I was driving through Oklahoma a few weeks ago in the middle of a storm. I stopped at a red light and saw hordes of people carrying signs. Who in the world would be out in the rain on a day like this, I thought.
Teachers would. Because it mattered.
And when you really think about it- the cold rain was likely the easiest obstacle they’ve had to face for long time. Those teachers were working to accomplish a pay raise after years of having a stagnant income. According to what I read, the last tax hike to support education in Oklahoma was 30 years ago. That's not good. Since that day, a wave of teachers in other states like West Virginia, Arizona and Kentucky- are fighting for increases too.
Are they worth it?
It’s caused me to reflect a lot on what our expectations of teachers are and what my own experiences have been.
If you're keeping track, the school districts are trying to take responsibility for a host of societal maladies. They’ve started tracking children who have a brown discoloration on the back of their neck (acanthosis nigricans) and alerting doctors to screen for diseases like diabetes. They’ve started counseling sessions to help children whose families are going through divorces. They’ve been faced with training children to take standardized tests that are meant to assess the effectiveness of the school but ultimately stress out both children and teachers (I won’t include the name of that test - by the time this blog is published, they may change to a new test!) The teachers watch for signs that a child may be abused and deal with teenagers that take drugs.
Now there is talk that they should learn how to operate a gun to protect our children.
Are they worth a raise?
My parents did a great job raising me. My dad taught me how to apply weather stripping around a door and my mom taught me the importance of caring for others. But do you know who else raised me? My teachers. And I bet the same is true for you.
I confess I don’t remember the state capitols I once learned. I also can’t recall the order of the Presidents of the United States. But frankly, I can look that information up in seconds. What I learned, and retained, was far more valuable.
I had a fifth grade teacher who thought it wise to teach her class speed-reading. Seriously. I learned it in elementary school. I cannot express how VALUABLE this was in medical school and later in my career. She obviously had some flexibility in her lesson plans, I’ve never heard of this since. I kinda doubt teachers would be allowed to do something like that now...
One year, we did a huge project for our Middle East learning module. I read newspapers and magazine articles for months -and ultimately learned more about the issues in Egypt and Israel than most adults. Even today, the names Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin sends me back to the classroom where we felt like we are part of the world events. We’d take sides in discussions and debate what was going on. We wrote letters...and received responses from government officials. I learned that one person can be heard.
In biology class, I held a live fish tail under a microscope and gasped at what I saw. Actual blood cells traveling through the vessels. I would have stared for hours at the miracle in front of me. The teacher was emphatic that we’d do no harm to these fish. After a defined short time, we returned them to the water. She taught me two lessons. One- the incredible experience of seeing live biology. Two- respect for the subject matter.
What I’m trying to say is that I owe a tremendous amount to the teachers that I’ve been fortunate to come in contact with throughout my childhood. They have shaped me into what I am today. And I’ve been impressed by the ones I know as adults who have taken each new responsibility onto their shoulders and kept marching. For the kids.
Maybe I'm biased. I think children are our most precious resource. I believe that teachers should make a lot of money and that the field of education should attract the brightest and most creative individuals that our community has to offer. We expect an tremendous amount from our schools, we need to acknowledge that and act accordingly.
I want all of our teachers to get the respect they deserve, the support they need and a salary that will keep them in the field. Doesn't that just make sense?
May 8th is Teacher Appreciation Day. If you think about it, write a letter to a teacher that has made an impact in your life. (I just did) Being a teacher is a tough job. Let's show them some love.