When I tell the average American what my wife does for a living, they get a glassy-eyed look of reverence on their face and immediately say that it's so awesome that my wife is a schoolteacher.
When I add that my wife teaches in the city, the reverence turns to exaltation—ohmyGodthat'ssogreat—and I fear if I don't change the subject soon, the American will begin speaking to me in tongues.
And change the subject is exactly what the American wants me to do, because when you talk about teachers, the subject of education could follow. And despite the fact that every American says education is the most important blah blah blah in the blah blah blah of the future of blah blah blah, no one—no one—likes to talk about education. (Ken Robinson is one of the world's leading experts on education, and he confesses that when someone brings up education in a cocktail party conversation his first reaction is, "Oh, why me?")
So, to sum up, the American thinks teachers are totally amazing, that teachers who work in the howling ghetto are even more, like, heroes, but that education is to be talked about little and thought about even less.
And, meanwhile, the average American seems to be be convinced that many teachers, if not most, are bums and burnout cases who, without their creepy unions, would have no jobs at all.
If there's a job harder than educating the American child these days, it might be communicating about education with the childish American.