Does anyone value education anymore? It really doesn’t seems that way. I understand this country has its budget problems and every industry must make sacrifices – higher ed included – but honestly, in a world in which you can’t really be competitive without a college education, why is education one of the first things to go? Who looks at a budget and says, “No, education doesn’t need funding”? What happened to the times when this country realized it had to invest in education in order to be great? What happened to education being seen as an investment? And what happened to teaching being seen as a honorable profession?
I think I’ve found the answer – teachers at all levels of education have become easy targets for politicians who want to blame them for budget problems. Many teachers are fortunate enough to have a union that protects their jobs. This union protection helps give teachers the ability to stand up for themselves. Employees that don’t belong to a union often feel unable to stand up for themselves for fear of being fired. But teachers can and thankfully they do because in doing so they are often standing up for their students as well.
If an administrator wants a teacher to take a major pay cut while the administrator gets a raise, a teacher calls out the administrator. When programs are getting slashed while money is being spent frivolously, a teacher says something. When support services for students are cut, teachers stand up. They do this because they have the power to make their voices heard and they are using that power for the good of their students. Good teachers are never just fighting for themselves, they are also fighting for their students. Yet somehow in public discussions this gets turned around and rather than seeing teachers as advocates, politicians are making them out to be greedy millionaires who want to line their pockets with your tax dollars.
Hmmmm….if that’s what teachers were doing, wouldn’t they all be politicians? After all, aren’t politicians the people that have taken jobs that were supposed to be civil service positions and made them into career positions that eat up tax dollars?
Somehow things got turned around so that those few bad teachers that stick out in people’s minds stand in for every teacher. None of them want to do any “real” work, because we know that the pressure to make sure students actually learn something that will make them productive, successful citizens isn’t real work. We know that spending 8 hours a day teaching multiple classes of 2o-30 students and then having papers to grade at home isn’t real work. We know that having a job that requires writing lesson plans and continually reading up on your topic isn’t real work. When you get into higher ed, we know that the pressure to publish and be a scholar in your field in addition to teaching isn’t real work (and those scholars certainly don’t help attract students to your institution, so it’s not like they are doing anything for the university community), and we know that having your students be able to be in constant contact with you via email which means that you teach 24/7 isn’t real work. We know that working the equivalent number of hours as someone who works 40+ hours a week 52 weeks a year but condensing those hours into less than 52 weeks a year isn’t real work, and it’s anything but intense. We also know that doing work when you’re not officially teaching so that you teach effectively isn’t real work. None of that is real work, right?
But here’s something else that I’m sure no one considers real work. Being more than just a teacher. And by that I mean you are also a mentor. You are also a positive role model. Your classroom may provide the only stability some of those students have in their lives. You’re also someone who students come to when they are vulnerable, when they tell you they couldn’t complete a paper because they had to bail a parent out of jail, or they got kicked out of their house, or they are living in a shelter. Or finding out that a student is being abused and knowing that you have an obligation to report that. I’ve had those realities, and this is only my first semester teaching at a college. I’m dealing with adults. Many teachers deal with these problems with minors, which puts even more of a burden on the teacher.
Teachers are more than teachers. We do the work of educators, counselors, administrators, disciplinarians. We become more than just someone standing up in front of a room lecturing. We become people that are charged with the emotional and physical well being of students in addition to their academic well being.
And we do it all while we are under appreciated, while our jobs are being taken away, while our class sizes are exploding out of control. And all of this at the time of the year when we work is dedicated to nothing but work, work, and more work. And we get blamed for everything because we speak out. We aren’t afraid to say our working conditions are terrible and that our pay is ridiculous for what we have to do. The sad fact of life is that no one wants to do a job they don’t get paid well for doing. Why should we not want to get paid well for a job that requires continuing education throughout our lifetime? Why shouldn’t quality candidates be attracted to this field? If you don’t attract quality teachers, what’s the point of even having a student spend time being educated?
Teachers aren’t saying they want everything while everyone else suffers. But they are saying that if the administration deserves it, then they do. At least that’s what I think they are saying. If your boss deserves a raise, so do you. If times are tough, then no one gets one. In this time when everyone has to make sacrifices, then EVERYONE in EVERY INDUSTRY must give, not just teachers in education.
But why look at the reality? Let’s just blame the teachers. They don’t do any real work anyway.
Christina Steffy | MLIS Candidate, Rutgers & Freelance Writer