A Final Lesson All Their Own
Who was your Kindergarten teacher? 2nd grade? Middle school math? High school English? I bet you can tell me if you are 25. I bet you can tell me if you are 55, or 75, and every age in between. Teachers are heroes. They change lives and they go above and beyond. Teachers sacrifice their own money for students to eat lunch, to have a snack, to have classroom supplies, to have a jacket in the winter. Teachers get to school early and leave late. They love their students, and they support families in the toughest of times. Teachers become second parents to students, and become etched in the memories of children forever. Teachers feel guilty because they spend more time with your children than they do with their own. And, unfortunately, teachers are quitting.
Too Much for Too Little
Parents send children to school believing and trusting that no matter what happens in those hours their child is cared for and protected. We, as a society, expect it. We expect teachers to protect our kids from tornadoes, bullying, school shooters, terrorist attacks. You name it – they are supposed to be able to do it – in addition to their job of teaching. And for being prepared to risk their lives when they go to work – yes I said it and it’s not an exaggeration in this country – we are content to pay them crumbs. To teachers we hand over our most valuable possessions, our children, our hearts walking around outside our bodies. We see the teachers helping our children grow, and we are so so thankful.
2 Balloons & a Temporary Spot
Then we watch schools nominate a Teacher of the Year and give them a $20 plant and two balloons and a temporary parking spot in front of the building. We praise teachers and give them a week of appreciation each year where they might get a card from a student or a handmade bracelet or a used hair bow, a discount on a McDonald’s sweet tea or a whole sausage biscuit, or a Mt. Dew on a snack cart, and then we give them crumbs in their paycheck. And we expect them to be excited about the crumbs and God forbid if they complain. Teachers have been conditioned to do more for less. Now they are calling it quits.
Teachers Are Quitting
Teachers sponsor clubs and activities for students for zero extra pay. They go to meetings for zero extra pay. They grade papers all weekend for zero extra pay. Teachers are working multiple jobs and still cannot afford to cover the needs of their own families. I never thought I would be the teacher who would say that I wouldn’t tell my own children to go into teaching. That used to make me upset. Why would a teacher say that? How could they say that if they love teaching? But now I get it.
If I wasn’t married with our family having an additional income, I couldn’t afford our bills – not now and not ever before in any of the houses we have lived in on a teacher’s salary. And I’m not trying to live lavishly – I drive a used Honda van that has broken down so many times I’ve lost count. Until I had three children, I worked every summer. Summer is like an illusion for teachers. They aren’t paid but still have to go to meetings and plan. People think you have months of vacation.
The Biggest Loss Yet
Lots of people have no idea that teachers sign a contract that basically says they will do whatever is asked of them. So going to a School Improvement Team meeting in the summer, late nights taking money and handing tickets out at a ball game, grading papers at 7 p.m., chaperoning a dance or other event – all out of the goodness of their hearts (and their contract expectations) with zero pay. Teachers feel disrespected and incredibly undervalued, especially the more they come to realize that what they face every day is ridiculous compared to how other professions treat employees. Huge amounts of teachers are leaving the profession. Many predict 2022-2023 will be the biggest loss of educators to date.
Leaving in Droves
According to the National Education Association, “The number of people working in U.S. public education has dropped from 10.6 million (1/20) to 10.0 million (1/22), a loss of 600,000. Further, 55% of educators currently working are considering leaving earlier than they had previously planned” (2022). There are low numbers of students attending college for education. Some schools are totally dissolving their education programs. Colleen Flaherty reported: “Nationally, total enrollment in teacher preparation programs declined by more than one-third between 2010 and 2017.” This is an issue that is going to have huge ripple effects.
Similarly, according to Flaherty, “The University of South Florida shocked students, faculty members and community partners in 2020 when it said it was shuttering all its undergraduate education programs due to significant enrollment declines…” Locals, outraged because local school districts recruit teachers from the program, convinced the university to reverse their course. The University of California, Davis, also put a halt to suspending their teacher education program due to protests.
But how long can we expect universities to run programs with hardly any students, and still pay their own faculty? Why are we yelling at the colleges to continue programs and not yelling at the law makers who determine low teacher salaries, year after year after year?
People Don’t Care
Teachers – here’s what I’ve learned. A lot of people don’t care. Teachers (who I love) share things on social media: complaints, teachers should be paid more, etc. I’m sharing this article. But listen – I’m not trying to be negative. I’m being honest. People don’t care. They don’t care that teachers are tired and they don’t care that teachers don’t get paid enough. They throw it back that lots of jobs don’t get paid enough. I would agree that that is true. The argument of teachers, though, is not that they should get paid more and others shouldn’t. People don’t care that you think about quitting your job. Most people don’t care that you are stressed out. They don’t care if you got assaulted by a student. They don’t care you missed your kids ball game and/or recital. You chose this job, they say.
They might even tell you what I have been told, “I’ve never had a teacher who deserved to be paid more.” People don’t care that right here in N.C. we already recruit teachers internationally to fill our classrooms because we can’t find anyone who wants to teach. This isn’t news – this has been going on for years.
In 2016, Jess Clark reported on college students in N.C. saying that becoming a teacher in this state “is not worth it” and that teaching is a job that never stops. Jailen Wallis, whose mother is a teacher, said “You work all the time…It’s just a constant, constant job.” In February of this year, WRAL shared that Ashton Clemmons, a state lawmaker, said “The alarm bells are now ringing very loudly.”
Some say, soon there won’t be any teachers licensed to teach. Again – many people just do not care. People will send their child to a private school with a state sponsored voucher with teachers who aren’t as educated as you in a heartbeat, teachers who might not even be licensed. Parents have different reasons. We all do what we think is best for our children and different children need different environments. The politics are complicated. I don’t fault a parent who is trying to do the very best for their child. It’s no secret, however, that some parents care more about the color of the skin of the kids in their child’s classroom than they do about whether or not the teacher has any license whatsoever.
What if public schools had been assisted, with companies rushing in to help like they do for shiny new charter schools? What if all the parents kept their kids there and worked to make things better instead of going to private schools? I know some will say that happened and public schools couldn’t get it together, but I don’t know.
Things would look quite differently today if investments and dedication had been made to neighborhood schools – to fixing what was already there instead of building new somewhere else.
A Lesson of Their Own
Why doesn’t change happen? Unless you vote out the people making these choices to keep giving you low pay, you keep getting low pay. And the truth is a lot of people aren’t willing to do that, at least here in N.C. People vote according to other beliefs, within party lines, and educators keep getting crumbs.
And so here we are and you have to make a choice for your own family. Lots of teachers are walking. I walked, after 14 years. I wanted a chance at a higher salary and less bitterness when I brought home my check each month. There were other reasons too, but I can confidently say that when I started teaching I planned to be in a public school (K-12) until I retired. I have questioned my choice many times because I loved what I was doing. I miss those students and their families. The pay is not enough – period.
Is it Best for You?
No one that I know of is handing out prizes to the teachers who work themselves to death – driving buses, doing car duty, and a million other things in a day. When you make the choice as a teacher to stay and do what you love and fight for more pay against the people who just really don’t care, ask yourself how much longer you can wait. Ask yourself if it’s best for your family. Ask yourself if you still love teaching.
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