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Imagine American teachers being paid their actual worth

Remember when you were a child and one of your greatest possessions was imagination? You assumed the roles of superheroes and tackled villains with a vengeance, without any apprehension. Or perhaps you imagined yourself among the exorbitantly affluent and bought yachts, mansions and unnecessary luxuries.

Perhaps your fantasy was being in power and you were the leader of an army, or a nation, or a band, or just an elite group of friends or socialites. Maybe your thoughts went to more reasonable possibilities like the kind of house you and your family would live in, your dream job, the cars that you would drive.

I can remember around third or fourth grade picturing myself as the starting center fielder for the New York Yankees. Even though Gary is 765 miles from their Bronx playing field, I wrote to the Yankees and asked if I could be a batboy. They kindly responded saying the commute would be a little exorbitant.

Imagination takes away all of your inhibitions during youth because you haven’t been jaded by life’s disappointments, by the evil of others, by unfavorable odds of reality, by the kinds of prejudices and systemic obstacles between you and your dreams.

As a child, you can sit up in bed, on the porch, in the yard, and become totally transformed by a wistful moment to your wildest possibilities.

Well, several thoughts crossed my mind just this week as I contemplated the resumption of the school year. The first was that classes resume from summer break much sooner than when I was growing up. The return to school was usually around Labor Day. Now teachers are back in the classroom shortly after the Fourth of July and in a few weeks students will follow. But that’s not my focus.

I read about a player in the national football league who will learn $43 million a year over the next three years. In addition, the team gave him a $20 million plus signing bonus. There are other football players whose contracts are in the hundreds of millions of dollars. A number of National Basketball Association superstars rifle those unimaginable earnings. And selected baseball icons share that rarefied air.

Athletes are not the only ones. While everyone else suffered during the pandemic, the average income of corporate CEOs increased by 400 percent. So, while folks were anxiously waiting for government checks and the resumption of employment, there were no dire straits experienced by the wealthiest. The same can be said for entertainers, politicians and others in the most lucrative occupations in this capitalistic society.

Conspicuously absent from that privileged group of earners are classroom instructors. According to the average starting salary for a Chicago public school teacher, as of June 30, 2022, is $58,348. That same source lists the midrange of Indianapolis teachers’ pay at $53,505. And in Gary, median public school annual income is $55,359. In Washington, D.C., it is $61,215, in Houston 56,365 and in Atlanta it is $54,395.

American teachers

This year, the average NBA player’s rookie salary is $1,045,624. That is approximately the collective income of 18 experienced teachers. Shifting to the NFL, Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers earns $50 million a year, enough to pay 833,333 public school teacher salaries.

This year alone, rap mogul Jay-Z will make $340 million, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson $270 million, singer Bruce Springsteen $435 million and Tyler Perry $165 million. You get the picture.

Now let’s revert to the topic of imagination. What if America figured out a way to make the annual salary for classroom teachers no less than $200,000 a year. It could be done. We spent $40 billion to finance the war in the Ukraine. The defense budget was allocated $35 billion more than was requested by Congress. Let no one tell you that money cannot be found for causes Americans in power believe worthy. If the powers-that-be valued teachers, they would pay them.

I’m just imagining the time this will be true and that a rookie teacher would receive a $50,000 signing bonus along with that guaranteed contract for 3 to 5 years, like athletes, entertainers and business people.

Why should that be so far-fetched when the work being done in the classroom rivals the importance of any profession in the nation. The world’s greatest scientists, researchers, engineers, builders, medical and legal professionals, and technology leaders started from that small school desk, public or private.

I’m not unrealistic. I know the probability of this nation recalibrating priorities is extremely low because capitalism is based on trying to get the most while being released and no one is trying to reframe that reality with their heart and soul. The status quo has been acceptable all this time.

That being said, I will continue to imagine that perhaps somewhere in time, a future generation will value and pay teachers for their worth.

Until then, I want to take this opportunity to let them know that there are many people, more than they think, who absolutely appreciate and revere their sacrifice and dedication to the cause of improving the quality of life for the children. There can be no greater calling. Thank you.

Vernon A. Williams JuneteenthCIRCLE CITY CONNECTION by Vernon A. Williams is a series of essays on myriad topics that include social issues, human interest, entertainment and profiles of difference-makers who are forging change in a constantly evolving society. Williams is a 40-year veteran journalist based in Indianapolis, IN – commonly referred to as The Circle City. Send comments or questions to: [email protected].

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