After 5 years of being a middle school math teacher, I left the profession. The biggest reason wasn’t salary, it was what was behind the salary.
I want to offer solutions for supporting our teachers amid the escalating problems of our educational system. My hope is that a better understanding of why teachers are giving up will lead to increased support and tangible action by our communities and legislators.
I have a big heart for kids and I was good at what I did. I felt that education was a natural fit for helping mentor and impact future generations. I respected those that sacrificed to teach me and was willing to sacrifice to teach others.
While teaching salaries are certainly an issue, the bigger issue is society’s placement of educators’ social status. The mentality that “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach” is perpetuated by the salaries assigned by our state. The low salaries make teaching a challenge, but it is what those salaries communicate that truly have broken our educational system. Ultimately, I left education because of how I was treated by students and parents, which I believe was many times related to how they perceived my station.
Teachers salaries are made public and clearly convey where teachers fall in the pecking order of life.
Do not mistake this to mean that educators need their salaries raised so that they can feel good about themselves. Teachers are among the most resilient and self-sufficient type of people in the workforce. It is about how teachers are treated. Public perception of a job is strongly correlated with the pay associated with it (whether it should be or not). Many students and parents alike treat teachers poorly and this reflects the public perception of their profession.
I have been asked by some students if the reason I taught was because could not get a better job (you can always count on brutal honesty from a middle schooler). My response was always that I chose teaching over other professions because I enjoyed helping people, but as many of my colleagues and I left the profession, they were left with a different impression. Kids do not want to grow up to be teachers today. They hear adults talk about the pay, the problems, they see how teachers are treated. Kids are smart, they grow up wanting to be things that they see adults enjoying.
So long as the world believes that education is for people who cannot get better jobs, the breaking down of our educational system will continue to snowball.
To legislators – Raising salaries will help restore honor to a profession that has lost nearly all the respect and dignity that it once had in our society.
To parents – Here are two requests I would ask of those wanting to support education regardless of how the politics of teacher pay turns out.
First, give your kids boundaries and hold them accountable.
One of the greatest downfalls of parenting in recent generations is the migration toward parents and kids attempting to be best friends. The parent-child relationship is unique and special; it shouldn’t be reduced to a relationship that both sides have equal say. Children deserve to be respected and treated fairly, but parents need to draw lines and give consequences when those lines are crossed. Kids have become master manipulators, because they know that if they throw a big enough fit, many parents will cave and give them whatever they want (including getting them out of trouble at school, getting a teacher to allow them to redo an assignment, getting a coach to give their child more playing time). Teachers are fed up with this epidemic and frustrated by the classroom management issues it causes, but no one suffers more than the child. When a parent fights all of a student’s battles and does not allow them to experience boundaries and be held accountable, it is without a doubt the student who loses.
Second, show respect and honor to teachers in front of your children.
Come to parent-teacher conferences, schedule meetings with teachers and your children, talk to teachers at school events and model how to communicate politely and professionally. In my five years, being disrespected by students was hard, but it was harder being talked down to by parents blindly taking their children’s side on a matter. The educational system is a unique resource that can supplement parent’s efforts to mold children’s attitudes and how they treat people. Too many times parents demoralize teachers by arguing on behalf of their child (many times regardless of how their child has acted). There was a time when teachers and parents worked together as a team; when teachers and parents shared a mutual level of trust and support rather than doubting and debating at every turn. If American Education is to succeed, this teamwork must return.
This may sound like an odd blog post from a swim school, but Oklahoma Swim Academy is a place that values kids and we realize all of us can make the future of our children brighter by supporting education. We see the results that can be achieved when there is mutual trust and support given and want that learning environment for all children. Thanks to all of you that have become voices for education and are supporting our teachers through promoting higher wages. This is the first time in my lifetime that I have seen real momentum for supporting our teachers and I would love to see this support be expanded even further than salary increases. After all, our educators have some of the most challenging jobs in our society and deserve all the support that we can give.