This time of year, as thoughts wander around turkey and football games, I find myself in a thankful state of mind. I was recently reading an article about the shortage of applicants for teaching positions. I thought of the teachers in my life. I had a great understanding of the job as I grew up because my mother was a teacher. I knew at an early age about the demands of the position as I watched my mom work tirelessly. I was always amazed at the responsibility of her job. Now as a principal and parent, I so appreciate the work teachers do.
As a principal, every year before school starts, I stand in front of a group of teachers eagerly awaiting students. I give the same message I have given for over 20 years. I say we have a wonderful job but we have great responsibility, maybe the profession with the greatest responsibility. I continue saying that parents give us their most valuable possession, their children, to watch over and keep safe and teach. In many families the teacher will spend more hours in a day with the child than the parents do. That’s a great responsibility. John Wooden, a former UCLA Basketball coach and teacher said, “I think the teaching profession contributes more to the future of our society than any other single profession.” There is little doubt that teachers have a great amount of responsibility and contribute much to society.
Of course, in order to qualify to be a teacher you need a Bachelor’s degree and a teaching credential. According to an article in USA TODAY, 70% of college graduates have student debt. The average debt is $30,000. According to the National Education Association, the average starting teacher salary is $38,317, far below the average starting salary for all college graduates which is $50,359 across all fields. We also haven’t added in the cost of a credential which can vary from $6,000 - $30,000 depending on the school or university. A teacher has a lot of debt, and their compensation is not commensurate with other college graduates. Most teachers work many more hours than their contract. Teachers work late or on weekends, and when their car isn’t at school, they are working at home grading papers or planning.
So, teachers owe a lot, don’t make much money, and have a job with great responsibility and contribution to society... does this explain why there is a teacher shortage? A common message heard around teachers is that the teaching profession might lack in salary, but it makes up for it in making a difference in kids’ lives... it’s rewarding work. That is true, the teaching profession is rewarding. Mr. Rogers said, “Anyone who does anything to help a child in his life is a hero to me.” I have many stories of teachers being heroes. Teachers know that the job is more than planning, instruction and assessment. I know a teacher who spends hours writing letters for students to get into college sometimes 50-60 letters of recommendation; an athletic director who spends 70-80 hours a week overseeing an athletic program with over 750 students, many of whom are successful in school only because of sports; many teachers who give up their lunchtime for students to retake tests or tutoring; teachers who allow homeless students to come into their class at lunch so they feel like they belong and to be with an adult at school who they know cares about them; teachers who go to plays, performances or sporting events to watch a student or prior student perform. I could go on and on with stories of teachers who spend hours upon hours working with students and developing positive relationships outside of teaching in a classroom. I agree with Mr. Rogers, teachers are heroes.
So, I would like to say thank you to all teachers. On a personal note, thank you for those of you who took on the responsibility to teach my kids. I know it’s not a pay raise or a forgiveness of student loans, but thank you for the contribution you are making to our kids, community and society. Thank you for being heroes.