A large part of me always wanted to be a teacher. In college, I mentored writing students and when I transferred to Iowa, I went on to work at a preschool and child care center, staying a year after graduation while I tried to figure out what my next step would be. I applied for Teach for America because I thought working in low-income schools to make a difference was my calling and when it wasn’t, I got my certification to substitute teach in Iowa before finding myself in technical writing position and getting swept up in a career outside of education.
But throughout my career, every time I’ve found myself unhappy and wanting to do more, my mind has always gone back to teaching. And every time I think I’ve gotten the courage to make the jump, I get on the phone with one of my teacher friends and I’m told, emphatically, “DO NOT DO IT. It’s not worth it.”
My friends who teach are strong and opinionated women and they are fucking great at their jobs but they’re not miracle workers – they’re not trained gun owners, they’re not mental health professionals, they’re not certified counselors, they’re not social workers, they’re not wealthy enough to provide for themselves, their families and our kids, too. But that’s what their job responsibilities have become. Teachers have basically become the junk drawer of our education system. We expect them to handle everything and be everything to every child and every family all while getting paid shit, working multiple jobs and, in the reality of today, protesting, marching and mourning the loss of their students and their peers.
So, in the wake of Teacher Appreciation Day, I’m here to not only say thank you to the good teachers who keep showing up despite the exhaustion, the shitty pay, the long days and the impossible expectations we continue to set, but to remind every parent out there that if we want our students to thrive, our teachers to be able to effectively teach and inspire our students and our school systems to flourish, we need to do more than make small donations and hand out Starbucks coffee cards once or twice a year. We need to start paying attention to what’s going on, we need to push for supportive legislature, push for more pay, be accountable in our roles as supporters of not just our kids but our schools, we need to listen to what our teachers want and we need to stand up for them. We need to look beyond the teachers, holding our school systems and the Department of Education accountable for their shortcomings. We need to be active in our children’s education, in our neighborhoods and our communities. We need to recognize our teachers’ work and while it’s great to say thank you, we need to show up for them – and in turn, our children – all year round whether it be working with your students at home or showing up to parent teacher conferences with an open mind or calling your local lawmakers, showing up to school board meetings and marching or protesting on their behalf.
I want teachers who will instill a love for learning within my kids. Teachers who will love my kids as if they were their own, push them to succeed, nurture their curiosity, share with me my desire for them to be better than I am, and more than they think is imaginable. I want teachers who will encourage my children to imagine and dream and reach. Teachers who will smile with them, laugh with them and find joy in them regardless of their personal and occupational circumstances. Teachers who will protect them in our absence and think of them in their absence, even as they drink cheap wine and curse their career choice. Teachers who teach because they want to do better and make a difference. Teachers who silently and tirelessly fight the good fight and bite their tongue when people justify their crappy pay and crappy hours with, “Well, at least you get summers off.”
Those are the teachers I want but it’d be naive, to say the absolute least in today’s circumstances, to expect those kinds of teachers and that kind of education if I’m not willing to do more – to stand up and show up – for them. So, selfishly but much more gratefully, that’s my promise.
Thank you to all the great teachers out there. You really are what makes the world go round.