Respecting Teachers

What would it look like if teachers were valued and respected as professionals? My students thought about what would be necessary to sustain a discourse like this and how a discourse like that might be reflected in society

I am a teacher educator. I currently prepare people who want to become teachers to get their teaching credentials, and work with teachers in classrooms to improve their practice. I do this at a large, regional, public, comprehensive university that serves a large percentage of students of color, many of whom are first generation college students.  Prior to that, I spent over 10 years in public school classrooms, as a teacher and peer coach.  In my 17 years as a public school and university educator, I have been on strike twice.

Now, I have many teacher friends and former students, in Oakland and Los Angeles Unified School Districts (2 of the largest public school districts in the state) who are poised to go on strike.

Let me tell you, your public school educators do not want to go on strike.  Being on strike is exhausting and not fun.  It is not what educators are trained to do.  It is not our passion or purpose.  When a district gets to the point of a strike, the working conditions have gotten so bad that teachers feel they have no choice but to leave their classrooms and students in order to fight for things that all students and educators deserve, things like: libraries, nurses, counselors, smaller class sizes that allow for more individualized attention, special education, early education and bilingual education support, and the commitment of our society to public education.

Yes, they would like a salary increase too, because salary reflects the value of the critical work that teachers do. It shows that we respect the work of teachers.  They’d like less standardized testing and less prescribed curriculum that deprofessionalizes teaching and takes away from instructional time. They’d like the opportunity to design and implement innovative curriculum that integrates 21st century learning skills.

Yes, there are teachers who shouldn’t be in classrooms.  I’m not going to lie. There are teachers who struggle through our credential program and who I wouldn’t want teaching my own children.  My son, who has been in public schools for 7 years has had both exceptional and struggling teachers. I get that many people have had difficult experiences with public school teachers.  As a parent and a huge public school advocate, honestly, I have as well. And, as a teacher educator, I am working tirelessly (if you’ve read this blog, you know I work tirelessly) to prepare educators to do better for all students.

But these teachers are not the majority of the teachers I have worked with or continue to work with. These teachers do, however, get a lot of media coverage, and are often concentrated in schools and classrooms where students actually need the most supports but have the fewest choices.  However, even in those schools, there are great teachers who are fighting for students to have the best learning environment possible. Great teachers and students with so much potential exist in every school.  They need the resources to thrive and grow.

Of course, the answers to how we make public education work for everyone is complex.  Certainly, though, the answer isn’t to further make working conditions so untenable that great teachers can’t afford to stay in classrooms (either monetarily or for their own mental or physical health). And, it’s not to blame one another for these problems and scrap the system for a business model that allows those with privilege to gain more privilege.  Teaching under the conditions that many urban, public school teachers face is unfair to them and more than that, it’s unfair to public school students, all of whom deserve a quality education from their local neighborhood school.

Let’s actually show respect for our teachers and students. They are not only our future leaders, they are shaping our present society. They are our best investment.