Thursday, February 24, 2011

Embracing Teachers

Embracing Teachers by Moonstruck1

It has become increasingly popular to bash teachers.  This teacher bashing is a sad commentary on a society that is in an educational free fall.  How is it productive to bash the professionals charged to educate children and young adults? 

We are all frustrated by high taxes and wasted dollars in our school districts.  But, the money spent on teachers is not wasted.  If it takes a village to raise a child, it certainly takes many talented, creative, dedicated classroom teachers at the heart of our educational process.

In the fifties, when my older sister began elementary school, the highlight of my day started when my sister returned and it was our turn to “play school.”  Before I started kindergarten, my sister had already taught me to read and to write.  In fact, my elementary school teachers were leaps ahead of their time because they willingly “individualized my instruction.”  As children, we played dolls and we played doctor, even cowboys and Indians….but our perennial favorite game was “playing school.”  Most kids love teachers until some teacher bashing adult undermines that relationship.

Interestingly, when teachers were underpaid, they were beloved.  But, as soon as teachers started earning a fair and respectable wage, they suddenly became the scapegoat for everyone’s angst over high property taxes.  Most kids imitate what they experience at home.  If parents bash teachers, you can be assured their children will mimic that disrespect. 

It’s ironic that Americans love professional athletes earning 20 million a year, love movie stars demanding 20 million a picture, love rappers garnering 20 million an album, but begrudge teachers professional salaries. 
Interestingly, many citizens think teaching is easy work until they try it.  Elementary school teachers take 25 vulnerable children with varying basic skills and maturity levels and teach them to behave, to read, to write, to add, to subtract, to share, to use computers.  High school teachers have five classes with over 130 students, and somehow get these young adults to read Shakespeare, to write effectively and understand the causes of war and chemical equations and program computers and speak foreign languages.  And, don’t forget these 130 students all have emotional baggage, unique learning styles and different rates of learning.

Some gripers complain that teachers only work ten months a year.  But, few know that teachers are not paid during the summer.  And, their unpaid summer is devoted to completing the mandatory graduate work to maintain their positions.  Others complain that teachers work a short day.  But, what is the difference between working 7 to 3 and working 9 to 5?  It’s still eight hours.  But, here’s the real difference:  at the end of the day, after most employees return home, their work is done.  Teachers go home, but after dinner they start their second shift:  grading papers, planning lessons, writing recommendations, calling parents, and creating tests and other materials.   Teachers also attend school meetings and parent conferences and concerts and plays and class trips and sporting events.

If teaching is so easy, why do so many dedicated academic teachers retire at age 55?  The answer is that most teachers are exhausted from working too hard.  After working 60 to 70 hours a week for 34 years, they realize that life must get easier.  I have one teacher friend who became a doctor, another became a bond trader, and two others became lawyers, they all left teaching because they felt overworked, underpaid and undervalued.  The disrespect hurts most of all.

When young girls are pregnant, they tell a teacher.  When young boys are bullied, they tell a teacher.  When young girls or boys are hurt or humiliated or rejected or friendless or dateless, they tell a teacher.  So, in addition to planning  a lesson and leading a discussion, the teacher must make sure that the poor child has money for lunch and the friendless child has someone to eat with, and the victimized child believes in his worth, and the second string athlete continues with sports, and the plump child stays in school, and the anorexic child sees a counselor and the angry child does not hurt himself or someone else.  And, this is all in the context of a typical day’s work. 

Experienced teachers are not overpaid.   Teaching is like parenting: the job is never, ever done.   Most successful adults became who they are today because of the many dedicated teachers who mentored, believed and encouraged them along the way.