Teaching becoming a thankless job; support teachers

May 7, 2013 

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300 dpi 5 col x 8 in / 246x203 mm / 837x691 pixels Michelle Hazelwood color illustration of an elementary school classroom with teacher and young students. The Charlotte Observer 2001

MICHELLE HAZELWOOD — KRT

This is a week when we officially honor teachers. And yet, it seems today that we appreciate our teachers less than at any time I can remember. Among many who are not directly connected to today's classrooms, there is a growing tendency toward teacher bashing.

The reasons are understandable. We hear so much about "our failing schools," about other nations whose students score higher on tests, about a system that seems to reward longevity rather than competence. But I don't believe these claims bear up under scrutiny.

First, our schools are not "failing." Student test scores continue to rise. And the trend toward improving scores is consistent statewide, not just in Stanislaus County. Our colleges and universities report a record number of applications for entrance. Our graduates compete very well in this global economy. Two-thirds of the world's patents come from Americans.

Can we do better? Of course. We will never be satisfied until every student in every school succeeds. To get to that point, we need an education system that is genuinely supported by the public, in economics and in spirit. That means we must establish an educational "culture" in which new teachers have the support to become good teachers and good teachers have the support to become great. We do this within the system now with Beginning Teachers Support and Assessment programs and Professional Learning Communities.

The general public should support a "culture" that views teachers as the heroes they are. I remind my friends who work in other professions: "Teaching is the profession that makes all other professions possible."

We have not yet achieved that culture. And we're never going to get there if we do not do something about the position that teachers occupy in our society.

Nobody gets rich teaching. If you stick with it long enough, you earn enough to make a living. And if you put in 30 years or so contributing to your retirement, you earn a pension that will hopefully sustain you for the rest of your life, because teachers do not receive Social Security benefits.

The only way our schools and teachers can continue to improve and succeed is if we invest in them. California ranks 47th nationally in spending on education while New York and New Jersey spend more than twice what California spends to educate students. Shame on us.

Under these circumstances — combined with recent layoffs — who can blame the best and brightest of our youth if they ignore the teaching profession? We are fortunate to have the core of dedicated, competent teachers who work in our schools today. My worry is who will want to replace them tomorrow? Teaching is becoming a thankless job.

Please join me in changing that.

First, the next chance you get, thank a teacher or teachers for all they do — for their dedication, caring and belief that their hard work today will pay off down the road, not just for the children they teach, but for all of us. Thank them, and pray that they keep teaching.

Second, ask yourself how active am I in a child's education in terms of mentoring or volunteering in the classroom or simply by asking my children what they learned at school today? Together we can change the culture.

Changnon is Stanislaus County's elected superintendent of schools.

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