What's the matter with teachers today?

GIVEN ALL the talk about the importance of education these days, you'd think teaching would be the most revered job in America.

Forget what our CEOs with the seven- and eight-figure salaries do or don't do. When it comes to economic success, our fate seems to rest on our five-figure teachers. If they fail to impart the intricacies of algebra and physics and C++, we'll be overtaken by all those ambitious nations coming up behind us, fast.

It's enough to think we'd have fat bonus checks all written out and ready to shower on the teaching corps' best and brightest. And yet . . .

Teaching is one of the most criticized jobs in America. Our economic malaise? We lay a big chunk of blame on teachers. Our slide in the international test rankings? Ditto. State budget woes? Ditto again.

As comedian Jon Stewart might say: Whaaat?

How can teachers be the cause of our troubles . . . (Stewart pause here) . . . AND the solution?

YES, IT'S A little crazy. But it's not new.

From the days of the one-room schoolhouse on the prairie, our relationship with teachers has been, well, complicated.

We idolize them, but second-guess their judgment. Love the ones we know, but disparage the ones we don't.

We tell them, again and again, that they do the most important work in the world, but rarely ask them what we need to do to improve schools.

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