People might point out that I am myself a know-nothing compared to the professor of comparative languages from Princeton, but that type of superstar academic is seldom found stumbling around a public school with students struggling below grade level. Public schools typically hire teachers with good state educations, with some kind of certification. But now that teaching has become such a hopeless endeavor, now that the profession is bogged down by budget concerns and political attacks, hardly anyone, no matter their expertise, wants to risk their livelihood authentically improving student outcomes.
The English degree takes quite a bashing, and the result of this is that an entire subject is deprofessionalized. Now, at least in my state, nearly anyone, no matter their course of study, can teach English in a public school. The horrific outcomes are obvious to people like me that actually follow trends and can notice the decline in the classroom. In my short career, I have taught students that can't read at grade level, have no knowledge of academic vocabulary, no relationship with any book, have never read a newspaper or magazine, don't know any current events, are media illiterate, and cannot speak or listen in the classroom. Some of my students cannot use dictionary guide words, cannot take effective notes, have never asked questions of a text, and cannot plan an essay. They know nothing of banned book week, poetry month, what a poet laureate does, or the part that opinion plays in American life. These types of disenfranchised and miseducated students will not succeed in college or in the job marketplace without serious intervention.
When my feelings of confusion rise to the surface because of a scheming manipulator or hateful sycophant, I push my hurt down and watch the ooze glide off of my fingers onto my pen to the page beneath; my tear splattered manuscript becomes a textual product of the mental stress this kind of gaslighting takes on me the teacher. An entire state changed its standards to help people like me ward off the fake English teacher. One fake happened to make an enormous amount of money running a low-achieving high school that I happened to work in. Before that position, she worked as an English teacher in a charter school that was closed due to falsifying student records. Her "know nothingness" accentuated her ridiculous behavior.
She arrogantly strode into my room accompanied by an equally clueless Teach for America candidate that also masqueraded as an English teacher, and then yelled at me in front of my students because "They aren't doing anything"! The students, some of them for the first time in their lives, were busily self-selecting books from my classroom library to read for the first few minutes of class. Some of the students filled the books with sticky note comments and placeholders so that they could go back to the books again and again to keep reading. She hauled me into an admin meeting and wrote me up for insubordination after she caught my kids reading after her outburst. My lawyer, armed with academic research proving the benefits of sustained silent reading, had a hard time understanding her smug stupidity. The result of the meeting hurt all of us, the students and myself. In place of reading, the students practiced standardized test questions.
Another Know-a-Lot claimed to have an English background, even bragged about an English degree, but couldn't understand why classroom novels and projects related to shared texts mattered. She sat at her desk while the "kids did lit circles with choice books." This person even tried to convince the administration that the new state standards didn't allow for assigned texts, by far the dumbest assumption ever uttered by a person in a public school. And this person even suggested that encouraging student writers to professionalize and join English departments, and become English majors, is a form of disservice, a barricade to their employment.
I know my readers think I harp on this a bit too much, but I believe our darkness, the horrible state of our world, is due in part to the mixed messages that our students cannot properly decode. Our students are ill-equipped through no fault of their own. Until we recognize that real credentials matter, until we treat our fellow teachers with respect and provide them with the authority to create authentic activities in the classroom based on shared texts and stacks of texts, while incorporating multimedia literacy, we will not solve the misinformation problem. And the misinformation problem, the confusion, is paradoxically connected to the fake English teacher. In this way, the fake English teacher is a threat to national security.
All students can learn to do any of the things in the above list. They need an authentic English teacher, and you can't provide that to a school system if you downgrade the degree itself. I've seen fake English teachers with philosophy degrees, psychology degrees, history degrees, and so on. Maybe that is okay if the teacher is willing to add hours of education in English literature and composition. But I don't see that happening. What I see is a slow withering away of the English teacher. I see a slow withering away of the librarian. I see a political movement based on fascism forcing its own low standard on our educational system by creating near unbearable working conditions for literacy experts. I see book bans and attacks on teachers and academics. The government threatened librarians with jail time. This kind of multi-generational ignorance is a real threat to our country. When someone is happy to walk up to you and accuse you of spreading filth because you are an English teacher, freedom and democracy are threatened.