If you’re majoring in a subject that falls under the humanities, like English or history, you’ve probably heard the familiar jeer: “Oh, so you’re going to be a teacher?”
The question would be harmless if it were genuinely out of curiosity. However, most who have been asked that question probably sensed the tone of condescension. This isn’t a piece about the devaluing of humanities majors, though. This is about how we talk about and devalue teachers.
You’ve heard the cliche a million times: Stay in school if you want to do well in life. It’s not a stretch to assume that parents place a great deal of importance on the quality of their child’s education. That’s integral, especially in low-income families; for a lot of people, getting a good education is the best way to escape their poor financial situation.
While there are a lot of roadblocks for struggling families when it comes to public education, getting effective teachers remains a top concern. When I say effective, I don’t mean just qualified; minority representation in teaching makes a difference.
One study looked at long-term school records for more than 100,000 black elementary school students in North Carolina and found that the students who had at least one black teacher graduated high school at higher rates. According to the study, the probability of low-income black boys dropping out of school was 39 percent lower when they had one black teacher in elementary school.
The continued mistreatment of teachers also deters students from wanting to pursue this career. Just imagine how many more wonderful instructors there would be if students could pursue it without worrying about the pay or the treatment.
But just in general, there are many reasons we should care about teachers. They spend a great deal of time with a child during the developing stages of their life, they act as role models and they are responsible for keeping children engaged with education. There is no shortage of stories that detail how just one special teacher can change someone’s life.
We know that teachers are important. So why do they continue to struggle?
First, they have to get more degrees. While an undergraduate education used to be the norm, most K-12 teachers are now required to have a master’s degree if they want to earn more. That makes it sound optional, but it’s really not; the Economic Policy Institute found that teachers make 17 percent less than similarly educated professionals in other fields. That gap is wider than ever. So, teachers now need to pay for more school — getting buried in more student loans — but are getting little in return.
Aside from the massive debt and lower pay than similar workers, teachers are often forced to pay out-of-pocket for supplies. According to the Education Market Association, teachers collectively shelled out around $1.6 billion of their own money on school supplies in 2016. Therefore, even if you think that teachers are sufficiently paid, some of that money is spent on the basic materials for their job.
When it comes to college professors, the story doesn’t get much better. College professors need to get master’s degrees or doctorates, raising the debt issue again. Additionally, many adjunct professors, who account for the majority of college faculty, have their hours limited by their institutions so they can avoid having to provide health insurance. Another survey found that 31 percent of part-time faculty are living near or below the federal poverty line.
This doesn’t even mention the increased cuts to federal funding for education.
There is a clear disconnect between how we claim to value teachers and how we actually treat them. That goes for us college students as well. Comments like those I mentioned at the beginning continue to devalue the role of teachers, and they’re fairly normalized. Instructors have a crucial job — a job that isn’t always easy — and they provide the much-needed service of educating the future generations.
If we really care about our youth and our future, we must invest in our teachers. If we care about our workers at all, we should invest in teachers. Whether they’re dealing with screaming kindergarten kids or half-asleep, arrogant college students, teachers deserve a great deal of respect. And more-than-sufficient pay.
Sarah Molano is a junior majoring in English