Everything Riding on Teachers
By Sheryl McAlister, a writer based in South Carolina
The days begin early for teachers. There might be “duty” as they call it. Traffic duty. Directing cars and buses and children in and out of both and safely into the buildings where they are to spend the next 8 to 10 hours. Possibly more.
The kids arrive in various stages of preparation for the day. Some wear clean clothes. Others wear the same clothes from the day before. Some are hungry. Some have not set eyes on a parent in a while. Some speak no English.
The kids spend the entire day with women and men who have chosen to dedicate their lives and careers to teach them. They are the ones who want to help kids find their way through life better equipped. They are the ones who spend countless hours away from their own children to prepare curriculum and lesson plans for the various levels of students who have been promoted into their classes.
In a perfect world, most of the kids would be on the same level, and the teacher would prepare an accelerated lesson plan that more than fully prepared the kids to reach beyond their potential. But schools are not a perfect world. Far from it. And teachers…. Well, teachers do the best they can. Sometimes in substandard conditions. Sometimes without the books or tools needed for at least a minimally adequate experience. We should really ask ourselves why in the world minimally adequate is acceptable for anyone in our public school system – kids or teachers. And when did we start piling so much on our teachers that they have little time to actually teach?
Forever really, teachers have accepted the low wages and little gratitude that come with the profession. But at least schools had typically been a safe place to work, a safe place to do good work and a decent way to create a comfortable pension upon retirement. But sometime in the last 20 years, the world lost its collective mind. Schools became a battleground. And teachers found themselves as the first and last lines of defense.
What, in the name of reading and writing, went so horribly wrong?
Active shooter drills have become de rigueur. I asked my niece about them, and she nonchalantly replied “we do them all the time.” Not hearing a plan dedicated to those on school grounds but outside the buildings, I asked her what would happen. She said, “They told us to fend for ourselves.” The bile in my throat rose so quickly it made acid reflux seem like a day in the park. I asked her about her plan if she found herself in that situation. She didn’t have one. So we walked through what that plan might look like.
The Florida school shooting that captured the nation’s headlines earlier this year gave a new voice to the fight against violence at schools. The students said they had had enough and made their voices heard with a March on Washington. Since then, both sides of the gun lobby and the Second Amendment opinions have been heard as well. Have more police in schools. Arm the teachers. Don’t arm the teachers. Give the teachers training. Only give the teachers training who want the training.
Teachers are there to teach. How about ask them what they think? They didn’t sign up to be the new branch of the United States Military. How are they to be expected to:
- Prepare kids for advancement to the next grade
- Make sure they have enough to eat
- Make sure their kids know someone cares about them and their work
- Prepare kids for standardized testing
- Work weekends and holidays on occasion for no extra pay
- Spend their own money for books or supplies to supplement piss-poor budgets
- Keep kids warm with heavy coats in schools where heating units stop working
- Make sure kids have a backpack of reading material and non-perishable snacks for the weekend in case their parents decide not to feed them.
All of this for an average annual salary of less than $40,000.
Now we want them to have guns? To make sure they are trained with the guns? To make sure the guns are locked up so the kids can’t get to them? And then make sure they are ready to stand face to face with evil armed with an AK-47? Can that honestly be matched by one teacher with a 38 Special?
Headlines across the country scream: Teachers in Colorado are on strike. Arizona’s teacher pay is so low the state is recruiting overseas. In North Carolina, teachers are rallying in Raleigh for more funding. In SC, yet another failing school district has been taken over by the state. And the SC legislature, in its infinite wisdom, has come up with a one-year law that could “temporarily ease the teacher situation,” using more police and retired teachers. For a legislature that was quick to pour millions into a failing state college that mismanaged its own budget year after year, this short term solution for our public schools seems absurd. Like putting a band aid on an amputated leg.
Good administrators are leaving. Too many ineffective administrators are staying. The teacher shortage seems to be teetering on crisis.
For most educators, teaching is a calling. They are good at it. We need them. And we need thousands more like them. When in the world did the value of teaching become the least of professions? When did schools become dumping grounds and children disposable? Why are corporate buffoons afforded more clout and consideration than those very people responsible for teaching them in the first place?
Why is it when there is a disaster anywhere in our country or the world, we try to solve the problems on the backs of our schools, school improvements and the middle class? Why is it that teachers are not compensated by a system structured to reward creativity, innovation and results and stop rewarding laziness, apathy and bureaucracy? When will we learn that adding more bureaucrats and poor administrators isn’t solving any problem when schools are falling down and teachers are leaving the profession in record numbers?
South Carolina’s teachers join the national chorus of voices Saturday at a planned rally on the South Carolina State House grounds. Here’s hoping the wet weather doesn’t keep them away.
The entire system needs to be broken down completely and rebuilt. We need to continue to encourage our best and most passionate to join the teaching profession, and reward them appropriately. Block by block and piece by piece, that broken system can be repaired and rebuilt. Until we get it right. We don’t have a choice but to get it right.
Because everything is riding on it.
Copyright 2018 © Sheryl McAlister