A Teacher's True Value
September 13, 2012
Recent news headlines from Chicago are a reflection of the larger conversation people across the country have been having about teachers and the teaching profession. How much are teachers worth? How much money do teachers deserve to make? What makes a teacher competent and effective? How should we measure a teacher's value?
All of these questions are good questions, yet none of them can be answered with a dollar figure, a contract agreement, a basic set of characteristics or one single method of evaluation. The answers are not simple because teachers are so much more to our students than a face in front of the classroom. Teachers today find themselves in the roles of counselor, nurse, confidant, cheerleader, disciplinarian, role model and sometimes even parent. Yet, the people who blame teachers for the challenges facing our schools seem to have forgotten this fact.
The truth is that the most important responsibility before every single teacher is to academically support his or her students. This responsibility is often a round-the-clock job. It requires time before school, during lunch and many hours in the evenings as well as on weekends and holidays.
Consider for a moment the high school calculus teacher I've heard about who comes to school around 6 a.m. to tutor students before class. Or think about the 2nd grade teacher who spends many evenings on the phone with students' parents while she makes dinner for her own two children. Even if teachers did get to take summers "off," and most of them don't, it would never compensate for the amount of extra time they put in to support their students throughout the school year.
In addition, many teachers don't limit their commitment to only helping students in their own classes. For the teachers who serve as coaches or advisors to extra-curricular clubs, the responsibility of supporting students stretches far beyond teaching lessons and grading papers. Think about the high school football coach I have heard about who just adopted a two-year-old son from Russia. This teacher is spending his afternoons on the practice field and many late nights with his team traveling through different counties on an activity bus. This teacher makes this sacrifice because of his commitment to his students and making a difference in their lives as well as the lives of his wife and young son.
Teaching is not an easy job. This is truly a profession for multi-taskers with creativity, energy and a strong desire to support their students and to help shape their futures. Most of them make many sacrifices in their personal lives in order to put the needs of their students first.
So before we debate topics such as teacher pay and evaluation, we first should recognize and respect teachers as the outstanding professionals that so many of them are. And instead of blaming teachers for the perceived 'failures' of public schools, let's thank the many teachers who are working tirelessly each and every day to make sure our students achieve their goals and reach success in school and life.
June St. Clair Atkinson