Once upon a time, when you misbehaved in the classroom, the teacher made you stand in the corner. We’ve lost our way when it comes to teachers. They’ve always been misunderstood. Teachers aren’t sitting on piles of cash because their compensation doesn’t reflect their contribution to society and level of education. The summer vacation that everyone thinks is so unfair isn’t a paid vacation. It seems to me teachers are scapegoats for a variety of society’s ills. For example, if children have behavioral issues, it’s the teachers’ fault. It’s gotten more serious lately because teachers are now blamed for states’ imminent fiscal disasters. Veteran teachers who’ve performed admirably for all of their careers are now vilified for doing what no one else does anymore—holding the same job for an extended period of time.
Although I’m not in the family business, the family business is in me. Education is the family business. My mother and both of her sisters were educators. If your last name began at the end of the alphabet and you lived in Central Islip during her era, you knew my mom. When folks say veteran educators don’t deserve tenure, I think of my mother and the thousands of students whose lives she touched during the life of her career. I’ve met some of my mom’s former students. As adults, they’re happy she made them see the possibility of excellence within themselves. I don’t think my mother is the exception, although I know she’s exceptional. If the current crop of teachers doesn’t reflect these values and commitment, then our most capable college graduates will turn to professions where society will value them and where they will be justly compensated.
If America is to remain competitive in the 21st Century, then a STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) Curriculum is what students must learn and understand. Rather than ensure that our children can compete by training more math and science teachers, we are cutting funding for all education programs—from Head Start to Pell Grants. We continue to ask teachers to make wine out of water. Teachers are fresh out of miracles. Recent efforts to strip away teachers’ collective bargaining rights and their pensions are the most recent insult, which demands its own discussion in a future column. It’s not the teachers who need time in the corner or the students; it’s the rest of us for not taking responsibility for the children and for our misplaced values.