World Teachers’ Day: We Can Do Better

This past Monday marked World Teachers’ Day (WTD), the day set aside to recognize all the wonderful contributions that teachers make to our society and planet.

Maybe It’s Just Me

My own experience of WTD throughout my career has unfortunately been extremely underwhelming. In fact, most years the day has passed without even a mention over the PA system. This year I put a note in the morning announcements myself, but didn’t hear anything else about it from colleagues, students or parents. The day was not marked by anything special; it would have been very easy to have missed it completely.

It’s About Expectations

The observation that I’ve yet to have a WTD properly observed is not a judgment on any of my schools or staffs. I believe it simply reflects the views of society-at-large. (Schools are microcosms of our larger communities, after all.)

In this view teachers are understood to be important and are (for the most part) represented in popular culture as dedicated and nurturing individuals who change lives for the better.

But when we consider the day-to-day esteem in which teachers are actually held, we are largely taken for granted. (Not unlike mothers – in some ways WTD mimics the tokenism of most Mother’s Days. Teachers who are also mothers get a double-whammy, it seems.)

When people speak of social status, for example, they tend to talk about doctors, lawyers and engineers; the caregiving professions like teaching, nursing and childcare are not generally on this list.

And at the same time, it doesn’t have to be this way. Many places in the world recognize the value of teachers in much more overt and demonstrative ways. By way of shining a light on this “esteem gap”, let’s look at a few examples of places where teachers are seen differently.

Honduras

My first year of ever teaching in a school was at a home for orphans in a rural area outside the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa. 2 months into the job I was told that there was soon to be a week off school. “Spring break comes early here”, I thought to myself. It turns out that schools across the country close in order to properly celebrate a number holidays that fall close together, one of them being “Día del Maestro” (Teacher Day).

China

If you want to feel good about being a teacher, spend some time teaching in China! On a regular basis during my time in Beijing I was treated to appreciative “ohhh”’s and big smiles when I told people that I was a laoshi. Students’ families would remark on their gratitude for what I was doing for their children at every opportunity. Far from ‘buttering up’ the teacher, it was clear that this came from the heart: they recognized the power of a good education and the huge impact on a student’s confidence and sense of themselves in the world. I also received tokens of students’ care and appreciation on a regular basis: modest gifts and gestures that pointed to a desire to show their appreciation.

Japan

The Japanese word for teacher, sensei, literally means “born in front” (in the sense of being at the front of a line) and culturally this plays out with teachers holding very high social status. Teaching is considered a highly honorable tradition and families show great deference to the opinions and advice of their children’s teachers. The relationship with one’s teacher is often considered a lifelong bond. While there were issues of overwhelming workloads in my school in Tokyo (certainly an issue that needed examination) there was never any doubt about how appreciated teachers were by the children, families and the community.

These are just 3 of my own experiences of being a teacher in another part of the world. Are there any other places that you have seen or experienced teachers publicly respected and celebrated in similar ways? Share some of your thoughts below.

Food for Thought

If we are to shift this attitude towards teachers, where is it going to start? If we are expecting others to step up and champion our recognition, we’re going to be waiting a long time. It is a real stretch to think that other groups are going to give us the recognition we deserve if we aren’t giving it to ourselves. What could we start doing to set the shift in motion so that our efforts are more publicly valued? This is a conversation we need to have if we’re going to live in a society where World Teachers’ Day doesn’t pass uncelebrated.

About the Author

Christopher Lawley

Christopher empowers teachers to live healthier, more balanced and fulfilling lives. His teaching experience includes Grades 2 to 6 in Toronto's inner-city and Grades 7 to 12 at a private school in Tokyo, Japan. He loves yoga, meditation, movies, comic books and spending time with friends. He can be reached at chris@staffroomwellness.com.

 

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