There’s a lot of issues that people have with public education these days. Some people are yelling that children aren’t learning enough or aren’t learning what they should be, and others are complaining about how teachers are just babysitters who get 3 months of the year off. There’s a lot of issues in the public school system, but I don’t think we’re worried about the right things. Here are the three issues that I think affect our education system the most:
1) Teaching Salaries— I don’t doubt that some people read this and immediately rolled their eyes. Stick with me. If you’re still around, then thank you, because I actually have a reason for saying this that has nothing to do with greed or self-promotion.
I often hear people say that “those who can’t do teach.” It’s kind of assumed in some circles that many teachers chose this profession because they couldn’t cut it as doctors and engineers. Apparently, there’s an idea that teachers only become teachers because they aren’t capable of making a difference in more respectable fields. Here’s my response to that: “Well, obviously.” Not all teachers are like that, but I agree that some probably are. Because if you’re capable of making the money that a doctor or lawyer is able to make, are you really going to go to college and accrue so much student loan debt just so you can live the rest of your life trying to pay it off while driving a Mid-90’s Honda? Of course not. That’s crazy. It takes a very specific type of person to be a teacher in this society. It takes a wonderful, idealistic, crazy person that has more compassion than is probably healthy and an acceptance for huge personal sacrifice. Because if you want to be a teacher then there’s going to be a lot of sacrifice, and very little obvious gain.
I sat down and did the math not too long ago, and I found out that, assuming my salary doesn’t take a substantial leap towards the heavens, I will literally DIE before I pay my student loans off. It’s true, and I’ve come to terms with that. I did that to myself, on purpose, knowing when I started working towards my degree that I might never have enough money to live a comfortable life. And yet I somehow still decided that teaching was worth that. That’s a huge thing to ask of prospective teachers. In fact, that’s kind of a crazy thing to ask anyone to agree to. “Excuse me, do you want to eat Ramen for the next 20 years so that people that roll your eyes at you can become doctors?” Hell yes, I do. That sounds awesome.
It’s not surprising to me that we are in such desperate need of highly-intelligent, highly-motivated educators. As it stands, the people MOST capable of teaching our children from a logical standpoint are NEVER going to want to teach, because they can make five times as much doing something else. You want the best and brightest teaching your students in order to give them a bright future? Then pay the people enough that the best and brightest will look at the job on not just laugh uncomfortably before declining.
2) Impossible Expectations with Few Resources– No one’s job should be impossible. You should be able to wake up every morning and know that you have the resources necessary to achieve your objectives. If you work in an office, it’s not likely that you’re going to have to buy your own stapler. The things you need to do your job should be provided for you. However, that’s not always the case with teaching. Think about this: Every teacher has between 10 and 30 students per class. Multiply that by 7 classes, and you may have up to 210 students each day. Now, that’s actually not too bad (though, if you’re going to call me a babysitter, I wish that you’d pay me per-child like you would with them. Just saying). Even with 210 students, you’re still fine. All you have to do is make rock-hard lesson plans that hit all of the standards in a way that everyone understands each day. If you do that, the students will get everything, become perfectly competent young people, go home, do their homework, and come back to do it again the next day without complaints. Easy, right?
Except it’s not that easy. It’s never that easy. Teachers are supposed to give individual attention to every one of those students, as well as accommodate for home lives, socio-economic status, and learning abilities. If a student never has a pencil or notebook, chances are that the teacher is probably going to step in and provide that, because a lot of the time concerned phone calls to parents only end up with a frustrated teacher who can’t understand why she’s the only person in this student’s life who wants him to succeed. Does the teacher really have enough money to purchase said notebook for all the students who don’t have one? No. But we purchase them anyway because our students are worth that.
Now, you might be thinking “it’s only one notebook. You can afford that.” You’re right. I CAN probably afford one notebook. However, it’s never just one notebook. If you live in an area where one of your students can’t afford basic learning materials, then you can be pretty sure that there are others in the same area with the same problems. And if they can’t afford a notebook, then you can also be pretty sure that they can’t afford a computer, internet, or printer, so you’re going to be writing essays in class rather than for homework. Speaking of which, do you have a student that never turns in homework? Parents are going to have an excuse for that and then get angry if their student doesn’t have an A, because “it wasn’t their fault.”
Also, don’t forget that a large portion of your class may be coming from poorly-educated households, so those students will start off with a much smaller vocabulary than their classmates, and it will take extra effort to catch them up. Which you can totally do, but probably not after school because you’d be amazed at how many students have to have jobs just so their family can eat (and if you try to keep a student after school for ANY reason you’re going to get angry phone calls. You WILL be blamed and get called horrible names). Were you thinking of encouraging that student to go to college eventually? Just the idea of spending that much money will possibly break that student’s heart, and it’s hard to go home to a family who hears about college and only growls “What? You think you’re better than me?” But you’re a teacher. You know that that student is worth it, and so you do whatever you can to assist and encourage and strengthen him so that he can be something better than what society thinks he is.
Now, don’t forget you have 209 other students that you’re supposed to give just as much attention to, so make sure you bring these students up to where they should be while still helping all the other students in that 60 minutes while still hitting all of the teaching standards and getting through your entire curriculum. But God help you, if even ONE of those 210 students fails your class for any reason, you’re going to get so many angry phone calls and be called a failure by so many people you won’t want to get out of bed the next day. So… be prepared for that. But also never stop smiling, because students feed off your energy, and if you let that get to you they’ll notice it. Well, some of them will. A huge portion of your students probably don’t want to be here anyway and are trying to text under their desk, and they might not notice that you’re frustrated. But those who do notice will play that energy back to you, and you’ll only be further behind tomorrow. So be careful there. And don’t get so frustrated that you kick the wall or tear your skirt or something, because you cannot afford to buy another pair of shoes this year. But other than that, it’s easy.
3) (Dis)Respect for Teachers is a Learned Trait– Seriously, there are a lot of things that teachers need that we can’t get. But for the most part, we can get by anyway. To be a teacher means that you are resilient. If our school can’t afford enough computers for everyone, I can change my lesson plans around so that half work on essays while the other half read. If the electricity stops working for whatever reason, we can work outside. Teachers have been teaching for hundreds of years with not even half of what I have in my classroom. Gadgets and in-school resources are not the problem. Instead, the biggest resource that used to be abundant that we’re now missing is supportive societies that understand the importance of education. Someone needs to teach the new generation that school is actually worth it; that you should get your homework done and go to class. But somewhere along the way we lost the idea that knowledge is a valuable resource. In a world that has turned almost entirely text-based, we have stopped using vowels and proper spelling is now only for the elite. Parents blame teachers rather than students for failed work, and an entire society feels entitled to receive that which they have not earned– diplomas included. People speak poorly of teachers and claim that they’re stupid or worthless, and that is passed on to the students who then go to class and feel like they don’t have to pay attention. Knowledge is lost in a sea of half-skimmed articles and cat videos, because we’ve taught our students that you don’t have to read a full paragraph to get your news– just reading the title will suffice. It’s a horrible, ever-worsening spiral, and if we don’t escape it soon, we never will. And our students will suffer for it.
Wow. That was all incredibly depressing. So you might not believe me when I say that I LOVE teaching. I absolutely cannot think of anything else I’d rather do with my life. However, I am aware that the world around me is changing, and it’s easy to feel lost. If you yourself are a teacher or if you’re thinking of becoming one, do not despair. There are always things that make it worth it. I LOVE that feeling I get when a student finally “gets it.” I love watching my students grow and mature over the years I have them. I love it when they make references to a book we read or when they use a vocabulary word in regular conversation. The education system is a beautiful mosaic where everything stands out in stark colors. The brightest moments are glaringly beautiful, and the darkest are soul-crushing, but together they make a world that is never boring and that is filled with ambition and positive change. The system has flaws, but it is a system we will always need, and there will always be at least some people who see that.
However, any long-lasting system must have strong foundations, and those are crumbling right now. That is why we, as a society, need to make a change. If we don’t offer the BEST education to the students we have, then in a few generations there will be none left to teach the high standards that were once paramount but are currently fading away into a dark and dismal oblivion. Do what you can, however you can, but find a way to salvage our students’ future. Support education.
Author’s Note: Are you a new teacher? Did this bum you out? Don’t worry about it and click here to see why I still love teaching (even despite the flaws).