What do teachers and reporters have in common?

Being a teacher and being a reporter share so much fundamentally in common.

  • Both take complicated information and break it down so it’s more easily understood.
  • Both ask questions and are pretty good at finding answers.
  • Both believe deeply in the power of stories, of finding them and sharing them.
  • Both see it was their job to provide the details that make people more curious and engaged.
  • Both believe that helping people know more about their world can change the world.

It bothers me to say this, but I also think teachers and reporters share too much in common in terms of how they’re attacked or undermined. I grew accustomed, as a reporter, to having to more or less apologize for my job, to feel awkward because I knew people distrusted me and my profession. At the time, I more or less understood it because many people have had experiences where they felt news reporters mistreated or misunderstood something they were involved with or believed in. Some personally felt misquoted or misrepresented. Others saw mistakes in news reports about them or their organizations. I’ve also been present at major news events where reporters seemed insensitive and pack-like. I understood the criticism or mistrust, and I worked to change it. But despite seeing the validity of some of the criticism, I believed (and still believe) deeply in my profession, its strengths and its importance.

It was a different story when I started teaching. Then I was frankly baffled, thrown off-guard when there were similar attacks on teachers. Seriously. I started teaching around the same time that the governor of my state of Wisconsin launched a successful assault on teachers’ unions. It was shocking to me how many people suddenly hated teachers. You’d hear people raging about the fact that teachers were overpaid and had too much job protection, that they were lazy and incompetent. You’d hear accusations that teachers were trying to brainwash students or had some sort of secret agenda. Suddenly, no one trusted teachers. Amid this, I gradually developed a theory that it actually was pretty easy to churn up a groundswell of mistrust and anger directed toward teachers because everyone has had teachers (so everyone is an expert). And everyone has had lousy ones. For parents, it really stinks to see your kid in a terrible classroom and to come home anxious or upset about school. And everyone has at least one year like that.

But what is gained from turning people against teachers? What is gained from making people mistrust and oppose the people educating their children?

I guess this is where I really see what teaching and reporting have in common. What’s to be gained by the mistrust? Who wins when no one believes in the importance of a free press or public education? What happens when no one has trust — trust in verifiable information, trust that facts exist and can be shared, trust that truth exists?

I’m planning on writing more this week about the role of the press in our society and how it parallels the role of teachers. I want us to think more about this, as we continue our work educating students.

As teachers, I’m hoping we can support journalism at this time it’s so under attack. Why? Because information is powerful. Details matter. Stories can change the world. As teachers, we know that. Our jobs are built on that.  We share a lot in common with journalists. And we can be among the people who step forward and stand with them.

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