To Toot or Not to Toot? For Teachers, That Is the Question

Studies suggest that it's important to career success to be able to speak glowingly about one's work skills and accomplishments. In fact, a recent report indicates humility in the workplace may be a liability.

Educators, of course, are known for their humility. Theirs is a broadly accepted practice of being other-directed and of being reticent to toot their own horns and tout their accomplishments. The question is: does this practice harm teachers and the education profession?

When I posed this question in an online forum, the general consensus was that it does indeed -- but that was what could be expected in a female-dominated field. One respondent wrote:

The problem with all this is that female-dominated fields have created a culture where if they try to say "look at the good work 'we' have done" they are told they are being self-centered because they are putting themselves at the forefront instead of those in need of their services.

Another, speaking specifically to the early childhood profession, replied:

They are the nurturers, givers, gentle providers, and guiding teachers who often have no interest in moving beyond caring for and teaching a certain age group, and their tooting of horns is to parents about new potty training initiatives and children's skill successes. Many of the voices of ECE are, by the nature of the profession, gentle. And yes, it is to the detriment of the profession.

A third, however -- an educator herself -- contended that a person was more likely to be successful, especially as an educator, if "genuinely humble."

We live in an age when teachers here in the U.S. are being battered in the media and in the public eye. Policymakers, themselves predominantly male, are determining the paths children should take to academic "success," as well as the paths educators must take to get them there. And teachers are more and more often being held accountable for that for which they should not be held accountable.

As I indicated in my last post ("Early Childhood Professionals: At the Table or on the Menu"), timidity is no longer an option. In that piece I suggested that those in the early childhood profession begin to speak up with legislators. Here I wish to argue that all teachers not only advocate at the legislative level, but also that they let everyone know just what their jobs entail.

However, this also appears to be asking too much of many teachers. Bold self-promotion is simply beyond their comfort level. Heck, as I discovered, working with the Academy of Education Arts and Sciences, when we created the Bammy Awards, there are those in the education sector who even seem to be uncomfortable validating each other.

The Bammy Awards aim to foster cross-discipline recognition for the vital role played by every member of the education village, encourage collaboration and respect across the various domains, elevate education and education successes in the public eye, and raise the profile and voices of the many undervalued and unrecognized people who are making a difference in the field every day. Despite the great enthusiasm we've received from such education giants as Linda Darling-Hammond, Lillian Katz, and Diane Ravitch, to name a few; from the heads of the major education associations; and from the teachers themselves, some have been reluctant to submit nominations.

Today's educators are under tremendous pressure and are facing a scrutiny unlike anything they or their predecessors have experienced in the past. If the prevalence of comments regarding teachers being "overpaid" and having "short days and summers off" is any indication, there are still far too many people with no idea of the extent of a teacher's dedication and duties.

We've probably all had the experience of being surprised by the scope of another person's job -- even one that may have seemed simple to us. It's clear to me that if others are to begin to understand our teachers' worth, the teachers themselves have no choice but to speak up. Perhaps if they won't toot their own horns, they can begin by tooting their peers'. Nominations for Bammy Awards are being accepted until April 30th.