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Let’s give America’s teachers some extra credit

Students listen to a teacher in a classroom. |

Until you’ve taught in a public school, or spent hours volunteering alongside teachers, it isn’t fair to condemn what you don’t fully understand. So much has been written about how awful our public schools are and how deplorable our educational system has become. But it isn’t a teacher problem, it’s a cultural problem. As a profession, teachers are skilled in providing ways for students to gain access to the world of information. When we send broken kids to school, and expect teachers to mend and repair, while also teaching, that’s a monumental expectation.

Teachers are trying to inspire the next generation of scientists, doctors, nurses, engineers, artists, mathematicians, business leaders, electricians, plumbers, psychologists, and counselors. As it has often been said, teaching is the profession that teaches all other professions. Teachers can create a thirst for knowledge and help children become lifelong learners.

Yet, teachers are being held in contempt for what they cannot do — fix broken kids. As a result, more teachers are leaving the profession for good. National Education Association President Becky Pringle said, “This is a five-alarm crisis.”  Staff shortages are creating additional workloads for the remaining teachers.  "We are facing an exodus as more than half of our nation's teachers and other school staff are now indicating they will be leaving education sooner than planned," said Pringle.  "If we're serious about getting every child the support they need to thrive, our elected leaders across the nation need to address this crisis now."

For starters, teachers are grossly underpaid. According to Business Insider, America’s teachers have starting salaries of less than $40,000. A recent Economic Policy Institute report states that teachers are paid 21.4% less than professionals with similar education and experience. If we put our U.S. teacher’s salaries against other nations, we rank seventh. Experienced elementary teachers in the U.S. can eventually earn $67,000, with high school teachers earning $71,000. Compare that to Luxembourg, the global leader in teacher salaries, at $124,000 to $138,000 annually.

Because the teaching profession doesn’t pay as much, over 20% of teachers have a second job — typically over the summer. If you add in the extras that teachers often do at school — such as coaching or directing after-school activities, the number of teachers working second jobs jumps to 59%.

It may seem like teachers only have to work a 6-hour school day. Wrong. Most teachers work 12-16 hours per day creating lesson plans that must meet district approval, grading papers, staff meetings, and required course work to maintain certification. If you count all those hours, teachers earn about $9.00 per hour. Teachers deserve “extra credit” for these hours.

Teachers also open their own pocketbooks to help cover classroom supplies, so students don’t go without. Supplies often include pencils and paper, but also healthy snacks and a warm coat. On average 94% of American teachers spend nearly $500.00 per year to meet these classroom needs.

Why would teachers spend their own money to help a student? Because they care. This is a profession that comes with a desire to make a difference in our world, one student at a time. Teachers know they won’t get rich in their profession, but they want to inspire students to see their own potential.

Even with all the complaints about public schools, over seventy percent of Americans feel that our public classroom teachers should be paid more. While this comes with increased taxes, it also shows that we recognize that our future workforce depends on the education students receive today. For most American students, public school will be their only option.

This is National Teacher Appreciation Week (May 1-8). If there ever were a time to thank a teacher, this would be the year. Pandemic disruptions have teachers getting their students caught up, while simultaneously moving them ahead.

There are three things you can do this week to honor the teachers in your community: 1) Send a small gift to the teacher of your child. 2) Write or call a former teacher and let them know how much they influenced your life. 3) Donate to your local school — so teachers won’t have to personally buy the needed things for the kids in your community.

Teacher Appreciation Week can be a true motivator for those on the frontlines of our nation’s schools. Let’s all say thank you and give them the extra credit they deserve.

Karen Farris saw the need to help underserved kids while serving in a youth ministry that gave her the opportunity to visit rural schools on the Olympic Peninsula. She now volunteers her time grant writing to bring resources to kids in need. She also shares stories of faith in action for those needing a dose of hope on her weekly blog, Friday

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