We need to stop telling our kids not to be teachers

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Since I was in elementary school, I have been going back and forth around the idea of ​​becoming a teacher. When I was young I loved school and thought it would be truly rewarding to dedicate my life to giving students continuous opportunities and tools for their personal and academic development. I grew up watching my mom, a kindergarten teacher, making lesson plans, cutting laminate, spending hours writing three-page story books, etc. It sounded like a lot of work, but it also felt like a lot of fun. During many of my elementary and middle school years, this latter perception won out, and when people asked me what I wanted to be once I grew up, I would often say that I wanted to be a teacher. At one point in high school, the smiles and words of encouragement I had previously received at that response turned into hesitation, worry, and judgment. My mom said to me, “Olivia, I will support you whatever you do, just don’t be a teacher.” Last summer my cousin, a high school English teacher, gave me the same advice. I hated to hear that she loved her job but had to deal with the struggle of being perpetually overworked and underpaid. These two teachers in my life are familiar with late nights, ungrateful students, difficult parents, and the general lack of appreciation and respect that come with this career. And their concerns are well founded: 60% of employees in the teaching professions say they feel “exhausted” at the end of their working day. None of them want that for me.

Despite the negative connotations associated with working in education, these careers are the backbone of societal development. In a study from the University of Sydney, teachers and parents were found to be more influential in an adolescent’s academic performance than were the adolescent’s interactions with their peers. Considering the amount of time students spend with their teachers to complete elementary and high school, which averages 8,884 hours in the United States, this impact is not surprising; many young children spend less time awake at home than at school. If teachers play such an important role in developing the minds of tomorrow, why are they not recognized – socially or financially – for this role? Given that nearly 60% of those polled in an Ipsos / USA Today survey believe teachers are underpaid, the root of this problem should not be placed entirely in ignorance of financial disparities in education. However, this realization does not change the fact that teachers in the United States are paid, on average, 20% less than other professionals with similar degrees. It is difficult to convince qualified young people to consciously embark on a career that pays them less than what they could earn in a number of other occupations within their reach. As if the lower salaries weren’t enough to deter, teachers in the United States are also less respected than teachers around the world. In the Global Teacher Status Index 2018, participants from 35 countries were asked to rank 14 professions according to their level of respect. Among the participants from these 35 countries, teachers were ranked seventh. However, among US participants, education was ranked lower, leading it to rank 12th lowest average out of 35 countries.

I frequently see this lack of respect for teachers in response to an expression of interest in work in education. I have often heard it said “you could be much more than a teacher” or “good luck getting by with a teacher’s salary” or, my favorite, “you are too smart to be a teacher.” And that kind of discouragement seems to rub off on American students: Teachers in the United States are mostly drawn from the bottom 60% of college graduates, as opposed to the top third of college graduates, as is the case in countries around the world. leader in education like Singapore and Finland. Even still, the idea that someone could be “too smart” to be a teacher is paradoxical to me. Every parent wants smart and competent teachers to teach their children. And yet, most parents of smart and capable kids don’t want them to be teachers. This dichotomy indicates that many people understand the importance of quality educators, but not the steps we need to take to produce more.

None of this information is new; there are countless articles on why American teachers deserve more respect. However, as I run into comments like these over and over again, this point is worth emphasizing. Regardless of the statistics, most of the students I know have at least one teacher who has had a lasting impact on their lives. Some, like me, have more than one. My elementary school librarian made me fall in love with the worlds I could visit in novels. My advanced level literature teacher is the reason I am now an English student. Sometimes they even come out in a negative way, like my head teacher in government. His remarks from three years ago, telling me that I’m going to burn out in college, still ring in my head sometimes. Obviously, the impacts of teachers are not always positive, which is even more a reason to appreciate all of the talented, dedicated and passionate teachers that there are in the American education system. We need to pay them better and treat them better, or at the very least stop discouraging our children from becoming them.

Olivia Mouradian is an opinion columnist and can be reached at [email protected].


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