Many Americans live in an era where their jobs present new daily challenges: so many of us are expected to do more with less; others feel underpaid and overworked, while many wish the government would get out of their profession. We take heat when we don’t perform, and we go home soured by the work day. Times are tough for many, but the challenges facing American teachers are unique. There aren’t many professions who are the punching bag for what some seem to see as our nation’s a fatal and futile future. Targets hang from our back for many societal conditions we can’t control.
We read about how the next celebrity, politician, or classroom dilettante comments on the “mess” of education or promotes its next panacea. We go home with exhaustion, but we somehow return to our classrooms each day to pillar and promote “The American Dream.” We have our challenges, yes, but we believe we can overcome them. We believe in many things – because we’re teachers. It’s part of the job description.
We believe we do our best with the students we’re given. In business, one can choose clients; in education, most cannot. With that responsibility, it’s amazing what fills our plates: Parents who physically and mentally abuse their children. Homeless students. Helicopter parents. The only hearty meal for some students is their cafeteria lunch. Bullying. Students’ over-anxiety and pressure to “achieve.” Threats of lawsuits. Drugs. Students who must babysit their younger siblings as soon as they return home from school. Attention deficit disorders. Autism. Poverty. Crime. Malnutrition. Dropouts. Truancy. Neglect. Children who witness violence or commit suicide.
Playing the role of marriage counselor, psychologist, sociologist, detective, character-instiller, mentor, and leader never seemed to be part of our training to be a “classroom teacher,” and yet here we are in the 21st Century, wearing all of these hats – with a smile.
We believe we do our best with the directives we are given. There are many things put in the lap of teachers worldwide: Common Core standards, state standards, district initiatives, principal’s goals, and a litany of other “relevant” directives pile up simultaneously on our desk’s inbox and in our brain’s “whoa box.”
We work with bigger class sizes, more classes to teach, less copies to make, less investment in technology, more expectations, less collaborative time, less time to learn about and interact with students, staff attrition (or worse, teacher layoffs). But when we receive our student rosters at the beginning of the school year, our sense of duty is replenished and our promise to our students renewed.
We believe we are entitled to be treated like professionals. We teachers don’t strut around wearing tired sweaters and mismatching socks. That tired obloquy retired long before we entered the 21st century. We dress professionally because we are professionals and we expect to be treated that way. When the gurus talk about performance pay and expect us to “rise above” and make every student proficient at whatever subject we teach, we look at the clock and our 40-odd minutes a day to accomplish that feat.
What happens at home is a different story. Just like you don’t hold a doctor’s salary hostage to a patient’s smoking habits or a dentist’s to the neglect of flossing, we teachers don’t believe our pay should reflect our students’ habits after our work day is complete.
Likewise, we play the role of classroom “lawyer” everyday, persuading our students to read instead of wasting away on YouTube, promote a sense of citizenship instead of a sense of entitlement, and make for Students To-Do instead of Honey Boo Boos. We are sales people. We are entertainers. We provide some of the best services that God and the community both demand and need. We believe we are professionals.
We believe we don’t ask for keys to the treasure chest, and shouldn’t be treated as if we are. Teachers don’t enter the profession to get rich. We collect certain wealth that most can’t put a price tag on: a surprise letter from a former student, an “aha moment” we’ve spurred, or the lasting imprints we can make are quite invaluable. But when the bartender down the street makes $20,000 more annually than we do, when the CEO dad earns 10 – 100x our salary, or when the pitcher on the baseball field makes more in a season than our whole school does in a lifetime, we just want to feel like we’re paid what we deserve.
We believe we work hard to work miracles. We don’t get bonuses, and many teachers are being asked to take a pay freeze or even a cut. We we want to collectively bargain and make a decent living wage. While we make less than our private industry counterparts, we want a pension that’s promised to us (and one we’ve paid for). While some hardliners cast us as sucklers of the public coffer’s teat or budget conquistador, we come home to our spouses and try to make our ends meet just like many other families. We want to feel like we don’t need a 2nd job in doing this incredible work.
There are 7.2 million of us in America, and we teachers are good people. We are not thieves. We are not bank robbers. We are stewards of democracy and of this nation’s future, and one component of that is the decently paid teacher. Lastly, we believe many of our greatest students should be entering our profession and not shying away from it for primarily economic reasons.
While our profession is filled with challenges, we never retreat from our responsibilities at the front of the classroom. Like many people who spend so much time in the public eye, the teacher will always be a lightning rod. We accept that. Politicians, pedigrees, and polymaths all know this much. The public may always expect us to be all of the above. We enjoy that challenge, because we believe we accomplish parts of it everyday.
But, most of all, we believe that if we had to go back and “do it all over again,” we’d choose to be teachers. We love what we do, and we dedicate our entire beings to it. We care too much about our community, our democracy, our future, and our students simply because we’re lucky enough to be employed in a profession that helps them all. And we believe in them – it’s part of the job description.