When I first broached the idea of going to school for teaching, my father looked me dead in the eyes and said, “Absolutely not. I will not pay for college if you are going to be a teacher.”
My father was a machinist at the Naval Ship Yard in Philadelphia from the time he was 18. He worked night shifts and often worked seven days a week to pick up overtime. Overtime in our family was a gift. It was the possibility of more. It was a chance to become stronger financially. I knew that for my father to pay for college he was going to have to work a lot of overtime.
I was surprised and upset, but knowing had no real options I asked, “Well, then what will you pay for?”
In the end, my father agreed to finance my college degree to become a writer. I earned my BA in Professional Writing, but knew I did not want to make my living that way. After college, I earned a graduate assistant position and earned my graduate degree in education for free.
I was 26 when I finally became an English teacher in a large, suburban district in Pennsylvania. When they told me how much I was going to make a year, I felt like I had just won the lottery, but I remember very clearly what the school’s principal told me when I expressed my astonishment.
“Yes, it is a good salary, but it will require your time and your,” she paused to think of the right words, “your soul.” At the time, I chuckled uncomfortably and believed she was exaggerating to try and prep a new teacher for the stresses of a classroom. I did not realize how right she was, but also how sad this is.
The week I was supposed to start teaching, the teachers my very wealthy district went on strike for a week for a better contract. We won, but it came at a significant cost.
Now 20 years later, I still feel like I have my soul, but teaching has started to affect my mental health. Though I have lived with the negative views of teachers my entire life, it has never been so profoundly sad.
We all see the inequities and issues in our educational system. I understand the nature of a teacher’s salary and pension being built and paid by the community’s tax dollars, but I do not understand why we are being demonized.
Teachers were all so excited when the pandemic started and parents came forward to say that they were starting to realize how hard teachers have it. It did not take long for the sentiment to change when teachers were reluctant to want to put themselves into classrooms filled with students. But is that really it? As the vast majority of Americans refuse to go back to work and either work from home or quit there jobs, can we truly fault teachers for not wanting to go back into the place that was shut down because they were told the schools were dangerous?
Twenty years in and I have taught tough students, students on probation, students with anxiety, autism, OCD, ODD, dyslexia, dysgraphia, drug addiction, eating disorders, mental illness, low cog, pregnant, homeless, disgruntled…and never once have I felt the level of hate and derision I feel now from our society.
What have we become and where will we go if we continue to demonize the people we employ to teach our children?
Love and Light