Monday, March 28, 2011

Why So Many Teachers Have Martyr Complexes

Teacher Martyrs Before the Lion (Jean-Leon Gerome)
In a recent posting I mentioned a colleague who said he was a “teacher first, and unionist second,” by which he meant that he would advocate for his kids and make decisions based on what he perceived as their interests, even if it went against his own interests as a worker, teacher, father or citizen. Keep in mind that this wasn’t just a teacher, but a union representative, with the duty to carry out union functions, and his comments were in defense of his refusal to carry out a union activity. This colleague, like many teachers, has a martyr complex.

Of course we all advocate for our students and most of us do far more than we are paid for because we care about our students and it is impossible to carry out all of our job duties and to do a great job teaching entirely within our contractual hours. However, with all the hysteria about our failing schools and the real problems of low graduation rates and a persistent achievement gap, there is constant pressure to do far more to solve these problems, to create and implement extensive, large-scale reforms, efforts that often require enormous amounts of unpaid labor. Sadly, even super human efforts that are richly remunerated cannot solve problems like the achievement gap, low graduation rates and failing schools, unless these efforts are directed at closing the wealth gap and addressing the effects of poverty, the primary cause of these problems.

Yet by constantly accepting more and more work and asserting that kids come first or that we will do anything for our students, we undermine our own integrity and status as professionals. The message to bosses and politicians is that we are uncritical pushovers who will accept all of their demands, regardless of whether they have much hope of actually helping kids and regardless of the costs. My colleague’s statement that he is a teacher first and unionist second implies that he would be unwilling to strike or work to rule in order to defend collective bargaining or tenure or other union protections because this might harm his students. Yet loss of tenure would do much longer term and far reaching harm to his students than would a strike. Advocating for students by speaking openly, critically and honestly at faculty meetings or directly to administrators runs the risk of pissing off bosses who, without tenure, can fire you at will.

Why are there so many martyrs in the teaching profession?
(Image by brutalSoCal)

According to Vicki Lavick, Assistant Clinical Coordinator at Proctor Hospital's Addiction Recovery Center, many people who are drawn into the helping professions exhibit symptoms of co-dependency:

1. Co-dependents have a need to be liked and accepted by others; they get positive feedback from doing so beyond what normal people get from such social interactions. (Wanting parents to like you)

2. Co-dependents are rewarded for focusing mental attention on others, and they find this personally fulfilling. Their own self-esteem levels rise in proportion to how helpful they think they have been. (Wanting students to like you)

3. Co-dependents cannot trust their own perceptions of themselves; they are validated by others. (Teacher first, Union second)

No comments:

Post a Comment