Traditionally, professions that involve handling another person’s life have been highly regarded and valued by our society. So much so that professionals in those fields command high salaries for their work as a token of appreciation for the tremendous amount of responsibility they have to deal with daily. Take, for example, doctors and lawyers. In a general sense, not only do the job duties of both these professions have a direct and significant impact in some manner on a person’s life, they are also highly respected career choices. So why is it that a profession such as teaching is not even considered in the same breath as these aforementioned careers? After all, teachers also deal with people in a different way and have a deeper long-term impact on people’s lives.
Teaching is the singular career that, outside of home, most heavily influences the development of a person from childhood — in more ways than can be mentioned. Teachers are responsible for us being able to learn the basics of survival, as well as for skills so easy and common now as our ability to sit down and read this text. Teachers are almost single-handedly assuring that each generation grows up literate. Think about it: wouldn’t you want someone who is going to affect your life in such a major way to be happy and satisfied with what they do? Wouldn’t you want them to lead comfortable lives so that they, in turn, could perform their duties to the best of their abilities, and say, not be hindered by a cause, as old yet still as significant, as low salary?
After all, teachers are responsible for indoctrinating and preparing you to lead your own lives, kind of like winding the knob on the back of a toy so it can perform its function. In a way, teachers can be held accountable for much of the development and advancement we have accomplished thus far.
This leads to the obvious question of why does our society and our government not place at least the same amount of importance and value in teaching as it does in other careers. In a recent op-ed in The New York Times, popular author Dave Eggers compared the ways in which we react to failures in military strategy and education policy.
Eggers says that in a failed military mission, the blame is almost never placed on the doers, meaning the soldiers themselves. We blame the people above and in charge of the soldiers, those responsible for planning, people such as the secretary of defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Never do we even contemplate raising a finger against and blaming the men and women fighting every day in the trenches for little pay and scant recognition.
Yet, we do this on a frequent basis in our education system. When our students are not on par with expectations for scoring standardized tests, we blame the teachers. When schools, as a whole, don’t perform well, the scapegoat is always the teacher. As a result, teachers suffer pay cuts, reductions in pension and further decreases in funding and more restrictions on their resources.
Budget cuts in recent years have rendered the entire California public education system with depletions in funding and resources and at this point, federal intervention is necessary to right this ship. Teachers suffer the most from this crisis, as they are forced to work long hours with low pay and face a lack of support and respect from the state and federal levels of government. To add to this, the average starting salary is $39,000; the average ending salary after 25 years in the profession is $67,000.
To compound this, it is entirely futile to use the old explanation of “there is no money for education,” when it seems that money was and is spontaneously generated for military endeavors, to finance two concurrent wars and for the recent bailouts of the investment banks in 2008. Money should not be the reason; we have found ways to get it when we need it.
Furthermore, what we really need are changes in both how the teaching profession is viewed and valued.
For the teaching profession, respect, in regards to its significant role in our society in developing our future professionals, has to start from the top. The U.S. government needs to realize and understand that it is making a strong statement when it chooses to put all that money into the various wars this country has gone through and is currently in and puts education nowhere near the top of their list of priorities. The government needs to own up to the fact that all the money it is diverting toward distant and seemingly unattainable causes is causing major crises at home.
Eggers mentioned in his article that the consulting firm McKinsey polled 900 top-tier American college students and found that 68 percent would consider teaching if salaries started at $65,000 and rose to a minimum of $150,000. The potential is there, but opportunities need to be created by the federal government to give a boost to the education sector.
Is it really worth it to let education directly suffer because of reasons such as a lack of funding? Until this issue can be addressed, this nation’s education system will continue to head in the negative. For a nation that proudly declares itself to have the best higher education system in the world, the U.S. needs to realize that primary education has and always will be the sole factor that will govern the prosperity of this nation.
As many teachers near retirement, we have a rare opportunity at this point in time to show we are serious about education. The first order of action would be to bring about drastic changes that will make the teaching profession more attractive to college graduates and the only way that can be done is to actually award respect to current teachers by giving them an overdue and well-deserved increase in salary. The government needs to realize what its priorities are before the education system declines to a point where it’s too late to look back.
Sahil Batra is a fourth-year biological sciences major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.