By: Charter Schools Supporter
“Teachers who love teaching, teach children to love learning.” – Robert John Meehan
When I was a kid, my mom was always encircled by piles of construction paper cut-outs and heavy-duty totes holding wooden blocks and books. Working from home is a newer concept today, especially since the pandemic has kept so many people out of a traditional workplace. But working at home was never unusual for my mom, who always had folders of crayon drawings and who was always cutting out templates, outlining letters and numbers and pouring through lesson plans. It wasn’t strange to have the schoolwork of kids I didn’t know at her place at the dining room table, or where she sat cross-legged on the floor where we watched TV, or at my grandma’s house when we visited during vacation. There always had to be room in the car for her totes, the totes were full of classroom stuff. It wasn’t unusual because my mom was a teacher, and that’s what teachers do.
It’s the time of year for Teacher Appreciation and I wonder how many people realize that while teachers get an “appreciation week,” students stay on teacher’s minds year-round. If one can imagine how a particular task from work can keep you up at night, think of what that might be if you had 20 little tasks in one classroom – exponentially more for teachers in higher grades. That’s considerable pressure and, in a time where public discourse criticizes the state of education more than it celebrates it, maybe it is perfectly logical that fewer people choose teaching as their profession. The Pew Research Center reported in September 2022 that, “In 2019-20, the most recent year with available data, colleges and universities conferred 85,057 bachelor’s degrees in education, about 4% of the more than 2 million total degrees issued that year. That was down 19% from 2000-01, when colleges and universities issued more than 105,000 bachelor’s degrees in education, or roughly 8% of all undergraduate degrees.” In a 24-hour day, a full school day means a teacher (or collection of teachers) are responsible for roughly 1/3 of every day a student is in class, for 12 years.
What are the implications for society, when the people to whom we would like to entrust our children for a significant part of their young lives, are increasingly unavailable?
Washington’s charter public school teachers must be certified and are subject to all the same state and national requirements as their peers in traditional public schools. Similarly, charter public school teachers have the right to organize and collectively bargain for pay, benefits, and working conditions. An exciting distinction in the charter public school sector is that there are three times more Global Majority teachers employed in charter public schools than in traditional public schools in Washington state. I can remember every single teacher I had in elementary school, and they were the real “influencers” of my childhood. Mrs. Webley taught me the chicken song. Mr. Metzger taught me morse code. Mrs. Daffron took me to the Nutcracker, where the music swept me away (and where she also rapped her knuckle on my head and my best friend Shari’s head for whispering during the show). It’s immeasurably wonderful that so many students in charter public schools have the opportunity to relate to the professionals that head their classrooms and potentially see themselves in the people who not only facilitate learning but are the first to recognize their achievements. We can and should appreciate teachers for all they do, and for those who engage as educators knowing that their very presence instills confidence and trust.
There are data points specific to student outcomes that shed light on the importance of these highly trained, student-astute professionals grinding away at a job most people would never take on. But as the child of a teacher, “appreciation,” isn’t about data at all. It’s about the countless hours and sacrifice I witnessed firsthand. Late nights, early mornings, there was the presence of hundreds of five-year-olds and their parents who I didn’t know. The “end of the school year” meant a couple of days dismantling a classroom, packing it up, moving materials to wherever they’re stored and several weeks later, unpacking and repopulating a room that will be home base for dozens of kids. The school PTA contributed when they could – a new mat for kindergartners to sit on for stories, a financial contribution for blocks that help teach shapes and colors. But when there wasn’t enough money, my mom bought those things herself – that’s why those precious totes had to be carefully packed and monitored, they had to last. And, while I consider my mother to be heroic, I know she isn’t unusual. I knew teachers with second jobs who still bought things for their classroom they didn’t buy for themselves and their own families and did so despite comments like, “Well, I know we don’t pay teachers enough but after all, they get three months off in the summer, and several more weeks in the winter and spring.” Public service is underappreciated at every turn, including prolific disrespect for educators. We can do better.
My mom is retired now and while I know she appreciates the peace, it is hard not to observe that her kindergarten teacher’s brain keeps her bustling around, identifying risks and opportunities in the details of daily life. Luckily, now there are more naps! Her career is braided into our family’s history – a painting made from handprints of five-year olds in the shape of a tree hangs in the hallway of my parents’ home. Our Christmas tree still has ornaments (not the ones made of pretzels) decorated carefully and gifted at the holidays. A ceramic spoon rest, painted vaguely like a yellow cat with a fat purple collar, is what cradles used tea bags in the kitchen. “Thank you, Mrs. Danielson, for being my teacher!”
When she was a teacher, she would have never, ever said that she should be appreciated more. But I will.