I don’t intend to carry the shame of advocating for better compensation for educators any longer. I denounce the need to articulate that I did not choose the profession because of the money. It ought to be so obvious, that like doctors, we chose this profession because our hearts desire to have a positive impact on the lives of others. I shouldn’t have to say it to make it so. Today, I officially rid myself of this.
Today, as I read all the tweets highlighting Time Magazine’s stories of teachers who are working second, sometimes third jobs, and donating plasma even, to make ends meet, I could not help but think, I’ve been writing about the need to elevate the profession for some time now. In my March 2018 blogpost, An Open Letter to America’s Public Educators, I made a request of my colleagues to stop saying that money was not a factor in their choosing the profession. I asked them this not because I believed it to be false, but because I believed this very articulation was playing a critical role in perpetuating the low pay of teachers. The need to affirm our servant hearts with this mantra seemed not only to work against us, but to also support the continuation of a long-standing public belief: Those who can, do, and those who can’t, teach.
Some are starting to ask, how did we get here? What brought is to the place where we are now in the midst of a growing teacher shortages and a declining enrollment in higher education teacher preparation programs? The answer is not one that can be easily identified. The complexity of this current situation is accompanied by a collective set of less than positive narratives that have been smothering public education for some time.
Public education has become the place to blame all societal ills. Instead of being seen as a reflection of our investment into communities, equity, economic development, quality housing, healthcare, and citizenship, it has become the reason why our nation should not invest in our profession. We haven’t proven ourselves or our work worthy. In fact, our work is seen as an expense and that does not prove a return unless our standardized test scores among our most vulnerable students prove it so. Ours is the profession that carries the burden of bringing forth those who are to be tapped next to make our democracy live up to its promises.
This blame game has resulted in a “prove your worth” mentality, that asks teachers to be paid based on student performance on a singular high stakes measure in some instances. Despite the research we’ve known since the early 1960’s, about poverty and the psychologically damning effects of segregation, not to mention others, we still find ourselves in a time where our schools are more segregated than they were in 1988. Just last week, I was reading from one of my favorite sources, Learning Policy Institute, that tweeted, “Since 1988 the percentage of hyper-segregated schools in the US grew from 5.7% to 18.4%.” Go figure.
In spite of the continued challenges, so many of my colleagues are still waking up to fresh cups of coffee, and working among the ringing of bells in halls, the shuffling of papers, and the slamming of lockers. So many are still giving it their all because they recognize that while our profession is at risk, the future of our children, especially those in our most marginalized and impoverished communities, is especially at risk.
For me, and many of the students in communities I have served and currently serve, public education is the hope. It is the first step in having a chance at a better future. Because of them, I press forward, but I will do so with pride and without any shame in saying that we must compensate our nation’s teachers in a way that is worthy and reputable, in a way that encourages others to join the profession, and those who are already in it to stay.
Our democracy depends on it.
Until next time-be you, be true, be a hope builder!