I am a big supporter of the teacher strikes in West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Kentucky, with Arizona on the horizon of a strike. It is important that people outside the field of education recognize the important role teachers have and begin to treat them as other professionals with competitive salaries and benefits. While some view teachers as the single agent that can bring about change (propaganda brought upon by movies like Waiting for Superman), we should recognize that teachers have lives of their own, too, and cannot devote every single bit of their time to the classroom. From these strikes, we see an assortment of educators who work multiple jobs to make ends meet. How have the working conditions in this country deteriorated so much for teachers, such that it's similar to the working conditions of the 1960s (see linked article above)? Salaries are despicably low and many states are now right-to-work states, which cannot collect dues from members to collectively bargain, effectively crippling the union.
It is inspiring to see the teachers strike despite the right-to-work laws. Something is finally being done about the low salaries we have endured. Since becoming a mother, time has become even more valuable to me and I expect to be compensated for the good work I do. I prioritize my time very carefully at work--making sure the plans and materials are ready for the week's lessons, making sure I differentiate all the lessons so all my learners can achieve in their zone of proximal development, and making sure I stay on top of my students' IEPs (Individualized Educational Plans). However, this work often takes up more time than there is in the school day. I am allotted my lunch and one prep period per day to do all of those things, so yes, I will take work home to finish once my children fall asleep in their beds. I wish special education teachers and teachers in general were compensated for the many hours they put in to teaching their students.
I think respecting teachers also means respecting and valuing their time. Respect the hours teachers work (e.g. end the professional development workshop when it is supposed to end so teachers can get home to their families) and compensate them for extra work they do outside of the school building (e.g. planning for math curriculum, preparing for project based learning experiences, etc.). The budget is part of the conversation of what's wrong with education in America these days. If politicians actually valued their teachers, they would prioritize education funding and direct it towards teacher salaries instead of the next new trendy fad that an outside education consultant with limited classroom experience advises.
Unionizing (collective bargaining at its best, even without formalized union representation) is important because unions not only protect students' interests (e.g. lower class sizes, making sure special ed students are entitled to their services, etc.), but they also help ensure that their teachers are well rested (not working multiple jobs) and have a livelihood of their own. Pay our teachers well so that we can raise our families while not having to sacrifice the profession we love.
From the New York Times:
In deciding to go into the field of education, I've received both criticism and praise from people I respect and from people whom I wish had more respect for others. For those who value the teaching profession and see its worth in creating more socially conscious minds, I hope you read this blog and see yourself nodding your head. For those of you who believe that teaching is easy and that only "those who could not do it, teach," I hope this blog gives you a fresh, new perspective on teaching.
Whoever said teaching at the elementary school level, or any level for that matter, is easy, has obviously never had any experience teaching 25 kids coming from diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds with different skill levels and social backgrounds. Teaching is not easy; it's exhausting, you get sick all the time because your students don't know how to cover their mouth (or in Kindergarten, don't know how to keep their hands out of their mouth); you're in an underpaid profession; you spend time at home lesson-planning; you struggle to discipline the students who have no discipline at home; and above all, you do not want one single kid to drop-out or get discouraged about their abilities.
I entered a profession that is one of the most challenging and underpaid. So, some of you have asked why? Why didn't you become a lawyer, a doctor, or even a professor where you can earn more money? My answer to you is this:
For me, going into the teaching profession is not a matter of money. It is a matter of will. I've decided to devote myself to my students because I love what I do, am proud of what I do, and cannot be happier knowing I am shaping the way young individuals see themselves, others, and the world. I want to be a teacher. Did I always know I wanted to become a teacher? No. Like other college graduates, I didn't know what I wanted to do for the next five years. For people who have lots of interests in many different fields, how do you meld your interests together with your skills?
It's about knowing yourself or "Know Thyself" as the Greeks would say. Know what your interests are and know how to prioritize how you want to impact the world; know your values; know what makes you feel so motivated you could work for hours on end without thinking it is a struggle with other parts of your life; know that you must do what will make you happy.
Teaching is never easy because one individual is never simple. We are complex individuals, even more so as children, because we are trying to figure out the world, why things are the way they are, and what we are capable of. Teachers must believe in the potential of their students. The moment a teacher gives up on a student, is a moment when they stop believing in their own ability to help the child. Students have the potential to grow and learn. Teachers must step up to the challenge and think creatively and powerfully to how they can affect and reach that unique student.
I am a teacher because I know I will step up to the challenge.
The views expressed on these pages are mine alone and do not reflect those of institutions, organizations, or employers associated with me, past or present.