It seems to me…it is time to speak up. As a teacher, I have not used this column to promote higher teacher salaries because I felt that would be self-serving. But, last week, I felt I must speak out after Sen. Tim Kaine visited Stafford to discuss the teacher shortage in Virginia and the low salaries Virginia teachers receive.
I started my career as chairman of the Biology Department at Converse College. Then, for many years I worked on the “dark side” in industry. When I thought I retired in the Northern Neck, I taught at Rappahannock Community College and helped start and taught at the Chesapeake Bay Governor’s School. For almost eight years now, I’ve taught environmental science as an adjunct professor at Germanna Community College. I have made many friends in the teaching profession and, without exception, all are dedicated to the education of the students they teach and to the students themselves.
Aside from their discipline expertise, they all are among the hardest working people in the overall workforce. Their days begin with bringing a large group of students into the learning mode. That is no easy task because of students’ attachment to and immersion in their social media dependency and distractions. To be successful at this, day after day, requires skill and enormous patience. I can’t think of any other profession where before you begin your work you must get your client, customer, patient or attendee into a different mindset because they wanted to or needed to. Students come to school because they are required to. Teachers at all levels must deal with discipline all day long. For some teachers, this is a major part of their daily work. And, in today’s world, there are more students with some learning disabilities and emotional issues than in years past and these occur, to one degree or another, in every teacher’s workday.
A teacher’s expertise is under constant review and evaluation. Their teaching style, knowledge and ability to connect with their students is judged by others in the system and by exams created to find out if the students are learning what the system says they must learn. The SOLs are just one way they are evaluated.
Except for politicians, there is no other profession where the community served keeps an eye on them regularly as the PTA and school boards do of teachers. And the difference is that politicians can listen but not do what they are asked to do. Teachers must follow the rules set by parents, boards and the laws that govern their teaching licenses.
Previously unknown burdens for teachers today are drugs and violence. These are just other emotionally heavy weights that shadow them every teaching day. In other places groups gather, like theaters, arenas, shopping centers or amusement parks, those who run them have no emotional or personal relationship with those who they serve. Teachers, in contrast, have a responsibility beyond teaching, for each student’s well-being, health and life, from the time the student’s arrival to their departure.
A teacher’s day doesn’t end with the end of the school day. There are papers to grade, records they must maintain, sometimes parents to contact and lessons to prepare. In addition, many teachers spend their own money to buy supplies the school system can’t or doesn’t furnish.
And, Virginia’s teachers do all they do while they are the third from the lowest paid state teachers in the U.S. at about 31.3 percent of what other college-educated people earn in the workforce.
Some will say, “they chose the job knowing what they were getting into.” Ironically, like those who protect us as EMT, police, nurses and firefighters whose rates of pay also don’t come close to other college educated jobs in the workforce.
And this is the heart of the problem. In Virginia and as a society, we choose to pay big bucks to those who entertain us and in general make us feel good instead of providing a respectable living wage to those who daily insure that our lives are secure and our children are safe and properly supervised and trained to inherit the future.
Sen. Kaine told us there is a teacher shortage in Virginia. Should this come as a surprise when potential teachers have student loans to pay off, food, cars, homes or apartments to obtain at salaries the citizens of Virginia pay them that is one of the lowest salaries paid to college graduates in the U.S.
Currently, in one study the U.S. ranks about 17th out of 40 countries ranked in overall educational performance. Regarding salaries paid, the U.S. ranks about 7th behind Luxembourg, Switzerland, Germany, Netherlands, Korea and Austria.
Every profession depends on teachers. Without them there would be no discovery or progress.
Helen Caldicott said, “Teachers, I believe, are the most responsible and important members of society because their professional efforts affect the fate of the earth.”
But Benjamin Franklin, who always could say it the best in simple understandable language, put it this way, “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” And knowledge depends on teachers.
Harvey Gold is a contributing writer at InsideNova. Reach him at StaffordNews@insidenova.com.