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Monday, March 4, 2024
The Observer

Let’s change the way we see teachers

My friends know I can talk anyone’s ear off about why I want to become a teacher. Let me give you an abridged version of my spiel.

l believe when teachers create a positive learning environment, students are hugely successful in and out of the classroom. 

I believe teachers can inspire a lifelong love of learning in their students. 

I believe teachers are in the unique position to give their students confidence and hope when they can’t find it in themselves. 

I believe teachers change lives.

I believe all these things because I experienced them in the classrooms of intelligent, devoted teachers who inspired me to be a focused student and a compassionate person. I want the next generation of kids to have teachers like me who are committed to their education and well-being.

Despite what I believe about the power of educators, teachers objectively matter. They always have and they always will. But the culture surrounding how we treat teachers in America does not reflect an appreciation for the essential work that they do. 

To begin, America has a national teacher shortage that is projected to last through the next several years. According to the Economic Policy Institute, by 2025, public schools will need an estimated 300,000 new teachers, but only about 100,000 will be available. In my home state of Indiana, there has been a50% decrease in the number of students enrolling in teacher preparation programs between 2010 and 2018. 

Why does this extreme shortage exist, you ask? Firstly, young people are not encouraged to enter the field because teachers are grossly underpaid for the work that they do. The average starting salary for teachers in America is below $40,000 in 63% of school districts. This salary is not sustainable for teachers. Twenty percent have to work a second job year-round in order to meet ends meet. While many teachers do not go into the classroom because of the money, not paying teachers livable wages forces educators out of the profession.

It is also incredibly frustrating for teachers to not have access to the resources they need in order to serve their students. Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, teachers are struggling to teach their students using limited materials. A recent article in the New York Times highlighted the struggle of special education teachers connecting their students during remote learning. 

Not having the proper materials to work with students is one of the causes of teacher burnout and low retention rates. Nationally, in a report by the Economic Policy Institute, 7.3% of teachers left the profession at the end of the 2011-2012 school year. In high poverty schools, this number is 8.2 percent. 

For these and many more reasons, teachers who are currently in the field are not shown the respect they deserve.

In regards to recruiting the next generation of teachers, there’s a subculture of berating students who want to go into education. I have been told that majoring in education is a silly decision because I’m wasting my time doing something that is frustrating and difficult. I know education is a difficult major — anyone who doesn’t is really kidding themselves — but I know what I’m getting into. 

I know there will be days I want to give up or cry or scream, but there will also be days of profound joy and awe at my students’ talents. I’m willing to work through both if it means I can help my students through their own good and bad days. 

The pandemic has started to reveal what a difficult job teachers have on a day-to-day basis. Teachers were always heroes, even if society just started noticing it. Let’s treat them as such. 

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.