I read Liam Julian's post "The Martyrs" right before the holiday (yes, I'm a little behind). Though needlessly flippant and condescending, he asks an interesting question: why are teachers so defensive when criticized?
He, specifically, is upset at teachers who dismiss the opinions of others by pointing out that they've never taught (as some teachers recently did to him) and argues that the idea that only teachers can judge other teachers is a logical fallacy. He makes a valid point; it is possible to recognize excellent or poor teaching (and, for that matter, good and bad ideas for a school) without having ever taught.
That said, I'm not sure he really gets to the heart of the issue. Simply saying that a teacher is wrong when they make that argument is at least as unproductive as a teacher making that argument in the first place.
In other words, let's try to find an answer to the question "Why do teachers get so defensive?" other than "they're wrong, so who cares."
I was quite critical of teachers before I started teaching. But now, with the exception of those few who are both truly awful and don't care, I hesitate a bit before I lash out. And I wince about when I hear others lash out.
In my experience, teaching is a very personal pursuit. It requires a lot of an individual. Many people who go into teaching devote more than just time and energy into their teaching -- it's more than just a job to them. It's also much more difficult and nuanced than it looks. I was pretty cocky before I started teaching -- I was convinced that I could sweep in and change the world. And then I discovered about a million things that I never would have anticipated.
I think these two things make teachers quite jumpy when they are criticized. I used to deliver newspapers when I was younger. If somebody had told me I was a bad newspaper boy, I wouldn't have been particularly happy; but it wouldn't have been the end of the world. I simply placed newspapers inside of doors after school and then went back home -- it was something that I did to earn some cash to buy candy and other cool (and worthwhile) stuff rather than a part of my identity.
For many teachers, however, their job is personal. And criticism of the way they do their jobs is seen as criticism of them as people. And nobody takes kindly to that.
Perhaps more important is that anybody who has taught knows that there's more to it than it looks like. When people from the outside criticize teachers, I think it's quite logical to point out that that they don't know the full story. It's a heck of a lot easier to point out what a teacher is doing incorrectly than to actually do it correctly. That doesn't mean that somebody who has never taught can't recognize good teaching and bad teaching, but that their understanding of why a teacher is doing something or what they should do differently lacks nuance.
Lastly, I think there is a mismatch in expectations and rewards for teachers. I'm not sure if the members of any other occupation have such high expectations placed upon them by the public. Your dentist doesn't make the newspaper if they post a picture of themselves in a bikini on their myspace page. Your accountant isn't shunned on the local news if they have a sex-change operation. Teachers are expected to be role models and to conduct themselves with dignity at all times. And yet, teachers may also be criticized more than any other sector of society. In other words, teachers are expected to be perfect, but are treated as second-class citizens in a number of respects.
When somebody pours their heart and sole into a difficult job that commands little respect it shouldn't surprise us when they bristle at criticism.