Picture a game of tug-o-war. On one end of the rope is you and all of your colleagues, on the other end is all of your shared responsibilities. In order to keep a school running safely and progressively, the two sides must remain balanced while also demonstrating the basics of professionalism: dress, attendance, teamwork, collaboration, ethics, reliability, and accountability.
Let’s roll with the weird and keep the analogy going.
It’s August and the teachers are refreshed, optimistic, and exceptionally collaborative. Before taking hold of the rope, they high-five and hug and cheer and promise to finish strong.
A few weeks go by and a few colleagues decide to take time off, so they sit on the sidelines to watch. A few weeks later a number of teachers get sick—they too congregate on the side to recharge. By September a couple of teachers realize this game would be so much easier without the dress attire so they change into Chacos, t-shirts, and jeans. By October, a small group of teachers realize they can show up late and leave early without getting caught.
Half of the teachers still on the rope are looking pretty haggard, even in their heels, blazers, and ties. Sweaty and exhausted, they hold on strong and even keep cheering. The other half have decided the game is being taken a little too seriously—they keep both hands on the rope and lean back but decide not to exert any more force than necessary.
The teachers on the sidelines are having a fantastic time: they’re having relaxing conversations, sending students off to buy donuts, and are even taking time to catch up on personal bills, e-mails, and Facebook! A few negative nellies in the back entertain the group with gossip about those grumpy teachers who are just trying way too hard.
Alright, alright, alright. I’ll cut the analogy short before it becomes Animal Farm fan fiction.
The point here is that professionalism matters. It matters for teacher morale; it matters for student safety; it matters for the reputation of the profession. If I didn’t truly believe these elements were a factor, I’d show up to work in an Adam Sandler tuxedo: baggy sweatpants and a hockey jersey.
Far too often, it is the habits of the unprofessionals who inspire board members, policy makers, principals, and even voters to revise the rules for everyone. Suddenly the standards, hours, and accountability measures radicalize in an attempt to reform. When an effective and hard-working teacher goes to the public to request support and compensation, the public points back to the teachers on the sidelines and asks “For what?! I’d kill to have a job like that!”
The gap between teacherpreneurs and pseudo-professionals is ever increasing, and though it may be tempting to blame it on the system (or “the man” or that one politician), much of the blame rests closer to home: on our own campuses.
At this point in the article, it seems I should pose a solution, but I fear I’d only perpetuate the let’s-change-everything-for-everyone mentality. Instead, I suggest that every teacher reading this makes it a point to thank their colleagues who exemplify the best of the profession. It’s a pithy pitch, but one that might inspire those teachers who feel unnoticed, unappreciated, and generally burnt out.