New school year starts with teachers catching that same disparaging scorn

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By Vernon A. Williams

This generation of youth, and even the one before it, may have a tough time believing it, but there was a time when teaching was indeed the noblest profession.

Baby boomers remember. Back in the day, you might get a mild yawn if your mother or father was a lawyer, doctor, business owner, engineer, elected official, carpenter, salesman, clergy, astronaut or electrician. As diverse as they were, all those occupations paled into comparison to being a teacher.

Though their income fell somewhere from the middle to the lower reaches of most of those jobs, we got it back then. We understood that all the rest of those career fields – as different as could be – had one distinct, common characteristic. That is, those practitioners all had their start in a classroom.

Two weeks ago, I was engaged in conversation with a highly intelligent retired professional whose opinions I value on almost every subject that we broach. We entered our most contentious exchange ever during that particular dialogue when he chose to accuse classroom instructors of being guilty of virtually every widely-held stereotype. These are a few examples:

  • Teachers have one of the most comfortable schedules in the working world with so many breaks during the school year – then having the summer off?

Not only have summers been shortened with the year-round schedule but even “as is” -there is so much more than meets the eye when it comes to the schedule of classroom instructors.

Most are at their desks well before the start of your average 9 to 5 work day. And their “getting off early” is an illusion. Commitment to youth has many involved in after school initiatives for the children. Then there are hours worth of student assignments, tests and papers to be graded. Finally, meticulous requirements for detailed daily lesson plans and development of projects to engage students usurp untold “off time” for teachers.

The hourly pay for the short work day and work year of teachers is relatively comfortable.

Again, the comparison is apples to oranges given the inordinate amount of time required of teachers when they are not at work. But let’s look at the cold, hard facts.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development issued a 457-page report entitled, “Education at a Glance.” Among other things, it revealed that teachers earn on average no more than 60 percent of the salaries paid professionals in other fields with similar education. As a result, fewer young people are opting for careers in Education, and teacher shortages are epidemic.

  • There are too many ill-prepared and incompetent teachers in the U.S.

This assertion reflects the bias of the accuser. Name a profession that does NOT have ample numbers of ill-prepared, unskilled or poorly performing individuals. When doctors remove a kidney for a patient scheduled for an appendectomy, no one assails the entire medical profession. When someone is convicted because his lawyer failed to properly research precedents, no one attacks the legal profession. When cops shoot unarmed men without justification, it is passed off as an anomaly with the public springing to the support of law enforcement officers. By comparison, the inadequacies or failures of the instructor are magnified, and the entire profession vilified.

  • Most people are just in the classroom for a paycheck and could not care less about student success.

The opposite is true. Education professionals care deeply about their responsibilities and the futures of the children they impact hour to hour, day to day, year to year. Compassionate teachers may be the single best hope for this troubled nation. Think about it. Young people throughout this nation are increasingly required to confront and deal with ‘grown up’ issues as they try to break the cycle of poverty caused by so many deaths of friends, relatives, classmates and neighbors as well as broken homes, disparate health issues, joblessness, alcohol and drug addiction, an antagonistic legal system, homelessness, mental illness, child abuse, sexual assault and rampant crime.

For most, the primary steadying influence or source of inspiration is the  teacher or coach. As in any career field, some are just going through the motions. But most teachers are their students’ “ride or die.”

This debate on teachers with my respected elder went on too long and he was far too stubborn to yield any ground despite the fact that his admitted source was the news media and that I spent 22 years evenly divided between Gary and Indianapolis public schools. As one insurance commercial goes: I know a thing or two because I have seen a thing or two.

Many teachers tire of constantly having to battle students, parents, administrators, public opinion, the news media and insensitive government leadership. Eventually teachers often burn out, weary of working two jobs to make ends meet, spending thousands from meager paychecks for supplies not provided by the school system, receiving far too little respect for the important work that they do. But those soldiers who remain despite the ridiculousness are owed a great debt of appreciation by us all.

Talk about “first responders,” teachers are conspicuously ignored when it comes to this category of citizen. And yet, they are forced to deal with myriad life-threatening situations and circumstances long before any other authorities are summoned. They are on the front line of the future of America and the world and at the end of the day, they have the battle scars to prove it. Their healing, inspiring impact pulls young human beings from the brink of demise to unimaginable merit.

Yes, they are indeed “first responders.” And just as we do for police officers, fire fighters, military professionals and those who respond to emergencies daily, whenever we greet former or current teachers, we should do so with the same degree of dignity and respect. We should approach them with gratitude and say loud and clear, “THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE.”

CIRCLE 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: vernonawilliams@yahoo.com.

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