There are more than 4 million practicing teachers in the United States. To put that figure in some perspective in terms of scale, there are more teachers than administrative assistants and secretaries (3.082 million). And it’s more people than all the doctors and lawyers thrown together (about two million). In other words, teachers are our largest class of B.A. workers. I thought of this in the aftermath of this post about a teacher in Indiana and her attitudes toward gay students and homosexuality more generally.
I got a few notes upset that I’d single out this teacher, ‘why are you highlighting that?’ My first reaction was, frankly, whatever. In almost ten years of writing this blog – you can peruse the archives yourself to the right – I’ve never rushed to highlight bad behavior or malfeasance because it’s generally not that interesting. People steal money or do unethical things in all walks of life and it seems ridiculous to me to highlight it every time it happens in our sector as illustrative of something (reform critics make a habit of doing this with charter schools and public school critics do the same with traditional public schools all in an effort to prove one point or another). But it’s worth discussing. My take is that certain things are different. Sexual abuse, for instance, has some unfortunate education-specific issues associated with it and should be discussed. And this particular Indiana case was different because I think it highlights an issue that is only recently beginning to get the attention it should – for some students our schools can be pretty hostile places and that has serious – life-threatening – consequences for some students.
But more generally and apropos of our big debates these days, there are 4 million teachers! That figure ought to make reasonable people realize that they’re not all villains, or heroes, intolerant, broad-minded, tireless, or lazy. In fact, while they’re overall going to be more predisposed to want to work with kids, want to teach, to serve, and have some attributes correlated with that (like some other types of workers teachers are fairly homogeneous on Myers-Briggs) more fundamentally they’re going to be just like the rest of us, a mixed bag. We’d probably have a more sensible conversation about teacher quality, evaluation, salary, and all the rest if we just started from that mundane but real place.