Think back to your childhood and recall where you spent the most time growing into the person you are today. Your home is probably one of the first places that comes to mind, followed by school. The National Center on Education and the Economy cites that on average, the lower secondary school day lasts 6.8 hours, with a majority of states in the U.S. requiring schools to be in session for approximately 180 days of the year. This means that students may spend up to 1,224 hours per year in school, which is a significant amount of time. The primary catalysts in students’ schooling environment are teachers. Educators are not only responsible for teaching academic subjects to students, but they often support students in their personal lives and serve as a source of encouragement. In fact, We are Teachers claims that 54% of students say a teacher has helped them during a difficult time. However, teachers do not get the credit that they deserve for what they do, and this needs to change in our society.
When looking at the data, it is obvious that teachers have a monumental impact on future generations. One of the many reasons why I want to educate students after graduation is because I want to contribute to the positive impact teachers make every day. But let me be honest with you when I say that I am discouraged by the current climate surrounding education. For instance, you would think that as a result of their great impact, educators would receive one of the highest salaries of any occupation in this country. However, Business Insider reports that the United States ranks seventh in the world for teacher pay, but pays less than half of what the first place country pays its teachers. This statistic is appalling considering every person needs an education in order to become a competent member of society.
Looking at the education climate in more detail, there is a negative connotation associated with the teaching profession. I frequently find myself in awe of the effortful work teachers perform every day while receiving nowhere near enough credit. I am certainly biased, but I view education as the most influential career in terms of societal growth. When I tell people I want to go into elementary education, I am often speechless at some of the comments I receive: “God bless you, you must be brave,” “Are you sure you want to be a teacher?” or “You’re going to get tired of that profession after a while!” I have never understood where this negativity comes from, and it is certainly disheartening to hear as a future educator. I cannot even imagine how remarks like this make current teachers feel.
Another dimension of teacher underappreciation lies in the evolving status of teacher culture due to COVID-19. Let’s face it: this global pandemic has provided challenging times for nearly everyone. Although there have been many trials this year, I am encouraged by the way so many people have rallied around the heroes, such as: healthcare professionals and first responders being some of the first groups that come to mind. In no way am I discrediting the importance of these professions, but I believe that educators fall into this category too. Whether teachers are administering a fully virtual classroom or teaching in both in-person and online formats this year, the flexibility and adaptability teachers possess is astounding. I thought that this pandemic may bring increased recognition and appreciation for teachers. Unfortunately, this has not consistently been the case. I have heard numerous accounts of backlash teachers are feeling from parents and administrators, as well as recent state policy changes that are decreasing teacher pay and benefits even further.
With all this information on the table, I want to pose these questions: When will Americans finally give their teachers the appreciation and credit they deserve? When will our politicians and lawmakers pass legislation that positively benefits the well-being of educators? Although I have no idea when this will occur, I do know that it starts with you. Each and every one of you has the power to create change in your social circles, and this change can start today. It can start with calling your current and previous teachers to thank them for the work that they do. It can start with contacting your legislators about increasing teacher pay. It can even start with an act as simple as registering to vote—and actually voting when Election Day comes to make your voice heard. I will leave you with this message: support our teachers so that our teachers can continue to support students for generations to come.
By Hannah Porter, Staff Writer