Are teachers the new monks?

Are teachers the new monks?

I follow a lot of educators on twitter, mainly because I think that it’s a great way to learn, to find resources, to stay up to date with theory and for lots of other reasons. Of course, you need to be able to sort the gold from the dross, but that’s probably true of every resource available to professionals. Something that I have noticed is the growth of what I would call teaching aphorisms- little pithy pieces of wisdom about the nature of teaching and the importance of teachers. I’m sure you know what I mean – sayings like the misquoted Yeats one about education being the lighting of the fire, not the filling of a pail. They generally have an underlying ideology – technology is good, direct instruction is bad – and they aren’t usually backed up by much in the way of evidence or research. Instead, they sound good, and seem to fit with teachers’ ideas about education, and so they get retweeted ad nauseum.

I’m not really having a go at people who want to share inspirational messages – if that works for you, more power to you. I don’t like it when these little nuggets of so-called wisdom are used as arguments – because they’re not – but what I really want to explore is a trend that I’ve discerned amongst some of these memes. I guess I’m classifying it as ‘teachers as the new monks’.
That might sound ridiculous, but bear with me while I explain it. I’ll be the first to say that not everyone can be a teacher – much like I imagine that not everyone can be a surgeon or a town planner. It’s a pointless statement in and of itself. I think that teaching is a mixture of art and skill that requires significant degrees of intelligence – and I include emotional intelligence in that, as well. More than the art and the skill, though, to be a good teacher requires the right kind of motivation: in my career, I found teaching to be immensely rewarding, but also bloody hard work. I worked 12 hour days for six days every week on some occasions. I organised large scale projects and looked after hundreds of students in difficult situations, and I did all of this willingly and with enthusiasm.
So how does this equate to teachers taking religious orders? There’s a good reason that some of the earliest educational systems were run by religious orders: the Church knew how difficult the work of a teacher was, and they knew that they could ask things of religious that would be harder to ask of lay people. Now, though, with the decline of nuns and brothers, it seems that education systems are starting to ask the same thing of your average teacher. It’s not enough, now, to do your job and then go home. Instead, teachers must constantly be improving themselves, speaking to their students via email and messenger, and available to parents and students every hour of the day. Don’t believe me? Why do you think that there’s so much talk about classrooms of the future – the key feature of them being technology that allows us to be in contact with each other every hour of the day.
And the worst part? We, as teachers, are doing this to ourselves. As a teaching profession, we are holding ourselves to higher and higher standards, through the mechanism of our professional learning networks. Oh, don’t get me wrong, employers are demanding more and more of our time, too, but we are also doing it to ourselves. We’re being asked to commit to training opportunities outside of working hours. We’re being asked to fund technology initiatives and subscriptions through our own earnings. We’re being encouraged to attend conferences during school holiday time.
And it’s all based on this idea that we are happy to do this because we’re teachers, and we’re used to sacrificing ourselves for the sake of others.