My daughter and I went shopping for school supplies last week. We bought notebooks, pens and pencils, and most of the usual things needed for the first day of school. Sounds like a typical mom story, right?
My daughter is a high school teacher. She (we . . . I) bought those supplies so she could give them to her students, who cannot afford them.
After we stuffed her basket with folders and paper for her students, she started looking at office supplies like staplers and paper clips. “Doesn’t your school give you those for your classroom?” I asked innocently. “No,” she replied, literally shaking her head.
The night before her first day of school, she received an email stating that the school is no longer able to supply ink for her classroom printer. So now she must purchase that as well.
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All of this, of course, is in addition to the decorations and posters she has already purchased, to make the classroom interesting and appealing for her students.
My daughter is a second-year social studies teacher. She has already established herself as a leader in the school, having initiated a community service club for students in her first month of teaching, and now she’s participating in school culture initiatives. Many of her students have developed new interests and a new appreciation for history – something a number of current politicians could benefit from as well.
I’ve read a lot of opinions and news articles in the past few months about teacher salaries, government generosity and student achievement. My daughter’s story brings it all to reality. To read that teachers are enjoying tremendous raises, that students are not getting a quality education and that school budgets are being cut even further should make anyone literally shake their head.
My daughter’s salary does not come close to the magical $50,000 number touted in the news. Yet she still buys supplies for her students and her classroom because the students and now, apparently, the school itself cannot afford them. She is a good teacher, focused on giving her students the quality of education they need to become good citizens themselves. Her reward is yet another budget cut that forces her to buy basically anything she will need for her classroom, including printer ink.
Why do we not value teachers more?
What is the one thing that is always included in the list of ways to improve yourself, regardless of your age? Education. What is the one thing, besides experience, that employers look for when considering new applicants? Education. What is the one thing that will help you find a better job, to support your family and to grow as an individual? Education. What is the one thing that will help you earn more money as you progress through your career? Education.
Oh, and that last point? It also does not apply to teachers in this state now. Even though my daughter is considering pursuing her master’s degree, it is only for her personal benefit as an educator. The state will not increase her salary based on her advanced degree.
She is a social studies teacher, but let’s do some real math. Low salary + expenses of school supplies for students and classrooms + no chance for a substantial increase in salary regardless of advanced degree = why would anyone want to be a teacher in this state?
She teaches because she loves having the opportunity to enlighten young minds. She is passionate about history. She is dedicated to helping high school students become better people, in the classroom and in her community service club. She is still excited to teach these students all they need to know about history, civics and psychology, so they can go out and make their world a better place.
Surely we can figure out a better way to reward her and so many other quality teachers like her. It’s a worn-out cliché, but our future really does depend on it.
Pat Fontana is a business writer and communications trainer in Cary.