Defining The Real “Value” Of Our Teachers

Teacher Value

It’s a typical day at work. You begin to teach the day’s lessons that you prepared the night before when all of a sudden, your surroundings are reduced to a pile of squat cinder blocks. Or when, say, a cowardly man enters the building and spews a fatal stream of bullets at anyone and everyone who dares stand in his way. You continue to do your job, which is–and always has been–to tirelessly nurture, primarily academically but in these circumstances emotionally and physically, your students. The president sees it differently, though, and even awards several Presidential Citizens Medals to some of your peers for what he–and many other politicians and taxpayers around the country–considers true heroism. And yet, that praise has an expiration date. Within the course of a few weeks, the nobility of your profession diminishes, and the number of politicians waxing poetic on your bravery and the insurmountable challenges that inevitably come with your work grows slim. In the eyes of some of the more unsavory legislators, you are back to being “more than greedy”. You are, in case you haven’t guessed by now, a public school teacher in the United States. You are also tired of the lip service.

Following a devastating tornado that tore through the plains of central Oklahoma on Monday, elementary school teacher Suzanne Haley found herself in a hospital with a metal desk leg piercing through her own flesh. Tammy Glasgow had a cinder block fall onto her neck while she ushered her students into the bathroom for protection. Naturally, the praise for these two women was as effusive as it was expansive. And yet, neither viewed their acts as anything especially significant. “It’s nothing anybody wouldn’t do,” said Haley.

In spite of those teachers’ humility, you might think that the kind words of local and federal legislators should still carry some weight. Or that the community chorus trilling of teachers’ heroism and their invaluable role in protecting and preparing our nations’ children should be followed by an equally meaningful and lengthy refrain.

That’s unfortunately not the case; that is, unless you consider increased teachers’ union busting, the advent of slithery Scott Walker-esque types into arenas of serious political thought and cut after cut in public education funding to be a particularly mellifluous melody in your ode to the heroism and value of our nation’s public teachers.

Tornado Teachers

After every tragedy that affects or takes place in a school, we hear the same cheers for teachers. And it’s great–and deserved; the problem is that without taking meaningful action to buttress such flowery praise, the words ring hollow. Disingenuous, even. We say we value our teachers, and we entrust–and burden–them with the challenge of producing a generation of competent, competitive and curious individuals capable of successfully navigating the tricky terrains of a globalized economy. Yet what, when we put these platitudes under the microscope, does said “value” boil down to?

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