I stumbled across Joe Rogan’s podcast interview with Smashing Pumpkins’ frontman Billy Corgan a while back and Corgan says something about the music industry that may sound familiar to many teachers.
“Even if you were successful, it was set up to make you feel like you weren’t successful…that was the manipulation. I once said to somebody who is a very famous name in the business, ‘It’s like you guys find the needle in the haystack and then you spend the next 20 years telling them they’re not a needle in a haystack.’ You would think you’d be surrounded by people who are telling you you’re talented, you’re special, we want to help you because the more you succeed, we’ll succeed and we’ll all succeed together. It was the exact opposite.”
I’m not going to pretend that every teacher is a rock star. Very few of us are needles in haystacks in the way Corgan describes. Most of us aren’t headed to the Teachers’ Hall of Fame (that exists, right?).
But teachers, even those who aren’t exceptional, are doing a job that is increasingly unattractive.
Today’s young people do not want to be teachers. A 2016 national survey of college freshmen found that the number of students who said they would major in education had reached its lowest point in the past 45 years, with just 4.2 percent intending to major in education compared to 11 percent in 2000; 10 percent in 1990; and 11 percent in 1971.
In my state of Michigan, the total number of college students studying to become a teacher is down more than 50 percent since 2008. My alma mater, Michigan State University, whose College of Education’s elementary and secondary graduate programs have been ranked #1 in the nation for 23 consecutive years by U.S. News & World Report, saw its teacher-prep enrollment fall 45 percent between 2010 and 2014.
Parents don’t want their kids to become teachers, either. For the first time since they started polling the public in 1969, PDK found that a majority of parents do not want their children to teach. Two-thirds of those polled said that teachers were underpaid.
Even teachers don’t think other people should become teachers. In a survey of 53,000 educators from the state of Georgia, nearly 70% said they were “unlikely” or “very unlikely” to encourage graduates to enter the profession.
So when school districts are fortunate enough to get someone who not only wants to do the job but also shows some talent for it, you would think the leaders of such districts would, at the very least, make those teachers feel appreciated, just as you would think an executive at a record label who was lucky enough to sign a Hall of Fame band* would do everything he could to make sure the band was successful.
Instead, too many teachers get 20 years of being told they’re not good enough. They’re forced to attend professional development sessions that imply the way they’re doing things is wrong. They’re subjected to checklists documenting their every shortcoming. They’re forced to teach unproven programs with “fidelity” because administrators trust corporate publishers more than their teachers. When test scores are analyzed, it’s rarely the successes that district leaders want to talk about. The unrelenting message many teachers receive is that they lack.
So it appears there’s at least one thing that education has in common with the music industry: Even when a teacher is successful, the system is set up to make them feel like they’re not.
Record companies make more money when their musicians do well. And musicians are more likely to do well when they’re told they’re special, they’re talented, and that they’ll be supported because when they succeed, everybody succeeds.
School districts enhance their reputations when their students do well. And students do well when teachers feel appreciated and supported. Everybody wins.
Since there’s no good reason for record company executives and school administrators to treat people they hired this way, there must be a bad one. I suspect it’s power. Implying that you’re not good enough is, as Corgan states, a form of manipulation. Those at the top of a hierarchy like it there and they don’t like thinking too much about the substructure propping them up. If they can get you to doubt yourself, they can control you. And if they can’t, they’ll find other ways to put you in your place.
Just ask Rafe Esquith.
So what do you do about it? For starters, don’t believe the criticism. Ignore the insinuations that you don’t know what you’re doing. As for feedback, decide whether it’s given in the genuine interest of helping you improve or if it’s just a form a manipulation. If the latter, then nod your head, agree to agree, then go back to your room and do what you know works. Exercise your teacher’s veto.
The Smashing Pumpkins didn’t succeed because they listened to the advice of people who could never do what they did. They succeeded in spite of those people. Teachers should do the same. Ignore the naysayers. Don’t let the bastards get you down. Don’t let them smash your pumpkin.
* The Smashing Pumpkins are not actually in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but neither is Motley Crue, so the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame clearly has no clue what it’s doing.