Get important education news and analysis delivered straight to your inbox
In many houses, it’s pure survival mode, as Americans assume the dual roles of parent and teacher, all while juggling career, home and health after 47 states have closed their schools, affecting more than 55 million students.
My newsfeed is filled with posts by parents scrambling to find activities to keep their children busy, or counting down the hours to bedtime, or breaking into the alcohol.
It’s sparked a new appreciation of teachers.
“Teachers deserve to make a billion dollars a year. Or a week,” television producer and writer Shonda Rhimes tweeted after one hour and 11 minutes of homeschooling her two children. I’m not sure what occurred to elicit these words, but based on the replies, it appears many families can relate.
I truly appreciate all of the parents who have praised the work of teachers over these last few weeks. But educators are not asking for a billion dollars.
They’re asking for respect, deference, appreciation, resources and a living wage. When they return to the classroom with our children, I hope we can help them in this pursuit.
One of the positives that may come from the coronavirus crisis is the opportunity to disrupt antiquated systems and practices. Consider a business in which employees are suddenly forced to work remotely and the mandate proves successful. What if that company could later provide greater flexibility to their staff, making them more attractive to job seekers, improving retention, diversifing staff, cutting out commute time and being more environmentally friendly? Remote work as a forced practice due to Covid-19 is altering the workforce, perhaps for the better.
Let’s think even bigger. What if this is an opportunity to disrupt and revamp our schools?
What if this is the time that we decide to treat our teachers fairly?
There are many aspects of our current education system that need to be altered, but teacher pay, the focus of Rhimes’ tweet, is among the most discussed. A recent poll found that only 39 percent of teachers nationwide believe they are paid fairly for their work.
Teachers aren’t alone in this belief; a May 2019 poll found that 72 percent of adults agree that teachers should be paid more.
Though an overwhelming majority of Americans recognize that our educators are underpaid, it remains a problem. The significant number of statewide teacher strikes in 2018 had demands of pay raises, but also a range of other issues, from increases in counselors and social workers to an expansion of Medicare. While some of these demands do not affect earnings directly, they would positively impact teacher workloads and the well-being of the families they serve. The walkouts had varied levels of success around the country, and the struggle continues in many states.
It’s important to note that many teachers did not and do not want to go on strike, the last resort when all other efforts have failed. Refusing to work in order to be heard or feel respected is not what any employee wants. Equity and fairness often require a fight.
Our teachers walk out of schools to demand what we know they deserve. The irony is, we don’t actually like it when they speak out.
According to a poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center, during the height of the 2018 teacher walkouts, only 52 percent of Americans approved of teachers going on strike, and only 50 percent would approve of paying more in taxes to increase teacher compensation or local school funding. If we don’t support teachers when they protest for better pay and if we aren’t willing to pay more to compensate them, it’s no wonder they are leaving the field at alarming rates, resulting in a nationwide teacher shortage.
I left my job as a teacher and school administrator after 11 years because the low pay, long hours and focus on test results were too much for me to withstand once I became a mother. I had no paid maternity leave. I had not received a raise in three years. I had to make a choice between caring for other people’s children or my own. So I left for the nonprofit sector where I made more money and had flexible hours. I don’t regret it.
I know firsthand how challenging it is for working parents to juggle the demands of their careers and their children at home during this crisis. I also recognize the benefit of parents experiencing the plight of educators.
Teachers need allies who are willing to help move education initiatives forward.
A good way for parents to channel this newfound understanding is to become education advocates.
We are in the midst of a pandemic, and our attention should be focused on flattening the curve and preventing the spread of the virus. Our lives have been disrupted and may never be the same, and our capacity to take on more is limited as we adapt to this new way of life. However, the lessons we’re learning during this time are vital.
The pandemic will end. We can’t let our education system return to its archaic practices.
When the time comes, get involved. Ask your child’s principal and teachers what they need. Donate books, supplies, time. Reach out to your school board members and find out how you can support your district. Attend school board meetings when possible. Learn about the education inequities in your region. Advocate to your state legislators when necessary. Vote. Run for office. March alongside protesting teachers.
We have an opportunity to dramatically change the way we support our schools and teachers when they return.
What would it say about us if, knowing how hard it is to be a teacher, we still drop our students back into the same classrooms, the same schools, the same system?
This story about teacher appreciation was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up here for Hechinger’s newsletter.
Tina Green, a former educator and administrator, is a Dallas Public Voices Fellow through the OpEd Project.