Last week was Administrative Professionals’ Day. On this day, you are supposed to take some time to thank your secretary and/or other support staff, usually with a gift or lunch or whatever. A Facebook friend who shall remain nameless expressed bafflement at the existence of said holiday, claiming that administrative professionals should not get extra recognition just for “doing their jobs.”
Of course, my mind immediately snapped to Teachers’ Appreciation Day/Week, which is coming up soon, actually. Would the Facebook friend be as quick to reject that holiday, on the grounds that teachers are also merely doing their jobs? Fully expecting to get flamed, I made a comment to this effect on the Facebook thread. Oh no, she replied, teachers deserve the extra recognition because they are so badly underappreciated, underpaid, and they “make us who we are today.”
Well this is where I almost spat my drink at my monitor. I have no doubt that these sentiments are very, very widely held. But they are unjustified, or at least are very hasty generalizations. Contrary to popular belief, teachers on the whole are not in fact paid badly at all. The Cato Institute has done research in this area; see especially this report and this post. And teachers do “make us who we are today” – but “who we are today” is unfortunately a population whose members often don’t read, write, or do math sufficiently well even to carry out basic life activities, and “who we are today” is a country that spends more on education than ever before – with no apparent payoff, except to teachers and other bureaucrats.
And, just on a personal note, I think I’d rather be the person who I would have been in the absence of about 1/3 of the teachers I had in K-12. Surprisingly many of them were not only incompetent, but petty, power-hungry, and even vindictive. I remain angry and bitter about those damaging years, and it’s part of why I’m so interested in education now (Maybe I’ll write a whole post on my anger and bitterness another time). But, because it was a wealthy area, most of the students did just fine academically – despite these bad teachers, not because of them. And, every year, the parents were coughing up expensive gifts and gift certificates for the poor, underappreciated teachers. I reckon that many of the teachers who truly deserve some extra appreciation – those who work with severely underprivileged students, those whose schools are unsafe, those who don’t make a decent living – are those who are, sadly, the least likely to receive it, holiday or not.
So I don’t know what to make of this situation. Obviously, I’m not a big fan of Teachers’ Appreciation Day (in fact, it makes me stabby). But, then, are both Administrative Professionals’ Day and Teachers’ Appreciation Day unjustified? Or is there some important difference between the two professions that I’m overlooking? The intentions are probably good – to draw attention and recognition to female-gendered, often marginalized lines of work. But perhaps these holidays are now past their prime. If you know an administrative professional or a teacher who is genuinely exceptional, you should thank him or her on your own time and on your own way. To suggest that all of these professionals are worthy of recognition and rewards just for existing is not fair to the ones who truly are.