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Teacher Evolution

Published August 28. 2010 09:00AM

If you believe in Darwin's Theory of Evolution, you believe that mankind evolved from basic organic elements. Today's human being, then, is the product of millions of years of change and growth. However, if you believe in the religious theory of Creation, then God's miraculous invention of Adam and Eve took place instantaneously. No evolution involved at all.

In the case of the American teacher, I truly believe in an Evolution Theory. A teacher in the year 2010 has nothing in common with the early teachers. Perhaps millions of years weren't involved, but change and growth are definitely factors.

Consider the first teachers recorded in history. They were just hardworking, everyday people doing their jobs. Younger folk were apprenticed to them to learn the jobs. Once the young student got as good (or better) at the job than the teacher, his schooling was over. These young apprentices went on to become teachers themselves.

As civilization became more advanced, writing and recording of information began. There needed to be people who could write and read these historical records. At the start, these 'educators' were mostly religious monks and priests. But, soon, regular people began to write and read. Some of our first non-religious teachers were simply lovers of reading who wanted to share their knowledge with others.

Teachers were always honored and revered for their willingness to share knowledge. They were admired for their unselfish and dedicated attitude. They were placed on a pedestal for promoting understanding. The only profession that had a greater public relations image was that of a doctor of medicine.

How did the teacher evolve? What caused this image to change? For hundreds of years, teachers enjoyed a positive image in our society. That image is not what it used to be. Why? What happened? As a teacher myself, I have some ideas about that.

Before the 1960's, teachers lived a very controlled existence. No teacher who wanted to keep his or her job would ever be seen in a restaurant that served alcohol. Teachers always attended church, participated in community affairs, spoke excellent English, dressed like professionals when out in public, and did 'extra' jobs for no additional pay.

Speaking of pay, when I started as a teacher in 1962, my salary was $3,600 a year. Teaching was one of the lowest paid professional jobs. That same year, a friend of mine started work as an engineer and was paid more than three times what I received. And, of course, I was expected to volunteer for many extra-curricular jobs that carried no salary.

In the 1960's, teachers got tired of being paid low salaries and hated being considered as second-class professionals. They began a negotiating process with school boards and developed a national union that supported their efforts. They also demanded extra pay for extra jobs.

What did the public think of this evolution? Horrors! The everyday, hardworking people were appalled that the teachers were turning into money-hungry "Blue-collar-type" workers. The image of the dedicated, unselfish teacher went flying out the window. No one stopped to think that a teacher had a family to support, too.

In an effort to make a better life for themselves and their families, teachers had changed forever how the public viewed them. Not only did they ask for more money, but they also started living like real human beings. People began to see teachers dressed in blue jeans, eating and drinking in establishments that served alcohol, skipping church now and then, and - once in a while - using mild profanity. Gee whiz! - Teachers were just normal, everyday citizens.

The mystique of the teacher was changed forever. No longer could people place a teacher on a pedestal. As a matter of fact, folks began to criticize teachers and respect for the profession sank to an all-time low. Complaints about highly paid instructors who get three months 'off' in the summer started to be heard. Some parents argued that teachers gave too much (or not enough) homework, used bad language, played favorites in class, dressed like the kids, and should be fired for incompetence.

Today, I am happy to report that the image of a teacher has evolved once more. To many, the teacher represents the best hope for their child's future. Parents have discovered that - when they work hand in hand with the teachers - the child succeeds.

While there are still some people who think that teachers are paid too much money, I would challenge them with this statement - How much is a life worth? Doctors of medicine can save a life, but it takes good teachers to help build a life. Without teachers, there would be no doctors.


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