Tuesday, July 3, 2012

American Teacher (2011) (Demands on Teachers)

A couple things occurred to me when watching American Teacher.

First, the demands on one’s time that teaching requires are not unlike the demands in other professions.  I’m a lawyer.  People in my profession work around the clock too.  My husband was an accountant for over a decade.  Unpaid “overtime” was a given.  That is what is expected of American professionals.  Everyone is expected to be a workaholic who is always on the clock and doesn’t have a life.

Such professional demands are not healthy for human beings for many reasons.  When adults are expected to work like that, it shouldn’t be a surprise that we are a nation where obesity, substance abuse and stress-related health problems are serious issues.  When we have no time for personal lives, it shouldn’t be a surprise that divorce rates are high and our children have so many problems.  It was the confluence of two such demanding professions that led my husband and I to become a one-career family.  There were not enough hours left after all our professional demands to raise a family—or just cover the basics like feed us healthy meals or pick up the dry cleaning. 

There is something wrong with that economic model.  It is not sustainable and it is wasteful.  There will always be a brain drain if people are forced to choose between unsustainable, unconscionable professional demands and raising a family.  It really does take time to raise kids and maintain a household.  Human beings have to have time to do all that and still have a few hours to catch some shut-eye.  I have a very strong work ethic, but working round-the-clock is not sustainable.  And that cannot be the only model of professional excellence. 

Because of all this, I really resented the young, single teacher who expressed not having respect for the teachers who didn’t work around-the-clock.  One can be caring and committed without sacrificing one’s family to work round-the-clock.  But at this point in her life, she does not seem to have the life experience to realize it.  I’d like to hear her interviewed after she has her own family.  Indeed, had you spoken to me about this issue in my 20s, I probably had a similar attitude.  That changed when I became a parent and realized first-hand how demanding that role is.

Reform of our work culture is necessary to make our economic model sustainable and less wasteful.  We cannot look down on people who leave at 5 p.m. and spend the evening (and weekends) with their children.  We cannot expect everyone to forego having a family or to have a family but never spend time caring for them. 

Having a family and having a life outside of work are not sins or signs of slackerdom.  Having a family is hard work.  And raising productive, well-adjusted children benefits society immeasurably.  Perhaps not this year.  But when you get older, who do you think will take care of you?  When you are retired, who do you think will be in the work force paying taxes to keep the roads paved, the military armed and the firefighters on duty?

Proverbs 19:18

 Correct your children while there is still hope;
do not let them destroy themselves.

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