I couldn’t believe the words came out of my mouth. One minute I was in line to grab lunch and a cup of coffee, the next I let fly a few choice words. Fortunately for me, the guy, who dwarfed me by nearly a foot and a good 90 pounds, was too stunned to react.
I paid for my coffee and walked out of the store. When I was miles away, I let out a gasp. I was just minding my own business, waiting in line to pay, when the two guys behind me started complaining about the state of education.
They repeated all the lines you’ve heard a million times before: teachers have it easy; teachers make too much money; teachers work only a few months a year; the bad teachers outnumber the good ones; ‘those who can, do, those who can’t, teach’; and my favorite, teachers are the reason property taxes are so high.
I listened intently for a few minutes. They made a few good points. Heck, even I have a lot of issues with how many of our schools are run today, but the two men lacked a lot of facts. I tried to avoid them and pay attention to something else, but my line, for whatever reason, ground to a halt.
I’m usually not the type to get into a heated discussion with strangers. I tend to believe “to each his own,” but the men were so loud and obnoxious to everyone else in the store, it ate at me. With each new wild claim, my blood pressure went up another notch until finally I couldn’t take it anymore. I interrupted the louder of two guys and told him they were full of BS and needed to go back to school.
A lesson in reality
I’ve never taught a day in my life — except for the two years I volunteered as a 7th grade CCD teacher at my church — however I’ve been fortunate to have a front row seat for the past 25 years watching my wife work as a special education teacher in a variety of urban and suburban school settings.
When I’m out somewhere and someone inevitably brings up the high cost of education, I always want to bring them home to my house. Here’s what I want them and the two guys I saw in the convenience store to see:
–I want them to see the hours my wife works in the evening, updating her lesson plans and writing Individualized Education Plans (IEPs). She rarely goes a night without opening her laptop to update some report or another and, at the very least, to respond to a parent question that she wasn’t able to get to after putting in a 8-plus hour day. Yes, there are times when I have to bring work home with me too. For me, it’s a night here or there and it’s because I want to excel in my job. For my wife, it’s every night and an expectation just to keep up with her course-load.
–I want the naysayers to see the parents. Like anything, you have all types, some good, some bad, many in between. In today’s classroom, teachers often have to the play the role of parent or guardian, coach, family doctor, social worker, psychologist, priest, mentor, and half a dozen other jobs. While all well and good, kids need structure, repetition, and discipline. I’ve seen it with my wife. If the lessons highlighted in class are not supported at home, the student will struggle. The work can’t just happen at school. Teachers are not miracle workers. Teachers and parents need to work together.
–Money. Yes, I want them to see the actual dollars and cents. I want them to see the hundreds of dollars we contribute to my wife’s classroom each year in the form of school supplies, books, and educational games. I want them to see the salary too. I’m told that teachers rake in the dollars. I’m told that I’m lucky to be married to a teacher because we’ll spend our retirement years sailing the Caribbean and living the life of leisure. My wife is either doing a very nice job of hiding the money, such a nice job that her money laundering skills rank up there with Al Capone, or I’m missing something.
Yes, my wife and I have a nice retirement plan, but it’s not because of my wife’s job. It’s my job. If we had to count on her job to fund her retirement, we both would be working right up until the day we died. Sorry folks, it’s not the money grab that everyone thinks it is.
And by the way, why shouldn’t teachers’ salaries be competitive with other positions on the market? Aren’t our children worth it? Don’t you want them to have great teachers? Don’t you want your kids to have teachers who challenge them and make them work for their grades? And if you don’t, then why the hell not? Yes, I agree, many factors — strong leadership and commitment from administrators, teachers, parents and students, up-to-date resources, culture, etc., etc. — play a role in building a great school environment. With all that, fair compensation that recognizes teachers’ contribution is still a key ingredient.
I could go on and on talking about the challenges of the job. I haven’t even touched on the need for more and more degrees and coursework; the daily bruises and scratches my wife gets on her arms and legs when one of her more challenging special education students has a tantrum; or the ever expanding class size.
Fortunately for me, I had several great teachers who helped me along the way and showed me the difference a great teacher can make. Without them I would be nothing. When I heard the men go off on their rant, I owed it to my former teachers and mentors to speak up.
In addition, I owed it to my wife and my kids who’ve benefited from some great, caring teachers. Finally, I owed it to great teachers everywhere.