Who Do Teachers Actually Work For?

A few months ago, a teacher shared in an Education Week column that they were told by their eighth-grade student that they (the teacher) worked for them (the students). This came about as the teacher was cleaning up after students and reminding them (and I am paraphrasing) that they were too old not to clean up after themselves.

The student responded with the comment without venom, but with a matter-of-fact-ness that embodies the current climate as to how education is perceived: as an industry with consumers and businesses competing for the opportunity to serve them. If one believes that districts are businesses vying for the (state) dollars of student consumers, then yes; teachers do work for students.

But that’s not how teaching and learning works.

Teachers, and educators in general, are accountable to taxpayers. This is true. However, accountability doesn’t denote subordination. The author of the piece shared their overall takeaway about the function of teachers:

“[Public servants] are not people who work for me. They do not clean up after me. They work with me toward a common good and goal: the continued survival of our shared community… I am a teacher who works with the community, not for it… As the pandemic reminded us all, I also work to provide a safe space for my students to exist while their parents or guardians work. All of my work requires community participation.”

The spirit of this teacher’s words is true and her words are what we all should aspire to. I say aspire to because public servants aren’t working with the community. Too many folks are working in isolation; isolation of philosophy and purpose.

When Black children are disproportionately disciplined, it shows that educators are not working in community with Black people to prepare Black children for the world that awaits them. When police engage in racial profiling and pretext stops, disproportionately harassing and stopping Black people, they aren’t working in community with Black people to secure the safety and well-being of Black people. When politicians only show up in Black neighborhoods during election time and no other time, it shows that they aren’t working in community with Black people to ensure that the needs of the community are being met in all facets.

This teacher shares that a lot of what we teach our students is in direct opposition to what the World is teaching them. But the truth is that much of what we teach them where Black children are concerned is on par with what the world is saying. The world says that Black people are responsible for their plight; that they don’t value education, they have little to no morals, and need saving… saving from themselves.

This teacher is correct; teachers don’t work for students. They largely work for themselves.

Certainly, some teachers do work in community with Black people. They are teachers who genuinely care for Black people, and genuinely care for the well-being of Black students. Those educators put students over self… they genuinely do so for all students and in essence, they do serve students. They serve because serving is their vocation, and they do so in partnership with the community.

This speaks to the spirit of the teacher/columnist’s words. However, some teachers don’t view the work of a teacher that way.

Some view their role as one where they operate in isolation by design; they only need themselves to get the job done. No need for peers, no need for administrators… they know best. Others view their job as a role of authority to lord over young people (and even their peers). Some teach as a fallback plan while others teach (and teach specifically in Black communities) as a placeholder as they await a better opportunity.

These people exist in schools; no need to act like they don’t or that they don’t constitute a sizable constituency.

However, what is like true as well is that many teachers do so for the right reasons but in isolation because they feel like they’re on an island. Maybe they weren’t taught how to collaborate in community (inside and outside the school building.). Maybe they were shut down when trying to collaborate in community. Maybe because securing a benchmark score on state testing and state evaluations has taken precedence, the focus of teachers is on metrics rather than mission.

Sadly, there is little time for day-to-day prioritizing of teachers collaborating with and engaging in community to collectively teach young people together. Communities shape young people… Black governance spaces shape Black children. From the houses of worship to the barbershops and beauty salons, Black children are forged by the community. But there’s little to no time to incorporate community in the classroom, other than to say that Black children need to rise above the circumstances of their community.

Black communities have worth and educators must see them as places with value, necessary to add to their classrooms.  It’s easy to point the finger at the community and parents for how educators are viewed. It’s harder to point their finger at educators and call out their lack of care for Black children and working with Black communal spaces to teach Black children. It’s because our society is anti-Black. Black people are viewed as subjects in need of saving rather than a community one would love to partner with.

It’s easy to lean into your craft and that matters when teaching. But if teaching is a craft best done in community with those who nurture children—specifically Black children—we must hold our own feet to the fire and judge how community-oriented they are. Because if the teacher isn’t working in community, they’re only working with and for themselves. What good is that?



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Up Next