I started writing yesterday, and it turned into a 1000 word rant about how much I hate to hear people justify low teacher pay with the false perception that “teachers only work 9 months out of the year.” Twice now, I stepped away from that post. Most of the people who read my blog know that teachers work well beyond their 7.5 hour day and 180 day contract year. They don’t even have to drive by a school to see cars in the parking lot after 5pm to know that the teaching contract doesn’t adequately represent what the job really entails. And as for other people, the ones who buy the 9 month myth, well…I can’t imagine anything I write is going to change their minds.
I’ve been saying for a few years now that it’s a tough time to be a teacher. As if the unending and unfunded mandates from the higher ups or the constant “reform” strategies from non-educators weren’t enough, this morning a friend posted an article reminding us that Oklahoma will soon rank dead last in teacher pay. That’s 51st. Behind South Dakota and Mississippi, who found a way to fund teacher raises. There are plenty of plans for teacher pay raises in the mix at the capitol right now. But they all share one commonality: none of them have a plan for funding. And the constant struggle against what seems like an incessant war against public education is affecting my mood.
Listen, Oklahoma: it’s not me, its you!
I love my job. It’s never boring. Every day presents new challenges and new chances to be important in the life of a child. I have the unique opportunity, no…obligation…to inspire kids for several years. During the school year, some of them spend more time with me than with their families. Teenagers have the power to both amaze and annoy me. It’s a paradox that makes my days interesting, and my time in the classroom never, ever dull.
So why am I struggling to enjoy my days in the classroom as I used to?
Oklahoma: it’s not me, it’s you!
All my life, I’ve ever only wanted to be a teacher. Throughout elementary school, junior high, and high school, this was my answer to the question, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” In the first semester of college, I declared my major: music education. I never wavered in that calling. Even now, I find great fulfillment in recruiting and encouraging talented new people to my profession. I tell them that teaching is the most rewarding and simultaneously frustrating work there is.
So why would I suddenly question a lifelong calling to such an important profession?
Oklahoma: it’s not me, it’s you!
You have used my dedication, my passion, my integrity against me. You have cited my fierce calling to a noble profession as justification for paying me poorly. You have called me greedy for seeking financial security for my family. Nobody expects to become a millionaire in the education field (unless you’re a billionaire heiress who wants to redirect education funds to poor-performing charter schools for profit). But it’s unfair to deny college-educated professionals a wage that allows us to feed and clothe our own kids, put a roof over their heads, and maybe even send them to college someday.
I don’t want to leave my profession or the state I’ve called home for all of the nearly 35 years I’ve been alive. But something’s gotta give. And if it does…Oklahoma, it’s not me. It’s you.