Tell me about teacher stereotypes
April 9, 2013 8:08 PM   Subscribe

I want to know what typical ideas of typical teachers the public has.

My posting history will show that I'm doing a Grad Dip in Research Studies (within the field of Education). My first (tiny) project is about learning about qualitative and quantitative research methods. Because I will have to survey friends & acquaintances (on advice of lecturer) and (as a result) not be able to publish any results of my data, I will be looking at teacher stereotypes rather than the area I'm doing my dissertation on, which is "evolving preservice teacher identity". I still need to justify my research referencing previous studies, and I have found some decent material about stereotypes in the media and stereotypes in literature, and perceptions of teachers themselves and attitudes of students. I have also found great stuff on how parent-teacher relationships affect student learning outcomes.

However, I'm struggling to find research on public opinion on teachers, and the more I get sucked into the vortex that is Google Scholar, the more I am wondering why this is so. So, I've marked this for a future research project with my mentor (an academic with resources who gives me amazing freedom).

So thought process is this for my current and future research:
1. public perception of teachers-->influences parent opinion-->influences relationship with teachers-->influences student outcomes.
2. public perception of teachers-->influences parent opinion-->influences student opinion-->influences relationship with teachers-->influences student outcomes
3. public perception of teachers-->influences preservice teacher opinion-->influences teacher identity development-->influences teacher self-efficacy-->influences student outcomes

So your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to

a. tell me your ideas or other people's ideas about typical teachers (I'm not looking for opinions of bad teachers).
b. find any published material: newspaper, journal article, book, blog, whatever: on people's opinions of typical teachers
c. suggest a useful place or way to research this topic.

[Disclaimer 1: you are not doing my homework/assignment. My homework is to survey friends/relatives on a topic that I am interested, code the data for the lecturer to run through SPSS, and write a report on that data, following conventional standards etc. Disclaimer 2: You are not doing my work either, I will have to put together a research proposal to my academic before she'll pay for further work to be done. Disclaimer 3: If you find heaps of interesting stuff and I get distracted - as I am wont to with my ADHD, and polymath preferences, from my studies and work, that's okay, I won't blame you.]

TL;DR: tell me your ideas, opinion, perception about what a typical teacher (not "bad", "typical" or "average") is, looks like or does.
posted by b33j to Education (30 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I used to be a teacher, so I don't know if you can code me. I was most aware of process #3 influencing my sense of professional stature, which influenced my pride i my profession and also my interest in continuing to teach, which influenced student outcomes most notably by encouraging me to leave teaching. Maybe they had way better teachers after me, but I found that the profession did not support an intellectually engaged practice.

Anyway, the perceptions of average teachers which I was aware of/suffered from:

Typical teachers' jobs are easy and must be so fun! Kids are so cute.
Typical teachers are not particularly good at any disciplinary field; that's why they teach.
Typical teachers are in it for an easy schedule (Summers off!), a decent salary and pension.
Typical teachers are nice women who love children and are motivated to give, give, give.
Typical teachers sacrifice themselves, their income and their energy for the good of their students. That's what they should do.
Typical teachers don't pursue fields of advanced study. If they do, they don't do anything that might take them to a level of influence outside/larger than a single classroom or subject area.
Typical teachers have mediocre intellect and training. They aren't really professionals.
Typical teachers shouldn't expect to be paid a professional level salary, because teaching isn't really a profession. They shouldn't expect tuition assistance for advanced study, sabbaticals, or to be given time for research, professional conferences, speaking and publication.
Typical teachers are content to specialize at one level/in one subject for the rest of their entire, four-decade or more professional life.
Typical teachers are happy to accept the limitations on their lives as professionals that district/school resources, and the norms of the existing teacher community, impose on them.
posted by Miko at 8:18 PM on April 9, 2013 [15 favorites]

(Just to explain, I won't be coding what is coming from here, so teachers' opinions most welcome. This will help me ask the right questions on the survey).
posted by b33j at 8:20 PM on April 9, 2013

Former teacher; parent of an elementary school student (Grade 5)

Teachers tend to work hard, but are out of touch and sometimes don't realize that other professionals work hard too.

Here's an example of an opinion piece on teachers.

I don't know where you could research this topic. Can't you create a survey in Survey Monkey or something? Put up a Facebook page? Put the survey link on the Facebook page? Spend $50 and send 1000 people in your targeted demographic to the Facebook page? 10% will click on the link and fill out the survey for a sample size of 100?
posted by KokuRyu at 8:47 PM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

To me, a typical teacher is someone attempting to educate, impart skills and positively influence their students but who often must do so in a bizarre environment (school boards, budgets, unions, parents expectations, educational traditions that are clung to without basis, etc.) This is the opinion of someone who went to private schools as a child, and whose (now grown) children attended public schools. And although you wanted to know about a "typical" teacher, I think it is fair of me to add that the best teacher I ever had (biology) walked into the classroom every day and did nothing but teach using many different media (demonstrations, slides, charts, daily short quizzes, mnemonics, and an occasional joke to keep people alert) and then walked opinion of every other "typical" teacher in my mind is based on that comparison.

As for books, I do not know how much real merit it has, but recently I read Malcolm Gladwell's "Outliers" which had a chapter on education, and it had me nodding my head in agreement. My take FWIW.
posted by forthright at 8:53 PM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Well, a major stereotype that I can think of is that teachers are people that are not successful at more advanced things. There's that saying: those who can - do, those who can't - teach.
posted by cyml at 9:08 PM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Miko's pretty much covered it all, but my mum used to teach, and I worked as an assistant in primary/secondary schools some years ago while trying to work out if I should go into that or just keep teaching adults at night, which was already my job.

Some extras:
I have heard people say

-If you're a primary school teacher, that's because your intellect matches the children's. That's why you're suited to the job.
-If you're a teacher, you don't know what hard work is, you're on holiday all the time, and you finish at 3pm so you're having an easy ride
-(from the head) If you're a teacher you must devote all your spare time and your own money to lesson planning and classroom decoration or you are less than competent, and worse, a despicable person who is letting the children and the whole school down. You didn't go into this job for the money.
-Teachers are martyrs (see above)
-Teaching is for people not clever enough to get a professional job. Teaching is low status.
-Teachers are rigid, disapproving authoritarians who make everything boring and stifle your creativity and natural talents for the sake of league tables and target-hitting.
posted by everydayanewday at 9:09 PM on April 9, 2013

Typical teachers have mediocre intellect and training.

This one from Miko is one of my own strongest ideas about typical teachers.

I also have the impression that most of them work hard and put in quite a bit of unpaid time planning lessons, setting up their rooms, etc.
posted by Redstart at 9:13 PM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Major stereotype: teachers are people who could not succeed in the free market and are unfairly protected by teacher's unions.
posted by twblalock at 9:16 PM on April 9, 2013

The impression I hear a lot in Ontario (as reflected in Kokoryu's link) is a sense of entitlement. Teachers went from a low-paid high-status female profession to a VERY well paid (pretty much the only job you can get with a three year university degree that starts at $50,000 and doubles in the first decade) with very generous benefits and a short workday plus the paid vacation for about three months of the year. It used to be that teachers got into the profession because they loved children or they had no other options. I personally know half a dozen teachers that openly admit they don't like children or their job but love the salary and workload. (I also know a lot of dedicated people that did get into the profession for the children and go above and beyond). When people hear teachers whining about how hard they have it most people roll their eyes and offer to walk a mile in their comfy orthopaedic (free with their benefits!) shoes.
posted by saucysault at 9:25 PM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

I am a former junior high and high school teacher. For the purposes of your question, is "stereotype" a synonym for "false idea"? That is not what it means to me, but I think many people have the idea that a "stereotype" has zero accuracy. Well, all stereotypes have at least a kernel of accuracy.

Some that I have encountered:

- teachers are the most saintly members of society
- teachers are underpaid
- teachers are highly qualified
- teachers are inspirational
posted by Tanizaki at 9:31 PM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Involved in the education field. Typical teacher is a tough concept. It so much depends on who is answering. I have seen elementary students asked what their teachers do when they are not in school and loved those answers, have seen the opinions of community members who have students in the schools and those who are empty nesters. I have heard from friends asking about certain stereotypes of shy quiet types who are wild in bed (huh!?). I think the results will be greatly skewed by location.

For example, in my suburban NYC district, the average teacher salary is around $110,000 per year plus benefits where they pay 15% of health care costs and have a defined benefit pension plan. Public opinion has shifted from focusing on the noble aspects of dedicating your career to teaching others to focusing on the compensation and viewing teachers as they would any business person providing a service.

In areas where teachers are not paid as well, I think it is safe to say that the public perception is that of dedicated, young, mostly female, caring, children loving, helpful, hard working people. But, if you were to ask people in a large city such as NY or Chicago, I think that teachers would be viewed as falling into the category of government worker just trying to get through the day, the week, the month, the year, the career to retirement.

I think a lot of what makes a viewpoint on a typical teacher is also a function of how the community values education in general. In my town, property values which are inflated are in large part a function of the school system and the community's willingness to support education. When the average school tax is over $20,000 per year per household, there is clearly support of the education system and thus the teachers are going to be viewed in a very positive light.

On the other hand, the empty nesters view the teachers, or more aptly the teachers union, as a bunch of money grabbing people who happen to teach. I think it is important in your research to separate the views of teachers as a group from the individual teacher. You find that in my area, residents will complain about teachers in general, but when it comes to their special snowflake's math teacher, they love that person.

My ex taught public high school in the South Bronx, in Brooklyn and in the south side of Chicago. But for a handful of parents, the teacher was thought of as more of a baby sitter or place holder to help get their kid through the system not as an educator to help teach the children life skills and critical thinking skills. Part of that was the outside community influence on the kids that make just getting through the day a task in itself.

In some communities or in some households in any community, school is a safe haven for the student from a chaotic and sometimes violent world. Educating the student is not the traditional education of the ABC's but more of teaching the students to cope, to help them envision a future beyond the cycle of poverty they may face, and to provide stability.

I think when you are conducting the survey, the amount of time and space available to respond will be a critical factor. There are many knee jerk responses, but when a person takes the time to actually think about it, you will find that you will get much more positive answers.

I think too that part of the response will be based on personal experience rather than generalities. IF a person had a very negative experience with a teacher when they were in school, I suspect they tend to have a negative impression of teachers in general. I look back on my education as being a very positive experience. My high school really prepared me for the rigors of University.

Here are some generalities I have heard:

- My college professor knew the theory, but he could not apply it to the real world. That is why he is teaching now
- She has been doing it for so long that she no longer is even learning herself. She just mails it in year after year.
- Teachers are wonderful people. Not only do they teach content knowledge, they care so deeply about my child.
- teachers have a great union backed by the state assembly that takes millions a year in campaign contributions from the unions.
- A good teacher really works hard and can have such a positive influence on a child. I just wish my child's teacher cared more.
- (2nd grader when asked about his teacher's outside life) My teacher goes home at night and makes babies. I heard her say she is trying like every night.
- My teacher goes home and spends all night trying to come up with annoying lessons.
-My teacher goes home and makes macaroni and cheese every night for dinner.

My own opinion is that the typical teacher is a dedicated professional really trying to find creative ways to reach all the students in their class while under pressure to follow state mandates, to teach to the test while not teaching to the standardized test, are well paid including good benefits, and put teaching in and of itself as a priority over getting paid. I trust(ed) my three children to these folks for 12+ years. I either have to belief that teachers are doing a good job overall or I have to question my sanity of sending my kids to school everyday if I thought they were not well served by their teachers.

Finally, I think it is important to appreciate that most public schools in the US are staffed by educators who are by definition very inwardly focused. THe administration often blindly protects teachers sometimes because they are the ones who hired them and are afraid of looking bad.

tl:dr, it is a very complicated answer made even more complicated by the long standing assumptions such as those who can, do; those who can't teach. Those who can't teach, teach gym.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:35 PM on April 9, 2013

I'm not sure that this is quite what you're looking for, but I thought this NYT column was interesting. It discusses media portrayals of teachers and the consequences of them. For me, the take-away thought was this:
These divergent trends — the teacher as psycho; the teacher as saint — only confirm what the film scholar Dana Polan called the “problem of the pedagogue’s embodiment”: the difficulty we have “imagining the teacher as a real person,” rather than as an icon, an authority figure or a bad joke. … Yet the issue isn’t only that, as one recent caller to Brian Lehrer’s show on WNYC put it, “we’ve given the best of our students the idea that teaching is the worst of all possible professions.” It’s that many of us aren’t being given any more nuanced an “idea.” Put another way, the fact that we see teachers in such extreme terms — as angelically good, as horrifyingly bad — may in fact be an indication that we don’t see them at all.
posted by robcorr at 9:48 PM on April 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

Public school teachers: not intellectually curious, wouldn't be teaching if they could do anything else, perpetually frazzled and overwhelmed, jaded to the point they don't really give a damn anymore, and prone to arbitrary displays of pettiness due to an authoritarian personality.
posted by doreur at 9:48 PM on April 9, 2013

I think the "stereotypes" or perceptions of teacher has to take into account the different dynamics that exist between who is doing the perceiving and the teachers.

For example, as a parent, it's not a level playing field, so the perception is:

- teachers have all of the power, and parents have very little ability to influence what happens in the classroom

- teachers can effectively shut themselves up in the classroom, and can easily make themselves unavailable to parents

- teachers can dominate student life outside of the classroom by assigning significant amounts of homework that cut into family time

- teachers are actors of the State, imposing cultural uniformity that in some cases contradicts the values of home life; you're giving your child over to strangers for most of the day who can theoretically be providing more influence than parents over childhood development (if this were not the case, and if parents had more influence, why send children to school in the first place)?

These are just perceptions and stereotypes though, but the dynamic that exists (powerless parents, empowered teachers) should be noted.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:05 PM on April 9, 2013

The attitude I mostly see living in Los Angeles: Typical teachers are lazy, stupid, and unmotivated unionized public servants just like the people you have to deal with at the DMV, except that they also get paid a king's salary despite getting about four months' vacation in aggregate over the course of the year. Exceptional teachers, on the other hand, are Christ-like martyr figures who work themselves to the bone for ungrateful kids despite indifferent or hostile administrations and poverty-level wages, and occasionally one of them will be memorialized in a feel-good movie.

I'm honestly shocked by how disrespectful the average Angeleno is of Los Angeles teachers (unlike most adults who live here, I actually grew up in LA and went to public school here, and had a number of really incredible teachers). The local press is vehemently anti-union, and unlike most other local unions, UTLA still wields some political power, which I think is a big part of it - you never see a positive story about teachers in any local news outlet.
posted by town of cats at 10:08 PM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Among the people I know, includibg one full time teacher:

Weakest students in university.

Zero math skills and a deep seated fear of math.

Nonexistent knowledge of the sciences.

So generally ignorant that they will argue that incorrect answers in the answer key are correct even if obviously wrong.
posted by rr at 11:07 PM on April 9, 2013

Thank you, you've been very helpful. I have what I need. Best answers for everyone.
posted by b33j at 11:11 PM on April 9, 2013

If you could use any more data, I've just realized, I've been dying to get this off my chest:

- extroverted, hardy utilitarians; ill-equipped to handle sensitive or intellectually ambitious students
- racist, if not belonging to a minority group
- conformist, conventional
- prone to occasional bullying/sadism
- burned out but stay in it for the pension; cynical
- drinkers
- drawn by schedule & security
posted by nelljie at 12:41 AM on April 10, 2013

- overworked and underpaid
- a strident and entitled union
- a primary school teacher will be (if female) motherly or quirky; or (if male) sporty and funloving
- no life outside of school
- once you're over ~50 years of age you're probably burnt out and phoning it in and should just retire already

One I heard when training and again when jobseeking: the best teachers are young unmarried women who don't have a family to go home to; who want to spend all their time thinking about their job.

They all sound negative. There are "positives" too, which really put a lot of pressure on teachers:

- teachers live to help their class succeed
- they try hard to provide a well-rounded education despite restrictions imposed by a higher power (Ministry/Superintendents etc)
- they sacrifice their own time and money for their children
posted by tracicle at 3:07 AM on April 10, 2013

For academic research on this topic, look at the Phi Delta Kappan magazine. They do (or at least did, it's been many years since I looked at it) an annual survey of public opinion about public education. (The factoid that I remember from it is that if you ask people about "public schools", they give them a bad rating, but if you ask about "your public school" attitudes are much more positive.) Also searching on ERIC will help you find relevant research.
posted by Daily Alice at 4:16 AM on April 10, 2013

Ack - just saw that you're not in the US - the resources I mentioned are probably less useful to you, but they might have some international information as well.
posted by Daily Alice at 4:17 AM on April 10, 2013

Are you including teaching at the undergraduate/graduate level as well?
If so:
incorrect stereotype that bugs me:
the only responsibility of a professor is to teach (ignoring research, grants, department responsibilities - much like the stereotype of a pre-undergrad teacher only working during the time when he or she is actively teaching students)

ditto the idea that a professor has the summer off (research, grants, department responsibilities, summer school classes)

high pay (if you work for a state university, and do not have extensive grants, your pay is determined by your state legislature who think you only work a few months a year)
posted by sciencegeek at 5:44 AM on April 10, 2013

I'm sure this is not helpful, but I thought it was interesting:

When I was a child and played School with my sisters, we played the teachers with a British accent. In our minds, they were very high-class intellectually superior people and that was the way we embodied that class status.

(My parents are from NY and moved the family to Phoenix AZ when I was 4. Twenty-five years later, I live in TX where my daughters were born...)

When my daughters played School, they played the teacher with the thickest country Texas accent I have ever heard. I'm not sure if it represents any type of ideal or personality trait, or if that is just what they heard from their day care and elementary school teachers, but it cracked me up every time I heard it.
posted by CathyG at 5:53 AM on April 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Others have touched on this, but there's a real classist judgement about teachers: "Typical teachers shouldn't expect to be paid a professional level salary, because teaching isn't really a profession."

The stereotype is that teachers are like nurses--it's an important job, sure, but it's just a step or two up from being a maid or daycare worker. It's a fine job for first-generation college students, people whose parents didn't go to college, a practical thing to do, not something respectable like being an architect or doctor or college professor or anything like that. It's a good job, sure, but not a profession.
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:05 AM on April 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

For better or worse, as a parent, I've always felt like most of the new kindergarten/first grade teachers are really energetic sorority-girl types who think little kids are COOL and full of possibility. Smart, social, but REALLY energetic.

The rest of the elementary teachers are wildly varied. But mostly, they feel like teachers who are interested in teaching as their vocation.

The male fourth grade teacher has shown up because the kids are starting to learn important things, and all the dumb baby stuff (like reading, writing, potty training) is already done.

High school teachers always seemed like people who are primarily interested in their subject first, and teaching is a way to impart their love of that subject. (Excepted are the coaches who are primarily coaches, but are stuck teaching health or whatever, to fill out their contract.)

I've always wondered about middle school teachers. Volunteering to be locked up alone with feral packs of tweens all day, right at the first rush of hormones, growth spurts and insanity? I don't know. Maybe they're people for whom prison management wasn't challenging enough.
posted by headspace at 7:21 AM on April 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

One that underlies everything: Teachers are female.

One I have heard and share to some extent: Education is not aways rigorous course of study, is subject to whim and trends. (I was, sadly, subjected to New Math in grade school. My son was subjected to several trendy ideas, with poor results.) Sorry, this is probably offensive, but is an answer.
posted by theora55 at 10:05 AM on April 10, 2013

Q: What is a teacher?
A: Someone who speaks while others sleep.

(I never heard this until I became a teacher, so it may be an in-joke rather than a stereotype)
posted by Rash at 1:28 PM on April 10, 2013

If it can be done in a way that's suitably anonymous, I'd be keen to read your final results.

Here are a few somewhat scattered comments to add to the list.

1. I'd be tempted to add a #4 to your list of influence chains:

public perception of teachers-->influences student opinion-->influences relationship with teachers-->influences student outcomes

At least beyond the primary school level, I'd suspect interactions with media and peers probably have a stronger influence on student interactions with teacher than any information that flows through parents as intermediaries. That was certainly true for me. But, that's just a guess.

2. This is probably absolutely obvious, but I suggest including fine grained class, education, and immigration demographics in your survey data. A service industry employee who barely finished highschool and someone who dropped out of college to become an artist will have a radically different view of teaching, despite having the same income, diplomas, and zipcode.

3. Anecdotes:

I grew up as a working class kid whose parents hated their own schooling. In our fairly poor majority first and second generation immigrant neighborhood, teachers occupied a very different social position than they do now. Back then, teachers were one of the few professional class people we ever saw, and the only ones we actually talked to regularly. They were somewhere between doctors and cops: powerful people to envy and emulate, but also dangerous people who had the power to destroy you based on motivations that were hard to understand. I was captivated and motivated to please a hand full of individual teachers, but the profession as a whole was the face of authority cruelly enforcing incomprehensible rules.

Today, I generally hear about teachers from colleagues and friends, most of whom are extremely well educated, privileged, liberal people in their 20s and 30s. The difference is astonishing; instead of powerful people to be feared, teachers seem to be mostly viewed as dim-witted petty bureaucrats whose decisions can and should be questioned at every turn. Every interaction is seen as adversarial, whether it's trying to get the best deal for one's own kids or advocating for education policy, and it's always "us" against the "teachers." Often the discussion turns toward pondering why teaching is so badly respected and poorly compensated. That's usually followed either be the statement, "I mean, would *you* want to become a teacher?" or someone pointing out that the radical expansion of professional roles for women in the last half century has robbed teaching of a captive pool of talent. The consensus seems to be that the job of being a teacher today is so terrible that only those with no other choice would do it. At least, that's the part of the interaction that becomes cocktail party chatter; it could be that there's a lot of respect for teachers lurking beneath the surface that doesn't get expressed.

My own perception of teachers today is probably equally influenced by interactions with individual teachers through science-outreach programs and by my far-left political world view. In short, I'm automatically sympathetic to teachers; much more so than either of the perceptions above. I automatically assume teachers are dedicated people making personal sacrifices for the good of their community while constantly under attack by parents and politicians. It's a struggle to think back to my own school experience and remind myself that there really are some *terrible* teachers and that a lot of school work is worse than pointless.
posted by eotvos at 1:59 PM on April 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Another teacher stereotype in this very thread: we're all winners.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:06 AM on April 11, 2013

Ha - I'm not a teacher, never have been a teacher and don't intend to teach at any point in my life. My background is Multimedia and I started working with Education academics 10 years ago, and know so many of them, it seemed silly to change fields.

I'm a people-pleaser. That's why everyone gets a best answer. You can have one too, KokuRyu.
posted by b33j at 12:02 AM on April 12, 2013

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