Respect for teachers: Yes and No

I was stunned.  There were more than 36 million responses to a Google search for the phrase “teachers get no respect.”  At the same time, a respected national poll shows widespread respect for teachers.  And given the chance to reduce their taxes, thousands of Minnesota voters instead responded, “yes” to maintaining or increasing their tax levels.   For readers who know teachers you do admire, I’m offering some suggestions.

Let’s start local.  In tough economic times, voters from communities like Burnsville/Eagan/Savage, Caledonia, Forest Lake, Inver Grove Heights, Princeton and West St. Paul voted to maintain their current tax levels.  Upsala residents voted to increase their taxes. The Minnesota School Board Association reports 79% of operating levies passed. And even in communities that voted “No,” there were many who said “yes.”  I hope that teachers regard these facts as signs of respect.

Another less local, but positive response came from a national poll released this fall by the education group Phi Delta Kappa and the Gallup Poll. This is the forty-third year these organizations have done this.

Two-thirds or more of Americans would encourage “the brightest person you know” and “a child of yours” to become a public school teacher.  In addition, 72% of poll respondents favor empowering educators by “giving teachers flexibility to teach in ways they think best,” rather than require them “to follow a prescribed curriculum.” Finally, 69% of Americans give local teachers a grade of “A” or “B”.  That’s up from 50% in 1984.

I hope teachers find these responses encouraging.  You can read more at

Nevertheless, some teachers are frustrated.  For example a current teacher recently wrote, “Teachers have without a doubt become the Rodney Dangerfield’s of society. Teachers get no respect.”  A person who left the profession wrote he did so in part because of “the utter lack of respect for my profession from the students, administration, parents, community, and even fellow teachers.”  From emails, conversations, and web-based conversations, I know that these individuals speak for some in the profession.

It’s hard to know how to reconcile the deep frustrations these individuals express, with the national poll results.   Let’s acknowledge several things:

  • Creative, effective teachers deserve all the praise we can offer.
  • Teaching can be very demanding and difficult.
  • Some politicians, parents, journalists and others criticize teachers in ways that seem unfair

But also, some families feel a lack of respect from educators.  Some students who have experience one or more bad teachers have their own frustration and bitterness.  And there are a lot of communities and schools that have “teacher recognition/appreciation” days. Some educators appreciate these. Others don’t find them very gratifying.

I don’t know how to solve this.  But I do have two modest suggestions.

First, this is a great time to year to thank, via note, present, or whatever you think appropriate, some teachers you think are great.  It can be teachers you’ve had, or your children or grandchildren had.  I treasure notes from former students and families.   On down days, I re-read some of them.

Second, it’s also a good time for educators to thank families and students, who have been especially supportive or responsive.

In thanking others, we often feel better ourselves.


Here are some of the 30+ responses received to a column entitled “Teacher Respect, Yes or No?”  Each person below has given permission for her or his comment to be posted.  Some who responded did not give their permission.  Some asked that their first name only be posted.  At the end there is a link to a response that has been posted by the author at and at