Not on the Field? Spare Teachers Your Armchair Quarterbacking

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We don’t need to talk about how we’re in a historic teacher shortage or why talented teachers are leaving, so I’ll skip over all of that.

I want to talk about how done I am with the armchair quarterbacks of the teaching world.

Who are the armchair quarterbacks?

Traditional armchair quarterbacks are people who are not NFL players, but who readily offer their criticism of them from the armchair of their couch as a spectator. In the education world, they’re people who have never taught or maybe taught for a handful of years a long time ago, but who definitely haven’t been teaching in the last two years.

And somehow, despite this lack of experience and training, they know exactly how teachers should be doing their jobs. They know what’s appropriate—not just for their child but for every child in every classroom. They know how much homework, classwork, tests, and retests ought to be given. They make calls on “learning loss.” They criticize the efforts of the same teachers they said were heroes in the spring of 2020.

Or maybe these armchair quarterbacks don’t purport to know pedagogy or classroom decisions, but they definitely know everything about teacher behavior and motivation. They know that the teachers who left during the teacher shortage are lazy, and the teachers who stayed have destructive leftist agendas (programmed via their COVID vaccines). They know that if their child or neighbor or Facebook friend said something happened at school, it definitely happened that way. And when the unspeakable happens, it’s because teachers left the door open.

When you ask them how they got so knowledgeable on teaching without being an educator themselves, they talk about their teachers growing up. They’ll describe the way their school was; the way their classmates were. They talk about their experience as students.

In other words, they believe they’re in a position to evaluate teachers … because they once sat in a classroom.

Let’s think about how outrageous this is.

Last week, a librarian friend of mine was in a restaurant when the maître d’ asked if there were any physicians who could help a patron who had stopped breathing. Can you imagine if my friend had gone over and critiqued the physician’s chest compressions … because she’d seen all 19 seasons of Grey’s Anatomy?

What if a passenger on an airplane wanted to educate the pilot on how to avoid turbulence, citing his expertise with his frequent-flyer miles number?

We all roll our eyes at inexperienced people who criticize the experts. Why is it any different for those who tell teachers how to do their jobs?

Why are armchair quarterbacks a problem?  

In football, armchair quarterbacks aren’t a problem. At all. The real quarterbacks are making millions and can tune out the criticism from less experienced (or inexperienced) fans to listen to people who actually know what they’re talking about and who have been trained to support them—their coaches, trainers, doctors, therapists, PR reps, etc.

But while the NFL is a remarkably funded, highly respected, well-oiled machine, the same isn’t true for education. For decades, we have been stripping teachers of their professionalism, power, support, and respect. We can’t afford to have people contributing to the harmful and untrue narrative that education is broken because of teachers.

Education is broken because we don’t listen to teachers. It’s far more profitable to rely on teachers’ innate goodness and unpaid labor than to compensate them fairly. But that’s an article for another day.

For years, the armchair quarterbacks told complaining teachers, “If you hate it so much, why don’t you just leave?” I’m not sure we should be taking their coaching anymore.

I know the counterpoint here.

“So, what? Bad teachers don’t exist? Or should we just accept bad teaching? Can we not have an opinion on anything we’re not an expert in?”

Of course we shouldn’t accept bad teaching. But this is why we have instructional coaches, appraisers, and principals. These are the people who are trained on what good teaching looks like and who can actually provide that coaching to the teacher.

If parents and guardians notice worrisome academic or behavioral patterns, they should absolutely provide that feedback to the teacher on what they’ve noticed from a parent’s perspective. But feedback is different from criticism. Feedback is “Here’s what I’ve noticed from my standpoint—what are your thoughts? Can you help?” Criticism is “I’m in a position to understand both the problem and solution better than you.”

What teachers really need instead of armchair quarterbacks …

  • Your support. Believe it or not, you can support teachers as a whole even if you’ve noticed some bad apples. That’s what we do for football teams.
  • Your willingness to listen to the people who do this work day in and day out. Consider their perspective, experience, and expertise. Take a beat before you post that comment or fire off that email.
  • Your vote. Vote for candidates who listen to the needs of teachers and are willing to put their money where their mouth is. If you wouldn’t want your favorite quarterback replaced with a random inexperienced high school graduate, don’t vote for leaders who are doing that with teachers.

It’s not just experience that put teachers in a position to make informed decisions in the classroom. There’s situational context. Pedagogy and best practices. School, district, state, and federal laws and protocol. Oh, and a whole classroom full of other children with distinct needs, personalities, and challenges.

There’s way more to this job than you can see from the stands.

How do you feel about armchair quarterbacks? Let us know in the comments!

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