB) eats up a month of instruction time or more for struggling kids.  Teaching is a tougher job and that retaining good teachers harder.

    Here are my suggestions: (1) focus on getting fathers involved in kids schooling/lives

    I very much agree with you through number 1. 

    • #10
  11. Flicker Coolidge
    Flicker
    @Flicker

    Maybe pride is the converse of profit.  Teachers were proud when they were more or less moderately-paid civil servants.  Now that they are so well paid and have such a powerful voice inside and out of the classroom, these have replaced pride in actually teaching.

    • #11
  12. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    Susan Quinn: Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach

    Actually, those who can do both.

    • #12
  13. Fake John/Jane Galt Coolidge
    Fake John/Jane Galt
    @FakeJohnJaneGalt

    Last time I sat down with a group of teachers there was a lot of talk on how to get money from the government for various programs.  Not much talk on how to make education of students better.  

    • #13
  14. sawatdeeka Member
    sawatdeeka
    @sawatdeeka

    DonG (2+2=5. Say it!) (View Comment):

    Here’s my go to formula:   good families make good students and good students make good schools.

    Teaching is harder these days, because the students are harder.  Many come from households that are not English first.

    Teachers are dealing with important outside factors. Home environment is a huge one. I think we are seeing more students from chaotic homes, and their out-of-control behavior affects the rest of the class.

    Edited to add: An orderly home environment and attentive parents produce calm children who are learning at or above grade level.

    • #14
  15. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    sawatdeeka (View Comment):
    Teachers are dealing with important outside factors. Home environment is a huge one. I think we are seeing more students from chaotic homes, and their out-of-control behavior affects the rest of the class. 

    And many teachers are forbidden to hold those kids accountable.

    • #15
  16. DonG (2+2=5. Say it!) Coolidge
    DonG (2+2=5. Say it!)
    @DonG

    Fake John/Jane Galt (View Comment):

    Last time I sat down with a group of teachers there was a lot of talk on how to get money from the government for various programs. Not much talk on how to make education of students better.

    OMG the grant chasing is a ridiculous.  So much effort for $5K.   It is weird that with all the money flowing around a school, there is never enough small dollars for the marginal stuff.  Grants are seen as magic.  There are full-time paid grant writing position.   I understand the desire for OPM (other people’s money), but it mostly is a distraction.

    • #16
  17. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    DonG (2+2=5. Say it!) (View Comment):
    OMG the grant chasing is a ridiculous.  So much effort for $5K.   It is weird that with all the money flowing around a school, there is never enough small dollars for the marginal stuff. 

    I suspect that people like getting credit for landing the grants, and they can pretty much control it as long as they meet the specs. Perhaps another demonstration of power?

    • #17
  18. sawatdeeka Member
    sawatdeeka
    @sawatdeeka

    Susan Quinn: The teacher I met last week could no longer tolerate the endless testing and measuring; 

    But some testing and measuring are needed.  Test scores are one useful measure of the performance of a school, class, and student. 

    grades on report cards had been replaced with dozens upon dozens of ‘academic outcomes’ she was required to evaluate and document. She could no longer tolerate the shelving of her previous professional training and classroom know-how, not to mention common sense honed by her life experience (that’s right, she over 40) with a rigid lesson plan passed down from on high that required every teacher at the same grade level be on the same page of the same book on the same day or certain sanctions would be applied.

    Comments: First, some of the philosophies and techniques teachers learn in ed school are ineffective ways to teach, even though they sound good. I can cite examples, if needed. Second, it is a problem if two fourth grade students, for example, get different content during their fourth grade year. There needs to be some kind of uniformity in the content and skills students are to learn. Perhaps how to teach it could be left up to the teacher more often.  As for “rigid lesson plan”: it can be important for teachers to teach the complete curriculum by the end of the year. It would be easy to get off track. As someone who observes teachers at a school where the “pacing guide” is emphasized, the teachers’ uniqueness still shines through. The younger students are often captivated by the activities. 

    Spontaneity and curiosity were all but outlawed. Besides, there wasn’t time, and teachers would get in trouble if caught using an unauthorized book. She knew this wasn’t good for the kids, and in good conscience she couldn’t continue. She quit.

    Actually, having a lot of the material laid out ahead of time can help the teacher be more creative in presentation, because when most details are already in place, it leaves brain space available to add in something cool and fun (i.e., a YouTube video intro, pairing up and viewing samples, etc.) 

    I’m not advocating micro-managing teachers, but having a prescribed curriculum is important. 

     

    • #18
  19. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    sawatdeeka (View Comment):
    I’m not advocating micro-managing teachers, but having a prescribed curriculum is important. 

    What you say makes sense. I think people can get caught up in their egos and control issues. I think having a prescribed curriculum makes sense for the reasons you say, as long as it allows for some freedom and creativity.

    • #19
  20. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Learning outcomes are just the worst.

    • #20
  21. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Learning outcomes are just the worst.

    Do you mean establishing learning outcomes at the outset and then trying to measure them when “completed”?

    • #21
  22. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Learning outcomes are just the worst.

    Do you mean establishing learning outcomes at the outset and then trying to measure them when “completed”?

    Yes.

    It’s dreadful.

    Endless busy work for teachers.  A fashion for pleasing bureaucrats who want data to show that government money isn’t being wasted.

    Can the students think for themselves? Do they avoid logical fallacies?  Do they love G-d and neighbor? Are they honest and hard-working? Can they read well? Write clearly? Do math? Do they know something about their civilizational heritage–a little Shakespeare, a little Plato?  Do they know what the scientific method is?  Do they know some of the major currently dominant scientific theories?

    Those are the right outcomes.  But try telling that to bureaucrats.  Or try finding a way to test them other than the old-fashioned “Kids had to study and get good grades.”

    • #22
  23. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):
    Endless busy work for teachers.  A fashion for pleasing bureaucrats who want data to show that government money isn’t being wasted.

    I wonder how students were measured in the old days, before standardized testing. If teachers were passionate about teaching, it seems like they would be invested in making sure, as much as possible, that kids would learn those tools and subjects you described. Have we really ensured that students are learning by providing the testing? I don’t know.

    • #23
  24. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):
    Endless busy work for teachers. A fashion for pleasing bureaucrats who want data to show that government money isn’t being wasted.

    I wonder how students were measured in the old days, before standardized testing. If teachers were passionate about teaching, it seems like they would be invested in making sure, as much as possible, that kids would learn those tools and subjects you described. Have we really ensured that students are learning by providing the testing? I don’t know.

    In the really old days, Confucius would observe that one student hadn’t attained to keeping the Golden Rule yet, and another didn’t talk much in class but did manage to apply what he was hearing.

    Augustine would observe that one student was understanding the main ideas of a philosophical dialogue, while other students were arguing to win instead of to know the truth.

    The original student learning outcomes and assessment methods.

    • #24
  25. sawatdeeka Member
    sawatdeeka
    @sawatdeeka

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):
    Can the students think for themselves? Do they avoid logical fallacies?  Do they love G-d and neighbor? Are they honest and hard-working? Can they read well? Write clearly? Do math? Do they know something about their civilizational heritage–a little Shakespeare, a little Plato?  Do they know what the scientific method is?  Do they know some of the major currently dominant scientific theories?

    These are good things to work toward, throughout the grade levels. I agree that teachers can employ observation to measure progress.  I would say that teachers and schools also need other benchmarks by which to recognize progress. For example, K-3 students need layers of skills to build toward becoming clear thinkers and communicators. They need to learn the alphabet, learn to read independently, produce a clean sentence, write legibly, etc. Often students come to school with little background in books and language, so schools are expected to catch them up. We’re not working with little Augustines and Susan Quinns here. If we were, we might not need so many explicit outcomes listed. 

    • #25
  26. DonG (2+2=5. Say it!) Coolidge
    DonG (2+2=5. Say it!)
    @DonG

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    DonG (2+2=5. Say it!) (View Comment):
    OMG the grant chasing is a ridiculous. So much effort for $5K. It is weird that with all the money flowing around a school, there is never enough small dollars for the marginal stuff.

    I suspect that people like getting credit for landing the grants, and they can pretty much control it as long as they meet the specs. Perhaps another demonstration of power?

    It is not about power.  Grant writing is drudgery.  It is hard to fill out the forms and write the proposals and usually you get nothing.  If you get the grant, it comes with strings and a lot of reporting.  You get a few thousand dollars, but then you end up teaching 400 kids Swahili on Tuesdays for a year.  

    • #26
  27. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    DonG (2+2=5. Say it!) (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    DonG (2+2=5. Say it!) (View Comment):
    OMG the grant chasing is a ridiculous. So much effort for $5K. It is weird that with all the money flowing around a school, there is never enough small dollars for the marginal stuff.

    I suspect that people like getting credit for landing the grants, and they can pretty much control it as long as they meet the specs. Perhaps another demonstration of power?

    It is not about power. Grant writing is drudgery. It is hard to fill out the forms and write the proposals and usually you get nothing. If you get the grant, it comes with strings and a lot of reporting. You get a few thousand dollars, but then you end up teaching 400 kids Swahili on Tuesdays for a year.

    My daughter’s job is helping people write grant applications.  I’ve never inquired too deeply into the nuts and bolts of it because I’m skeptical about government grants in general.

    • #27
  28. navyjag Coolidge
    navyjag
    @navyjag

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Learning outcomes are just the worst.

    Do you mean establishing learning outcomes at the outset and then trying to measure them when “completed”?

    Yes.

    It’s dreadful.

    Endless busy work for teachers. A fashion for pleasing bureaucrats who want data to show that government money isn’t being wasted.

    Can the students think for themselves? Do they avoid logical fallacies? Do they love G-d and neighbor? Are they honest and hard-working? Can they read well? Write clearly? Do math? Do they know something about their civilizational heritage–a little Shakespeare, a little Plato? Do they know what the scientific method is? Do they know some of the major currently dominant scientific theories?

    Those are the right outcomes. But try telling that to bureaucrats. Or try finding a way to test them other than the old-fashioned “Kids had to study and get good grades.”

    whoa, St. A. You are really over the hill with the public school types with these questions. For now, all they want to know how long they can get paid to stay at home for another 6-12 months. 

    • #28
  29. WiesbadenJake Coolidge
    WiesbadenJake
    @WiesbadenJake

    @susanquinn

    Great post, fascinating questions. I am entering my 31st year of  teaching (chemistry/physics) in public schools, 3 different districts. This is my second career; I was a cardiopulmonary technologist for 14 years, mostly critical care and operating room. 

    Why I got into teaching: I was working in a job where I was on-call from 4PM to 8AM the next morning 3-4 days per week. I came home from work one afternoon (carrying my ever present radio, before cell phones) and my 2 y/o son waved goodbye to me as I entered the house. I told my wife that he knows me best for leaving–that we could always make money, but could never get time back, so made the utilitarian decision to pursue teaching because of the holidays and summers off, and regular schedule. I have only occasionally regretted it.

    My philosophy of teaching has always been simple; for the 46 minutes (80 minutes when I taught in a block schedule for 10 years) I would give the students everything I was capable of during that time, that there would be no fluff, no extraneous discussions,  no free time–every minute would be engaging the subject matter. I had students (but never parents) complain that I ran my class like a military school because of the lack of ‘freedom’. I still hear from students after they leave high school that they appreciated that I did not waste their time–the highest complement.

    I work hard at teaching, students get my best efforts but I have never felt like teaching is a natural gift. I have won teaching awards, and have taught other teachers in graduate classes pedagogy involving content and methods but have always felt I was much more a natural in my medical work–part of that is probably because one could see, and judge, the results of that type of work very quickly. Teaching is long term investment; for many students, it is as though in the moment you may think you are speaking to a stone, and then 10 years later you get a letter where they are appreciative of the investment you have made in them.

    I am convinced that the community will get the school it wants, and sadly, if there is little parental interest, the school it deserves. The last two districts I have taught in have great community support and the achievement of the students reflect that. I think that teacher unions, outside big city schools and rich suburban districts, have very little power and influence over individual teachers. I have taught in mostly rural, small town settings, and there is little interest in political activism. 

    I appreciate so much this post and the wisdom and insight of those who responded; my best to you all.

     

     

     

    • #29
  30. WiesbadenJake Coolidge
    WiesbadenJake
    @WiesbadenJake

    One more comment, if I may regarding parent/teacher interactions.

    I taught 10 years in a rural, farming community. Most parents there were not college graduates–they were incredibly supportive and were old-school in terms of giving the teacher, rather than their kids, the benefit of the doubt in discipline situations. They were also very thankful, outwardly expressive regarding the opportunities that we were giving their children that helped them prepare for the university experience.

    The district I teach in now has few farm families, and a high percentage of parents who are college educated professionals. They are more likely to take their kids ‘side’ in discipline disputes and look at your investment of teaching in their children’s lives as an entitlement rather than a gift. I have loved teaching in both districts, and have had incredible parental support in both, but there is a difference in the community culture when it comes to how teachers are seen. 

    • #30