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Don’t get me wrong, teachers are my heroes. This week, my son’s kindergarten teacher discovered that he had been unknowingly playing with another child’s vomit on the playground – somehow thinking it was “slushy snow” leftover after the spring melt – and she calmly sent him straight to the bathroom to wash his hands. She’s a saint.
What if appreciating teachers went beyond a Hallmark card and a latte?
If you think teaching is easy, you have never spoken to a teacher. I helped with a craft in a kindergarten class once and was so exhausted after five minutes I had to buy a big coffee and take a nap. Teachers are on their feet, performing for a crowd, one step ahead, improvising and anticipating and redirecting and instructing. All. Day. Long. Teachers are exhausted.
In this country, we no longer pay teachers a living wage. While the requirements for proficiency seem to go up constantly – ask a public school teacher some time if he or she has or is working on a master’s degree or a professional endorsement – the compensation does not. Many states have frozen pay raises, leaving lots of teachers with years of experience but still earning starting salaries.
I remember back in May of 2016, during National Teacher Appreciation Week, how in Detroit teachers were protesting again. They already had protested was because their buildings were unsafe places to work or to learn. This time it was because the district was claiming it could not pay them for work they had already performed.
During Teacher Appreciation Week, we get to hear a lot of happy rhetoric about the importance of our educators. But that week in Detroit we also were expecting them to do our country’s most important work for free.
I’m ready for things to change. What if appreciating teachers went beyond a Hallmark card and a latte? What if we called our elected leaders and asked them why it is that the profession that has the greatest effect on any nation’s economic and social future does not receive a salary that can adequately support a family? What if we asked them how they can keep passing laws requiring that teachers take more and more courses to remain proficient when they don’t make enough money to pay down the student loans they already have? What if we asked our neighbors how it is possible that they applaud my elected representative when he bemoans the horrors of Common Core curriculum at a town hall meeting but they remain wholly unconcerned when teachers can’t get approved for mortgages?
I’m done appreciating my kid’s teacher. I think she deserves better than that. I think she deserves to be treated like she is valued and deserves to be honored for the service she gives to our community.
I want her to get more than appreciated. I want her to get a raise.
Kate Kooyman is a minister in the Reformed Church in America who serves in the Christian Reformed Church Office of Social Witness in Grand Rapids, Michigan. This article first appeared on the Reformed Journal’s blog, The Twelve.