I drove 30 minutes out of my way to Starbucks, not for the coffee, but for the latest copy of the New York Times. There was an article I needed to read as I was recently inspired to write a paper on feminism and masculinity, but that’s a story for another time.
I stormed through the Starbucks, past the seven or eight people crouched behind laptops at tables lined along the wall, doing my best “important walk,” as I typically do when I’m deep in political thought.
After ordering my usual grande café mocha and snatching the second-to-last copy of the NYT, I sat down at a large empty table, flipped open the newspaper, cracked open my laptop, and settled into the line of others who were equally absorbed in the art of looking busy.
I began my research for the brilliant paper I was going to write but was stopped short when I found that after graduating, I no longer had access to my university’s online library sources despite still being able to log-in to my TU portal account. It was no matter though, because just minutes later I heard something from the table behind me that peaked my interest.
“The only one responsible for that kid killing 17 people is the school,” an older man declared just a little too loudly.
I immediately whipped around in my seat to look at the man. Where could this possibly be going?
Before you have any second thoughts about reading on, this is not about gun control, or the NRA, or the FBI. You can breathe.
Anyways, the man didn’t seem to notice my somewhat spastic shift and the apparent objection written all over my scrunched eyebrows because he continued talking to the young man who sat across from him… perhaps a father/son duo? Regardless, their generational differences were palpable. The younger man that sat across from the white haired and scruffy-bearded older man seemed skeptical of the idea being proposed, though obviously less perturbed than me.
The younger man, who could’ve been about my age, suggested that perhaps teachers shouldn’t be armed in schools because it isn’t fair to expect them to act as part-time law enforcement officers, and be trained to accurately fire a gun, with no pay raise. After all, teaching is one of the most important professions in our society, but you’d never guess by looking at a teacher’s salary.
The older man interrupted. “I went to high school during the Cold War. When I went to school, it was about the students. People cared about the students. Now it’s all about the teachers,” he said with clear displeasure.
The younger man said nothing as his elder continued on, and I remained half standing, half sitting at my high top table, staring blankly out the window. I’d stopped eavesdropping on their conversation, bewildered by what I just heard. The entire sentiment of schools being too heavily focused on teachers is contrary to everything I know about education in America.
Funding for public education is already being cut, the United States Education Secretary believes charter and private schools take priority over public education, class sizes in public schools are getting bigger, and the student to teacher ratio is getting worse. All the while, teachers are trying to prepare kids for the real world and the new economy with fewer and fewer resources.
At this very moment, public school teachers in all 55 counties of West Virginia are on strike. Schools are closed because there are over 700 teaching vacancies across the state, and instead of finding a way to fill and retain those positions, legislators are allowing the health insurance company serving these teachers to skyrocket premiums and deductibles. Many West Virginia teachers make up to $25,000 less than public school teachers in surrounding states, and so they’re left to fight for the resources that allow them to do their job.
And I imagine that West Virginia isn’t the only state where public schools and teachers are in crisis.
Certainly there are people who can describe the issue better than I, as I am neither a teacher nor an education expert, but I do know my fair share of teachers whom I adore; some of them are childhood friends who grew up with the desire to guide and invest in future generations; some of them are college friends who I watched nervously leave for their first day of student teaching only to return home already raving about their students; some of them are teachers I had growing up myself, people who shaped, encouraged, and inspired me in so many aspects of my life.
They are the people who change children’s lives. They are the people in the classroom, interacting with students, day in and day out. They are the people we need to listen to – not administrators who’ve never spent a day teaching in a classroom and not lawmakers. We need to amplify the voices of our teachers and provide them with the environment and resources they’re asking for. If we’re truly for education for all; if we’re truly for the students, we cannot continue to talk over teachers, cut funding for public education, and then expect these teachers to perform miracles in the classroom – Though knowing some of the teachers that I do, I wouldn’t hesitate to call them superhuman.