Teachers deserve respect, support and fair pay

By Dorothy Inman-Johnson
Special to the Outlook

Teachers have finally had enough and are staging strikes and protests in Arizona, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Colorado, and Washington DC demanding better funding for public schools and teacher salaries. Today, teachers are paid less than other professions requiring a college degree in all 50 states; and they are more likely to work a second job to supplement their income and support their families. Data shows that women earn eighty cents for every dollar earned by a man. Many believe since 76 percent of public school teachers are female, this explains the low pay rate for public school teachers; though it certainly does not excuse it. Further, the fact that 56 percent of public school teachers have a master’s degree or above compared with 43 percent of private school teachers should justify better pay.

For the low pay and often poor working conditions, teachers are expected to heal problems children bring from home in addition to teaching them. Over the years, cuts in education have resulted in cuts to services by school social workers, psychologists, as well as classroom teacher cuts leading to large class sizes. And guidance counselors are used most often as testing coordinators rather than being available for the traditional counseling and advising role with students. All of this places a much higher burden on the classroom teacher, with limited funding or resources for teaching innovation.

There seems to be no improvement in sight with most state legislatures giving huge tax cuts to corporations at the expense of funding for education and other state needs, while redirecting public school funding to charter, religious, and private school vouchers. Further, Betsy Devos, U.S. Secretary of Education, has proudly proclaimed her preference for diverting tax dollars from public to private schools; while at the same time blaming public schools and teachers for school failures without the slightest acknowledgement that most public schools are as successful, if not more, than private schools. And they are succeeding with far more challenges and a lot less support. So, Devos’ plan to use tax free savings accounts for college tuition to fund instead up to $10,000 for private K-12 school tuition defies common sense. It only helps wealthy families who can already afford their children’s private school education, and does nothing to support public schools where over 90 percent of America’s children are educated.

“Right to Work” states, like Florida, are those with laws created solely to weaken the ability of unions to negotiate working conditions and a fair wage for employees through collective bargaining agreements with employers. In these states, schools generally have much higher class sizes, low teacher pay and benefits, less funding for classroom supplies and innovative programs, and poorer school facilities. Teachers are left to address a wide range of student needs resulting from poverty, poor parental involvement, other societal deficiencies, and scaled back programs that often force them to use personal income to supplement the school budget. The average estimate of personal teacher income for school supplies is over $650 annually, with many teachers investing much more. And though it should not be necessary, they make this sacrifice willingly for their students.

Americans have become so accustomed to unfairly equating public schools with poor quality education that they fail to acknowledge that most of America’s successful doctors, lawyers, scientists, educators, authors, artists, government and business leaders are products of the public school system. Yet public schools continue to be harshly judged for their relatively few failures, rather than their many successes. It is, therefore, understandable that teachers are finally fed up and demanding adequate state support for public school education and livable wages for teachers; even in right-to-work states where their jobs could be placed at risk. Teaching is a proud profession that demands much more self sacrifice than others, with little reward except the joy of seeing their students succeed in school and in life. It is past time to recognize their contribution to making America a great industrialized nation.

Teachers, for all they do, are deserving of our thanks, respect, support, and no less than a fair, livable wage.
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