Teaching is Hard, But Never More Valuable.
I recently saw an illustration that is circulating online of a teacher bogged down by the social, cultural, and economic issues of the day. The image resembled an old war or political cartoon like those from the DBQs that I gave my students in preparation for their AP World History exams. Like sandbags, the labels hanging from the teacher ranged from “first aid” to “budget cuts,” “covid” to “distance learning.” Many issues that plagued myself as a teacher in an urban high school.
I thought the illustration sold teacher obstacles short, in fact. Missing from the picture were competition with social media, drugs, school-age depression, and, as a result of Covid, loss of family and friends. I started to feel frustrated. I started to feel sad. Then, I started to feel mad. Really mad. But then, I took a deep breath, and I remembered my why.
Here is the thing, I tend to agree with Nora Ephron, “everything is copy.” Granted, the things that the teachers of the twenty-first century have had to endure are trying, but they are not new. I hearken back to the extreme challenges that my grandmother endured in the late sixties and early seventies in her own classroom. Civil unrest (she was in South Mississippi). Nuclear bomb drills. The lingering threat of communism and how this fear caused a national paralysis. Not to mention that, as a woman, the teaching profession was one of the only professions that was available to her at the time. In fact, it was not until 1964 that discrimination against married teachers was eradicated by the Civil Rights Act.
Teaching is not, and never has been for the faint of heart. And we all knew that going into it. But none of us got into education for the fame. None of us got into it for validation. And we sure as hell did not get into for the money. Every teacher pursues this profession for their own reason. Some love their subject. Some love their students. And for some, they believe that the basic right to a public education is simply fundamental to the perpetuation of a just and good society, and they want to be a part of that promise. Whatever your “why” may be, that is what should be pushing right now. Your “why” is the breath to the life of your role as a teacher. That is what should get you out of bed, make you grade that last paper when you are just too tired, and that should be what helps you push back tears when all you think you have left is paused wail on the other side of your lips.
There are a lot of American jobs that have proven superfluous during this pandemic. Replaced by computers, and digital systems, some folks are wondering how they will make ends meet, not just for this year, but years to come. But not teachers. If the world has learned anything from 2020-2021, it is that teachers and schools are a necessary, if not the most necessary, thread in the fabric of American society. Without students and teachers together in classrooms this past year there has been a spike in teen suicide, childhood hunger, neglect, depression, and the growth of achievement gaps that we will not fully comprehend for decades.
To all of you who identify too much with the illustration, I agree that there is room for frustration, I agree that there is reason to demand better pay, and I agree that there is a reason to cry. But keep hope, because when the dust settles one day soon, the value of teachers will be fully realized, just like it was realized in the 1964. Knowing this, while we wait, we must rely on our “why.” So, for now, until society awakens to all that we are and all that we do, we have to continue to do what all of the tired, overwhelmed, and overtasked teachers before us were called to do in times like these…TEACH!
Kimberly Thaggard is and M.Ed. and an ABD in Literacy, she is an 18-year educator, and currently serves as the Western Director of iteachUS.
Start with WHY - Simon Sinek
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