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  • Anna Brix Thomsen

Why the Most Important Jobs Gets the Least Respect: DAY 47

I’ve recently started back at work as a teacher and once again it astounds me how much work is put into being a teacher compared to the status that teachers have in society. First of all, there is a common idea that being a teacher is an easy job, which is reflected by how, in many countries, it is one of the easiest educations to go through and graduate from and so there’s this belief that “If you can’t do anything else, you can always become a teacher.” And we all know the saying: “Those who can’t do, teach.”

I admit that I have most definitely been one of those people who saw teaching as an almost embarrassing job and teachers as ‘losers’ who’s got nothing better to do. Only when I became a teacher myself, did I realize how much work one has to put in to actually provide quality and relevant education for one’s students.

Furthermore, within most countries, teachers are expected to work fulltime-teaching classes while having little time to prepare for lessons. I experience this in real time where I often will use nights and weekends researching and preparing lessons. For me to be the kind of teacher that I strive to be, a teacher that actually offers something of value to my students, I have no choice but to make use of my ‘free time’ because there is simply not enough time during the normal working-hours to prepare and plan lessons.

I would therefore suggest, for anyone who still believes that being a teacher is easy, to go and teach for three months – whether it is adults or children or high-school students. And I’ve realized that it is the same with most jobs that are devalued in our society.

We look at plumbers and carpenters and street sweepers – and believe that we could easily do their jobs, that they have it easy and that little to no effort goes into their work. This is most prominently reflected in the salaries that these people earn and in the social status they have in society. They’re the people who’s job it is to make other people’s lives easier and more convenient and therefore they belong to a sort of ‘servant class’ in society – whereas those who’s job it is to work with abstract tasks of more academic and intellectual nature are considered more important and even hard-working. Because their job is to innovate and think out solutions for society, we tend to see them as more intelligent and superior.

This way of dividing society can be traced as far back as to Plato who, in his ‘State’, claimed that only philosophers/thinkers/academics were fit to rule society and make decisions on behalf of the ‘every day man’. This was to him, complete common sense and simply the natural order of things. Little did he realize that we was promoting a stratified and disjunctive society.

But who considers that a plumber, to do a good job fixing your pipes, actually has to know what he’s doing which means he has to have training and education to understand plumbing? Who considers how, a plumber who does a good job fixing your sink or your clogged toilet actually has put in effort and skills into his work?

How can we possibly claim that someone working in academics or in media is more important than say, a plumber or a teacher?

From my perspective – and yes, I am a teacher – education is one of the single most important corner stones of our society, of the future of the world. And yet we’ve given the teaching profession little to no value.

I often times would wish that I had more time – much more time – to prepare lessons, to do research, to further educate myself. Because then I would be able to keep expanding myself as a teacher, I would become a better teacher. And I would like to be the best possible teacher I can be. Isn’t that what we would want for our children? To be taught by someone who is professionally passionate about teaching? If so – then why are we giving teachers so little value, so low wages, so poor education and so little time to prepare?

Perhaps it is because we don’t really care. Perhaps it is because we see schools and education as institutions where children are merely ‘stored’ and ‘kept in line’ to know nothing but the basics of what a person needs to know to participate in work-life as adults. Is it then so odd that teachers become demotivated and apathetic towards their profession, when no one truly expects them to excel? I strive to be the most optimal teacher I can possibly be, but this is certainly not because of any support from the people who employ me or the salary I get or the hours I have to work. It is for the sake of my own professional integrity and for the sake of the students I teach.

What is fascinating is that the professions that are devalued and that has the lowest prestige in society, are most often the ones that focuses on our physical reality, while the most prestigious jobs are those that focuses solely on mental capabilities. This then shows us something about how we prioritize in society, how we value mental abstraction, theorization and intellectualization over actual practical reality.

And surely, our reality is a real-time reflection of this. Because we keep building houses that are thought out of some conceptual imagination of grandeur rather than focusing on housing that is practical and best for all in the community. Legislators seem to have never set foot in the fields that they so casually legislate upon, often leaving those of us who work in these practical fields, with an insane amount of paperwork and very little time to do our actual job.

My original goal was to work with developing educational systems. It still is. I am more passionate about education than ever. But I am also grateful and humbled by this opportunity to be a teacher – and to meet other teachers who work with passion and integrity and a true professional respect for their students and their work. Because if I had stepped right out of university and into academia or politics or other fields focusing more on the abstract aspects of education, I could have easily made assumptions about what is best for the education system, that would be in complete contradiction with what reality looks like. How can anyone possibly make assumptions or claim qualification to make decisions on behalf of workers, whose field they’ve never tried with their own hands?

Isn’t this then also a much more global problem that has to do with how we live in general on this earth where we believe that we know what’s going on in other countries, in war zones, in religious communities, even in other people’s minds – and accordingly make decisions and even legislate based on these assumptions?

Isn’t it about time that we learn to place ourselves in the shoes of others – no matter who it is – so that we can get to a common and equal understanding of where we’re at and what is required for us to make this world into a place that we would be proud to bring children into? 

Fact: Social Stratification Causes a Disjunctive and Dysfunctional Society. If a field of work is of benefit and necessity to a society it should be valued as such in equality.

In conjunction with this blog series, I suggest to take a moment to read the following blog-post on Basic Income and Teaching where the points I’ve discussed here are further expanded upon. I recommend reading the following blogs:

Natural Learning Abilities blog series – a MUST READ!

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