Arguing Teacher Stereotypes: Teachers Complain

Last week’s post dealt with the primary logical fallacy that folks tend to use when speaking negatively of teachers.  Now, we can move into the core of that fallacy and begin to dispel it:  teachers complain.  What I like about dealing with the discussion posts is the shield of anonymity behind which people speak their minds. They don’t hold back! 

The comments on complaining fall into two categories:  teachers complain too much/repetitively or teachers complain needlessly. Here we are, sic and verbatim
1.   Teachers complain too much/repetitively: 
  • The reason teachers get such little respect is because of how much whining they do.
  • after listening to teachers complain constantly for years, I just lost respect.
  • Typical long-suffering schoolteacher mentality. Tired of hearing it.
  • I love when teachers complain about a raise freeze, furloughs, paying more into retirement. Classic!
Some questions we’ll need to think about before working towards debunking the stereotype are:

Do I excessively or repetitively express dissatisfaction or resentment about my job to students, parents, admins, or other teachers? When I complain, do I do so in a childish fashion (i.e. whining)? 

While we know that these comments represent a logical fallacy (hasty generalization), we cannot debunk them with empirical evidence—it just doesn’t exist. There’s no scatter-plot of numbers of teachers who complain.  

We can, however, conduct a little experiment by determining to what extent we actually do complain (a lot, somewhat, or not at all). 
Complaining to other teachers is probably where most of us fall.  It’s venting, and we need it. But, how detrimental is this shared misery? What can we do to vent productively?

Another part of our experiment could be:  How do I complain? Here’s what one teacher wrote in response to the point about complaints:

I do not get a 15 minute break every 4 hours. After working with kids, I MIGHT get a 20 minute lunch depending on how many parent phone calls and emails I need to return. I go to 6:45 AM meetings and take classes after school because we have been on a pay freeze for 4 years and the only way to get a raise is to take more classes because my Master's degree is not enough. I have parent meetings before and after school that I am not paid to go to. In the summer, I am not paid to take classes or plan innovative lessons for the next school year on top of the second job I need to get. I tutor on the side to make extra money. I am underpaid and overworked. I can't even afford insurance for my family. Besides that, I teach 8th graders, some who are lost and confused. You know why I do all of this? Because I love my job and hope that somewhere in all of this, I am touching a life that might end up running our country someday or saving my life on the operating table. Can you say the same???

I understand what she’s trying to do; she’s trying to present empirical evidence in the form of personal experience (the other person is wrong because look at what I do).  However, this lengthy post (there was a bit more) probably fell completely flat on the person she was trying to convince.  All of her points are valid, and she very carefully lays out her day.  

The end result, though is a very snippy tone in the beginning (notice the lack of contractions), and a martyr syndrome at the end. She does all of this because she loves her job. More than likely, the reader never made it that far.  Her final comment, an attack on the individual, was pure, raw emotion. 

A better way to respond to this argument:   

Move the argument back to the other person to arrive at the basis for his/her thinking.  Acknowledging the opposing side’s point of view will also demonstrate a more powerful, assertive stance:

I’m sorry to hear that you have this view of teachers!  I’d like to understand your point about…a bit better. What do you mean by…?

What will follow, no doubt, is a bit more tirade, but you want the person to calm down. Consider:

I can see that you’re very passionate about this!  Just the other day I was thinking, “Gosh, most of the articles about teachers are so negative!”  lol. I’m wondering if the media tends to highlight the negative, just to keep things stirred up. What do you think?

If you’ve got a reasonable person, he or she will find validation in these points and probably go on to give you a more thoughtful look into why he/she holds this view. Then, you may have a productive meeting of minds and actually resolve something. 

(If you have a troll or other nonesuch person, walk away knowing that you conveyed an articulate professional.)

Empathizing with the person’s experience (especially if it’s personal) will put you, the teacher, levels above the knee-jerk emotional venting response.  Additionally, reminding folks that media tends to revel in controversy and issues is a simple diversion to debunking what’s going on. 

2. Teachers complain needlessly:  

  • They don't work any harder than any one else in any other occupation and definably not as hard as some, including parents. Nurses work horrible shifts, so do many attorneys, fishermen, shrimpers, farmers, day laborers, people that run their own small businesses trying to make ends meet.Don't cry that sad song about how hard teachers work to me because it's poo.
  • Teachers complain about what their jobs require, and are seemingly oblivious to the fact that their job is cushy compared to a LOT of jobs out there. You teach 1st Grade and you're complaining. Oh give me a darn break already.
  • every job has one or more of the same complaints and teachers act that they are the only put upon workers in the country. I've taken work on vacation with me, I've bought my own supplies, I have furthered my education while working full time and I know many other people in non-teaching jobs who have worse working conditions. 
    Questions to consider:  

When should a person or group complain? To whom should  
they complain?

Teachers do have the right to complain, just like anyone else! We have the right to criticize the system.  However, these comparative arguments are tricky.  Our gut response is to say, “Hey, I’m not saying that I work harder than nurses, attorneys, etc., I'm saying...” as this teacher did:

I am not writing this to complain about the hardships of teaching as compared to other professions, I am simply asking that people recognize that teaching is very challenging also, and teachers deserve the respect given to others in challenging lines of work.

This was a pretty nice response because she acknowledged the other side’s views to clarify. However, we’ve got a case of giving apples when the other side wants oranges. The opposing side wants an “answer” to the comparison.  Who do we think we are by complaining? 

A better way to deal with this argument:

Consider when to complain or share your story.  Arguing in a discussion forum, given the disinhibition effect, has probably done more damage than we realize. Both teachers and non-teachers “have at it”, pounding their keyboards mercilessly.  Working in the heat of the moment does not serve the cause of getting anyone to see our point of view.   

What would happen if you simply abstained from comment? 

Much like the hoopla with the Westboro Baptist Church, if the media just stopped paying attention to them, they’d sooner dissolve.  You don’t need to respond to every goofy post.  Rather, move in more productive circles.

Complaining to GrumpyGuy22 is a fruitless endeavor. Instead, find out the best person to complain to or seek assistance from, depending on your issue.  If you want people to recognize that teaching is challenging, consider a better way to do that.  Invite parents into your classroom on just a “regular” day, where challenges will present themselves. (Not a formal presentation day when kids behave differently.) Granted, some won’t be able to make it, but some will. 

Write an article for your local newspaper that highlights something you’ve done in the classroom. Education reporters love the positive stuff! Ask the editor about the possibility of showcasing 5 for 1: Five positive articles for every negative one. There are far too few warm fuzzies, anyway. 

We can get the respect we deserve!  Pick your battles, enemies, and friends carefully.  

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