If you are capable of reading this then you likely were tutored in this ability by someone. It is also likely that that person was a professionally employed educator otherwise referred to as a “teacher”. If you can add and subtract well enough to balance a checkbook this ability was also likely passed on to you by a teacher as well. If you make your living as an engineer, a writer, a chemist, a stockbroker or even as a butcher, a baker or a candlestick maker the chances are high the skills that allow you to practice your chosen profession were first made available to you by someone who chose teaching as their profession.
As you matured teachers continued to be part and parcel of your journey of knowledge. It is not just the three R’s for teachers; they shape critical thinking skills as well. Teachers encourage, guide, and when necessary, supply the discipline we all need to circumnavigate the difficulties and confusions of youth.
One of my favorite movies is Frank Capra’s 1946 classic It’s a Wonderful Life. In it, James Stewart plays George Bailey, a man who delays his shot at college to help run his family’s small town building and loan business after his father suffers a stroke on the night of his brother Harry’s high school graduation. He gives Harry the money he was supposed to use for his education with the agreement that when Harry finishes he will come and take George’s place. Circumstances, including the onset of WW II dictate a much different scenario and George remains in Bedford Falls, marrying Mary, raising a family and continuing to run the Building & Loan. When his Uncle Billy misplaces a large sum of money (actually stolen by the evil Mr. Potter) the family business faces ruin and George faces the possibility of imprisonment. As our hero considers a suicidal leap off a local bridge he encounters an Angel named Clarence who takes him on a tour of what Bedford Falls would have been like had he not lived. I mention all of this to get to one particular point in the movie. Right before George descends into his alternate reality, and as his desperation rises, he has harsh words on the telephone for one of his children’s teachers. He is more than rude to her and a bit later when he runs into the woman’s husband in Martini’s bar the man socks him in the nose. George Bailey is the kindest guy you would want to meet under normal circumstances but in this instance he deserves that sock in the nose.
I mention this because too often these days it seems that teachers are being thrown under the bus by certain politicians and media types who themselves deserve a good poke in the nose. Not only do these people seek to cut funding for education, but they also spend a lot of time disparaging the profession itself and the people who engage in it.
They will sometimes seek to distinguish their venom by saying they are not against the teachers but the “teacher’s unions”, failing to recognize the teachers are the union.
The fact of the matter is that teachers in this country have taken it on the chin for too long. A number of years ago when I was a researcher for a distinguished market research firm we were hired to do a study among educators across the country on the effects of the “No Child Left Behind” legislation. If one is on the outside of the box concerning professional educators, as I was, then one would be shocked to learn some of the things I learned during this study. For one thing I was never aware that more often than not schools are so under funded that teachers have to dip into their own wallets to purchase basic supplies. Only a small amount of this is tax deductible, generally never equaling the amount the teacher laid out. But year after year they put their hands back into their pockets and shell out the money again. Far too often when I questioned them on this the standard reply was something along the lines of “what else can I do?”
Prior to this it was my belief (and probably the belief and understanding of most of the unenlightened populace) that school systems and local governments purchased and distributed all supplies. To add insult to injury there is a belief among some that teachers are overpaid.
The average salary of a teacher is in the area of 62k. That may seem like a lot but one should take into consideration a few things. Among other professionals with similar educational backgrounds teachers make approximately 14% less. Sixty two thousand dollars is not what teachers make right off the bat either, it takes years to get to that pay-grade and that is not enough money in thirty two metropolitan areas in this country to be able to afford one the dream of a home purchase. Teachers who want that dream as well often have to work second jobs. In a NY Times OP by Dave Eggers and Ninive Clements Calegari it was pointed out that teacher salary is about equal to that of bartenders and toll collectors.
Let’s put money aside. People don’t go into teaching to make a lot of money. They enter it for the most altruistic reasons. They wish to shape young minds, they wish to be useful, they wish to honor the folks who made their lives and their educations possible, and they wish to share their knowledge. They live for the moment when a child who has struggled with a math problem suddenly gets it and a world of possibilities opens for them. They take their pleasure from seeing a young personality transform due to their discovery of literature. Who knows for what other reasons they teach but it sure ain’t for the money. (“isn’t” I can hear Sister Carla Marie saying to me).
They are better educated than most of us and due to strict certification standards they must continue their own educations throughout most of their careers. They also do more than teach. Aside from tutoring failing students after school, they often must coach or monitor some type of extracurricular activity. Their days typically begin an hour or more before classes. When they get home it is time to grade papers and prepare lesson plans. I know more than a few teachers. One of my best friends’ wives has been a teacher for a quarter century, and my best girl’s best friend is an extraordinary giver of time, knowledge and compassion. I have never heard either one of them complain about the length of their days or the difficulties of their task. The most frustration they have expressed to me arises from the difficulties of getting through to a child whose possibilities are endless but whose difficulties are overwhelming.
South Korea, Finland and Singapore perform the best on standardized tests. Why? Because, they understand the value of the profession. Finland and Singapore pay for teacher training. South Korea pays teachers an average of 250% of what we do. But this is not about money. It is about respect. It’s just that sometimes respect can be measured economically. The turnover rate for teachers in South Korea is 1% per year. In Finland it is 2% and in Singapore it is 3%. In the United States it is 8%, with fewer and fewer joining the profession each year.This disenchantment is certainly to some degree economic but I strongly believe that an even larger part of the equation is the disrespect accorded to the profession and those who practice it.
Teachers are not the problem; they are a big part of the solution. I myself was not the best student but what I have learned I did learn because of the faith, endurance, compassion and understanding of a ton of people who often pushed back their own dreams and ambitions so that I and others like myself, (who probably didn’t appreciate the enormity of what they did at the time) could be ready, set and able to chase our own dreams.
So to Sister Carla Marie to Miss Trotsky to Mr. Luzkowski to Mr. Pitula and Mr. Kerrigan to Brother George to Jack Hasted to Doc. Schroeder to Doc. Donlan to Mr. Weckessar to Kim Stanley to Phil Chapman to Ken Cooke to Elizabeth Dillon and everybody else too numerous to mention –thank you.
And to all you pundits (many of whom never finished college) and all of you pols just remember you got where you are because somebody taught you something. And if you don’t understand that, then by Jove like George Bailey you all deserve one fat punch in the nose.