We Are Fighting the Battle at the Wrong End

As the start of another school year approaches, I have come across essays and social media posts asking people to remember the dedication that teachers put forth every year for students by designing engaging activities, providing individualized support, and working well after the school day is over. I also read that Stephen Colbert funded all the DonorsChoose projects for teachers in South Carolina. How wonderful! To that I say, thank you for noticing and communicating your appreciation.

However, this continued practice of teacher appreciation completely ignores a greater problem. Step back to consider Why are teachers turning to crowdfunding for supplies for their classrooms? Why are teachers working before and after school? 

image credit: personal photo

image credit: personal photo

The answer is not “it’s all for the kids.” While most teachers do put their students first, the systemic problems of public education in this state and country are making it unsustainable to actually be there for students in a meaningful and impactful way. Lack of basic funding, overloaded class sizes, continual and superficial evaluation and recertification processes, over-testing of students, extra hours for meetings, and salaries that do not treat us as professionals are problems that cannot be fixed with thank you notes and Starbucks gift cards.

By assuming we can fix the problems in public education with teacher appreciation and reminding teachers “it’s all for the kids,” we are fighting the battle at the wrong end. Treating the symptom instead of the root cause. Teachers know why they are teachers.

For me, teaching is not about forcing students to root out symbolism and simile in the works of long-dead white, male authors, memorize SAT vocabulary, or be able to deploy proper use of a semicolon. What I love about teaching is helping young adults build confidence in and outside of academics; encouraging students think critically about the world, their peers, and themselves; teaching them how to ask and answer the hard questions and moreover that not knowing is okay; demanding that they use language precisely and meaningfully in writing and speech; and being amazed by their raw creativity, passion, and eloquence.

I have repeatedly written my state representatives, signed petitions and gathered signatures, participated in demonstrations, and educated my friends on the issues, but change is glacial and our legislature is obstinate. In fact, they are being fined $100,000 a day by the state Supreme Court because they have ignored the voters’ demand to fully fund education. Appreciation cookies are nice, but only until the sugar high subsides.

Unfortunately my love for teaching has its limits when my profession is only valued at the surface level. Teachers with good hearts are being taken advantage of, and I cannot and will not be a pawn in this institution. After two and a half years of a university preparation program, five years attempting to enter the profession during a recession, and two years at a public school, I have decided that this year will be my final one as a teacher.