As we hear more and more about teachers showing their dissatisfaction with wages and working conditions I came across an article that gives insight as to what is going on today in schools across the country.
In a sobering article in Education Week Teacher with the title above, former physician Kim Talikoff of North Carolina, talks about her switch from practicing medicine to becoming a 4th grade teacher.
Here are some excerpts:
It is relatively easy to gauge the degree to which we underpay teachers. A quick comparison highlights North Carolina’s compensation problem: Only three states pay teachers less than we do. Teachers from across North Carolina are planning to protest on May 16 at the state capitol for higher pay and education funding.
Disrespect and poor treatment, on the other hand, are far more difficult to describe and to measure. But these equally pressing problems take a tremendous toll on the entire education system. Until we remedy our pervasive denigration of teachers, reforms promising to deliver effective public education will continue to miss the mark.
I understood that leaving the medical profession to join the teaching ranks would be perceived by some as a downgrade. The feedback I received during my career transition, however, revealed the true extent to which we disparage our teachers and the work of teaching. One horrified friend protested my plan, exclaiming, “But what you do now has such social value!”
In K-12 education, cynical views of teacher integrity and work ethic are woven into internal policies. Teachers are salaried employees, yet we are often required to sign in or do after-hours work from campus, so that administrators can monitor our whereabouts and use of time.
Even more consequential, however, are the system failures that arise because of this distrust. Though we work directly with students and best understand their needs as well as obstacles to implementation, teacher perspectives often are treated as extraneous to school planning processes. Our instruction shifts at the behest of consultants while teacher insights remain untapped. Short-sighted decision-making that bypasses teachers not only impugns our judgment, it also results in wasteful spending, ineffective programs, and time inefficiencies.
Perhaps our mismeasurement of teachers comes from a historical derogation of tasks often considered “women’s work” or from a societal undervaluing of children. Maybe it is simply the result of adults’ negative memories of school. But I believe this widespread derision also arises because so many outside of the field misunderstand the complexity of the job.
Teachers’ work is hard and messy. Meeting the educational and developmental needs of children in schools is every bit as difficult as meeting their medical needs in hospitals and clinics. Yet, instead of honoring the intensity and multidimensionality of the job, we trivialize the intricacies and minimize the challenges. For those who move out of the classroom, it can be easy to forget the struggle.
There are no quick fixes to the problems that we have created by undervaluing the work and contribution of teachers. Certainly, in addition to implementing effective staffing ratios, developing fair evaluation systems, and providing teachers with adequate classroom resources, we must finally pay teachers commensurate to the value of their work.
But these steps alone are not enough. If we are to strengthen our society and economy through education, we must name and realign our negative cultural disposition toward teachers and the education field. By remedying teacher pay and respect, we will boost education—and also improve the health of our nation.
I visit a LOT of schools, talk to a lot of teachers and principals and get an “up close and personal” look at the real world of education today. I hear the same things Kim talks about. And it is why I’ve long said that we pay far to little attention to those who labor in schools.
Once Governor Bentley told a group that he was “looking for innovative ideas about education.” I quickly told him that I had one. So he asked what it was. “Why don’t we listen to the teachers and principals since they are the real experts?” I told him. I am unaware that he paid attention to my suggestion.
And one has to ask that if we don’t value our teachers, do we really value our children?