A school district in Oklahoma recently produced and posted a powerful video about the state of teaching and the profound challenges that teachers face every day. Teachers work with our children day in and day out – a vocation that is one of the most important for our nation’s economy, our future, and our growth. And yet they lack the respect that comes with such an important job. This translates into lower salaries, less support, and fewer opportunities for professional advancement.
“If my teachers don’t feel valued, don’t feel respected, then they can’t do what they need to do to meet the needs of our kids today.”
In the video, teachers talk about taking on second jobs to support their families. They tearfully explain that they look out at their students – and even their own children – and see those who would be wonderful teachers, but explain that those with such promise say they would never go into the field because of the demeaning pay.
“I need to be paid an honest wage. I need to be valued as a teacher, as an educator and acknowledged through my paycheck in a way that shows me that all of my education and all of my experience and all of my dedication is worth it.”
How did one of the most important professions in our community come to be regarded so poorly? Do we really think that imparting knowledge and wisdom to our children and youth is easy? I challenge you to take over a classroom for a day — or an hour. Is it that we take for granted the availability of an education and good teachers?
“I don’t think the vast majority of the public understands how hard it is to reach each and every individual student where they are and give them what they need.”
Or is it a deep and abiding lack of respect for public service? I have a feeling that public support for teachers is similar to that of public servants and politicians. No one likes Congress, but most folks like their individual representatives. Most people love and respect the teachers they know, but it is too easy to paint “teachers” with a broad brush as group of government employees who work 6 hours a day and have summers off. To think of “teachers” as people who have no performance measures and limited accountability, who can’t get fired and are assured steady paychecks.
“Everybody loves to yell from their megaphone that teachers deserve more but nothing is getting done…”
Whatever the reason, these Oklahoma teachers and their smart superintendent are right. We need to do something – now – to change the perception of teachers and to ensure they get the pay and respect they deserve. It is easy to understand teachers’ frustration, especially in North Carolina, where average teacher pay ranks 42nd in the nation. We need to form public-private partnerships to supplement pay. We need to reform student testing so that learning is measured, not impeded. We need to give teachers the tools they need to succeed.
We need to do these things, and we need to demand that our leaders do them. Because if we don’t – quickly – we will lose the ability to adequately educate the next generation. We will return to a world where an education is available only to those who can afford it, hampering our economic security and stability for years to come. And we will lose the best advocates that our children have in this world.
“Some of my kiddos don’t have anybody. They really don’t. Being that smiling face that they see everyday, it means something.”
As important as the knowledge teachers impart is, the life lessons they teach are even more important. Often, teachers are the constant in a child’s life, a source of stability and comfort. They inspire; they encourage; they care.
“I can’t change the world with my 150 students. But maybe I can. It’s worth a shot.”