Average salary for a California teacher who holds an M.A. degree: $75,000
$550: Amount I spent out of my own pocketbook, on classroom supplies, parent meeting snacks, student incentive rewards, etc…
185: The days I was required to work, per our human resources calendar.
200: Approximate days I ACTUALLY worked.
2.5: Number of months I am officially off duty, though a good percentage of this time is spent gearing up for the upcoming school year, through classroom & material prep, etc…
2: Number of days I was furloughed this year without pay.
Numerous: The roles I played (including, but not limited to, resource provider, parent education facilitator, social worker, home visitor, community liaison, nurse, custodian, secretary, coach, confidant, and student).
Countless: The number of times I felt frustrated with the profession
Endless: The rewards of my career
Last week (May 5-9th) was teacher appreciation week. At my school in particular, it was business as usual, save for the modest potluck provided to us in the staff lounge on Thursday afternoon. Other than that, the week was uneventful. And I’m not complaining. May is an extremely busy month for teachers anyway, what with parent-teacher conference prep, the mad rush to acquire all required common planning time hours, and the usual end-of-the-year matters to attend to. Overall, it was nice to hop onto social media and see pictures of all the cute little pinterest-inspired teacher appreciation crafts, along with the occasional inspirational teacher related quote. But what continually caught my attention last week was the news surrounding a federal judge’s upholding of Florida’s teacher merit pay law, and rumors within our own school district regarding the possible restructuring of early childhood education employees pay scales.
Sadly, this is nothing new. Teachers are constantly under attack. Talks of de-unionization, threats of pink slips & layoffs, and the ever-changing climate of curriculum and content standards keep us constantly on our toes. It seriously feels like a circus sometimes. But aside from all the politics and bureaucracy, the thing that keeps me grounded on a day-to-day basis are the relationships I have with my students and their families. It’s really as simple as that. It seems that each time I get frustrated with the steady stream of bad news regarding education funding and threats to our programs, I receive word from a parent who wants to update me on the progress of a former student. Just this evening, I was at my son’s baseball game– with a lap full of conference forms to prepare–and a women stopped me to say hello. Her daughter had been in my Kinder Readiness Academy class several years ago and (according to mom) is now doing marvelously well in the 3rd grade, thanks in part to her participation in our program. These interactions keep me going, and remind me of the reasons I chose this field to begin with.
But even coming off of that pleasant reminder, there is something that came up last week that continues to nag at my thoughts. This past Monday night, my 12-year-old son Isaac mentioned to me that he is thinking of becoming a teacher when he grows up. Granted, he’s young, with many years of career exploration ahead of him. That, and I’m quite sure he’s also been influenced by his older brother’s increasing interest in becoming a high school history teacher, but the fact remains that he is at least considering the field of education as an area of interest. And naturally I’m inclined to encourage this interest. But, as both my boys have found out as they express their future plans with others, not everyone shares in this enthusiasm.
For various different reasons, my sons have heard plenty of justifications as to why they shouldn’t consider teaching. From the tenuous state of public education, to the notoriously low wages, there are many aspects of the profession that prompt people to advise my sons to reach for higher goals. Perhaps law, or investment banking, or engineering, or medicine…anything that would provide more prestige. Because, let’s face it, teaching is clearly on the second tier, as far as professions go. There is little glamour in it. Except of course when you run into a student at the grocery store and they chase after you, calling out your name as if you were some type of celebrity. (That really happens y’know).
But aside from all that, I remain an idealist. I cannot help it, it’s in my blood. I understand that my working conditions can be extremely difficult, the hours long, and the pay minimal in comparison to other careers. But damnit, I love what I do. And if my boys decide they want to take part in this experience, I’m behind them 100%.
In the last few weeks, I’ve counseled a mother who lost her home. I’ve comforted a child who is fearfully anticipating the transition to kindergarten. I’ve calmed a father who felt that his child was being treated unfairly by another student. And this is all outside of my formal job description. This, is the human aspect of teaching. The part of our profession that cannot be measured using standardized methods, or evaluated through tests. On the first day of school, I open my doors to 44 learners and their families: I am expected to prepare them for kindergarten by fostering the growth of social skills, encouraging language and critical thinking, and instilling the basic skills needed for academic success. Throughout the year, we almost always encounter many setbacks…but we also accomplish countless triumphs. Some days I come home tired beyond belief…okay, this happens most nights. But in all honestly, I always rest easy knowing that in my profession I have found both my livelihood and my life’s passion. How many people are blessed enough to say that about their line of work? Why would I want any less for my own children?
For me, teacher appreciation extends far beyond a week in the year. I experience it whenever I run into a former student and see the way they smile in recognition. I ponder it when I recall the teachers I’ve had who inspired greatness in me. But the ultimate form of teacher appreciation manifests itself in my sons & the fact that they have considered emulating my role as an educator. Whether they were inspired by their grandparents, who were both in the field as well, by me, or perhaps by their own teachers along the way matters not to me. What matters is that I know that they have recognized the honor in the profession. And that is all the appreciation I need.