It is becoming very difficult for teachers across North America to convince the public of the need to fight for education, to support the deeply felt emotions and beliefs directed toward ideals and professional standards that we teachers have come to espouse. Why is this? When the issue at hand for everyone in the ‘real world’ is about money and teacher salaries, the educational profession is suddenly reduced to something smaller than a calling.
It becomes a job.
Money is certainly a separating line between groupings in society. Whenever money comes into play, there are going to be divisions. It is just par for the course. On the continuum of how well people are compensated and valued for their lifework, teachers could surely be said to have been given a fair shake, at least in comparison to most other employment found in communities where schools are located. Retail work, customer service, industry and manual labor positions are all found to be less compensated. And in other caring professions concerned with people, we are again found to be better off. For instance, we as teachers get more compensation for our work than certainly parents are paid for their efforts/commitments (as evidenced in the governments pithy attempts to provide tax relief and the child tax benefits- compensation that could never be called a salary for a SAHM); we make more than foster parents, more than human services workers, youth workers, probation officers, community liaisons, coaches and non-profit supports; and depending on who you talk to (and in what province) teachers make more than social workers and quite possibly even more than some nurses, who require similar educational standards and rigorous training (side-note: a quick Google search showed salaries to be comparable across most provinces).
When teachers sit down at the collective bargaining table, it appears to the public that all we are talking about are salaries. This is just not the case. Bargaining is conducted first concerning the student’s educational experience, and this is of utmost importance. How many teachers will a school have? What sizes should classes be? How much money is allocated to supports (both internal and external)? Who is in charge of curriculum delivery? What role will specialists have? How many EAs will be provided? These, among other concerns, are dealt with first. It is therefore unfortunate that teachers are only given ‘air play’ when it appears we are whining about wanting more money; I believe that teachers have more ‘at stake’ than merely our salaries.
As teachers, we came into this profession because we deeply care: care about teaching, care about student welfare, care about ideas, care about the future of our current generation, care about subject matter we believe is relevant, care about critical thinking, care about social justice, care about tolerance. And certainly we care about so much more.
Since teachers are essentially people who care, the care we invest takes teaching from just being a job and elevates it to something more worthwhile. Teachers should ideally be called into this profession- a calling of the heart. One that serves to inspire, motivate, encourage and arouse within young people the seed for greatness.
Teachers talk about choosing this profession because we want to make a difference in someone’s life. We want to be known as the catalyst for someone elses’ greatness. We believe that we truly are the wind beneath our students’ wings. We even desire to see our students surpass our wildest expectations.
Therefore, teachers want the general public to understand that there are different components to being a teacher. Unfortunately, what the public sees is the negative side: the side that is presented in the media when it is contract time and negotiations are underway. But what our students see is something entirely different. They see us as advocates. As role models. As mentors and guides. They see us as a listening ear. As caring yet effective examples. As supportive coaches. Sometimes even like a family member. This side rarely makes the news, but it is the authentic side of who were are. It’s the side that our students know and appreciate.
I wish that the public could understand that the negotiating that is done behind closed doors in provinces across Canada and then held up for public scrutiny is not the true reflection of what a teacher is at heart. We are not money hungry. We are not selfish individuals thinking only of ourselves. We care deeply about our students and that is where 95% of our thinking is invested while we are on the job. Of course, there are always going to be reasons why teachers feel they should be monetarily compensated for the work they do. This is only fair to expect when people invest their lives, education and extra time into providing the best possible service and practice they know how.
But money isn’t everything.
Even more than money, I think what teachers truly crave is to be valued. We want to be appreciated for our lifework. Maybe not every day, and not with loud broadcasting voices. Just quietly offered a word of appreciation. Not because we are entitled, but because we are human. We all appreciate praise. And it is my belief that gratitude can sometimes mean more to people than money ever would.
It is like anything: when we are appreciated, we as people want to do so much more to please, above and beyond our job description, because of that little motivation we’ve received. Everybody does better with thanks. Perhaps if all our life-work, employment and professions were more appreciated- from SAHM to retail workers to farmers to nurses… to the girl that just gave you your coffee at Tim’s: it would not be quite so difficult for us to understand each other. If we all valued one another more, thanked each other more often, and showed one another gratitude more regularly, we would see less of this negativity in the media that drags us all down.
It’s certainly worth considering.