Opinion | Education in America: School Is for Teaching

Opinion | Education in America: School Is for Teaching


In one word, how does it feel
to be a teacher right now?

In one word, how
does it feel to be a
teacher right now?


“Exhausting.”



Laura,


49, Republican, white, high school teacher


“Unappreciated.”



Stacey,


55, Democrat, Black, special area teacher


“Needed.”



David,


55, independent, white, high school teacher


Across the United States, education has become one of the hottest and most keenly felt political issues. Ever since the Covid pandemic began, governors, mayors, union officials, legislators and school board members have been arguing — often quite fiercely — about fundamental questions: When should schools reopen? What should be taught there? What is the purpose of public education? Who should decide these questions?


Once pretty much everyone was back in school — an uneven process that took place at different rates in different areas and in different types of schools — another set of questions emerged: How far behind had students fallen academically? How could they catch up? What about their social and emotional development, which also seemed to be lagging?


Nearly everyone had an opinion, but it sometimes seemed that one of the most important constituencies in this discussion was left out: teachers. As part of Opinion’s “What Is School For?” package, we asked a dozen public school teachers from elementary, middle and high schools to talk with us about teaching during a pandemic, trying to meet students’ academic and social needs and being caught between parents and politicians.


Like a lot of people in America, they were worried. “I find we don’t even have the art of conversation anymore,” one of the teachers said. “My students can’t talk to each other.” Teacher after teacher talked about how much harder the job has gotten over the past few years. “I just feel like I have an endless to-do list,” one said. “I understand that everyone should have a say,” another pointed out. “But oftentimes, there’s a lot of collision there.”


The teachers we gathered spent an hour and a half talking through these collisions with one another — which policymakers and parents would benefit from digging into — but they also took the time to talk about what inspired them to become teachers in the first place and what, despite all the difficulties, is keeping them in the classroom.


“Our school district has seniors write a letter to a teacher that’s impacted them, an elementary or a middle school teacher that’s impacted them,” one teacher told us. “And when you get a letter from a student saying, ‘I hated going to the library at the beginning of the year, but after taking your reading class and reading better, I love to go to the library, and I might write a book myself one day.’ I mean, that’s why I do it.”



Stacey


55, Democrat, Black, special area teacher



Brandie


38, independent, Black, elementary school teacher



Jill


35, Democrat, white, elementary school teacher



Carlotta


35, Democrat, Latino, elementary school teacher



Bobbie


48, Democrat, Asian, special education teacher



Dan


55, independent, white, high school teacher



Shannon


54, Democrat, white, middle school teacher



Laura


49, Republican, white, high school teacher



Mary


37, Democrat, white, elementary school teacher



Jessie


37, Democrat, white, high school teacher



Tyler


35, Republican, white, middle school teacher



David


55, independent, white, high school teacher




Moderator, Margie Omero



If you had to describe your biggest concern about the United States in a single word, what would it be?




Jill,


35, Democrat, white, elementary school teacher



Inequitable.




Jessie ,


37, Democrat, white, high school teacher



Extremists.




Dan,


55, independent, white, high school teacher



Polarized.




Shannon,


54, Democrat, white, middle school teacher



Divided.




Brandie,


38, independent, Black, elementary school teacher



Unbalanced.




Tyler,


35, Republican, white, middle school teacher



Corruption.




Carlotta,


35, Democrat, Latino, elementary school teacher



Lacking.




Stacey,


55, Democrat, Black, special area teacher



Turmoil.




Mary,


37, Democrat, white, elementary school teacher



Hate.




David,


55, independent, white, high school teacher



Polarized.




Bobbie,


48, Democrat, Asian, special education teacher



My word would be “disregard.”




Laura,


49, Republican, white, high school teacher



Mine was one that was already used — “division.”




Moderator, Margie Omero



Why did people pick so many words around “division”?




Stacey,


55, Democrat, Black, special area teacher



I feel like we’re going backwards in terms of equity. Whenever I look at the news, it’s always the left, the right, Republicans, Democrat. And in my head, I’m thinking, “Why can’t we all just be one?”




David,


55, independent, white, high school teacher



With polarization, it has to be “either/or,” instead of “both,” instead of “and.” We’ve lost empathy. And with that, we lose forgiveness.




Bobbie,


48, Democrat, Asian, special education teacher



I teach high school. I teach young adults. I used to teach in college. But even just within my limited experience, I’ve seen a lot of shift in attitude. I’ve seen a lot of shift in effort.




Moderator, Margie Omero



A shift in a good way or a shift in a bad way?




Bobbie,


48, Democrat, Asian, special education teacher



A bad way. I find we don’t even have the art of conversation anymore. My students can’t talk to each other. They can’t talk to adults. And I feel that that doesn’t bode well because, again, I look at these young people, and I want to have hope for them, but then I try to teach them, and I just don’t feel hopeful.




Mary,


37, Democrat, white, elementary school teacher



I kind of have the opposite experience. I did intervention this past school year, and before that, only elementary education for eight years. I feel like the kids now are so much more respectful and appreciative of each other, especially in the district I came from before Kansas City. It was Title I, low income. But they realized how hard it is to work for something and how appreciative they were when they got something. And I don’t think kids now, like older kids maybe, high school kids — I think they’re spoiled rotten, whereas the younger kids have — they’re just so much more respectful and appreciative. It was mostly second, third grade where, yeah, they’re little and not corrupt yet, I guess.




Jessie ,


37, Democrat, white, high school teacher



I definitely can empathize with Bobbie in terms of feeling hopeless. I’ve been an educator for 13 years, and my toughest year was this past year. But I have hope that we’re going to swing away from this extremely difficult time.




Moderator, Aaron Retica



This is another pick-a-word exercise, a single word to describe how it feels to be a teacher right now.




Dan,


55, independent, white, high school teacher



Challenging.




Bobbie,


48, Democrat, Asian, special education teacher



Tough.




Laura,


49, Republican, white, high school teacher



Exhausting.




Mary,


37, Democrat, white, elementary school teacher



Pressure.




Tyler,


35, Republican, white, middle school teacher



I’m trying to think of a word that’s like “pulled in different directions.” “Overwhelmed,” maybe.




Jessie ,


37, Democrat, white, high school teacher



Also “exhausting.”




Brandie,


38, independent, Black, elementary school teacher



Chaotic.




Shannon,


54, Democrat, white, middle school teacher



Frustrating.




Carlotta,


35, Democrat, Latino, elementary school teacher



Exciting.




Jill,


35, Democrat, white, elementary school teacher



Exhausting.




Stacey,


55, Democrat, Black, special area teacher



Unappreciated.




David,


55, independent, white, high school teacher



Needed.




Moderator, Aaron Retica



There were three people who said “exhausting.” Why “exhausting”?




Jill,


35, Democrat, white, elementary school teacher



I am in a school district where we’re facing the possibility of going on strike. It’s exhausting to me to come in already starting the school year where our board of education is not respecting us. And after last year and the year and a half we’ve had with teaching, it’s just — it’s so exhausting to be pulled all these different ways.




Laura,


49, Republican, white, high school teacher



I just feel like I have an endless to-do list that’s what I have to do to prepare for my classroom, what admin wants me to do to prepare for my classroom, what the law says I have to do.




Moderator, Aaron Retica



Carlotta, you said “exciting.”




Carlotta,


35, Democrat, Latino, elementary school teacher



I agreed with the other words that everybody else said, too, but I was trying to think of something a little bit different. And I’m into technology, and so that’s why I think it’s exciting with all of the new technology that is coming into the classrooms for students to use.




Moderator, Aaron Retica



Tyler, you were trying to describe a sort of multifaceted feeling?




Tyler,


35, Republican, white, middle school teacher



Kind of piggybacking off of what Laura just described: You’re answerable not only to administration and also parents but also to the different levels of bureaucracy that are sometimes telling you things that don’t coincide with one another on a district level and on the state level and the federal level. And then there are just a lot of voices because education is essential. I understand that everyone should have a say. But oftentimes, there’s a lot of collision there. And then we’re kind of caught in between with what exactly the expectations are for us. And then things kind of get piled on with state testing and then other mandates. It’s a lot to kind of manage all of that, while also managing behaviors day to day in the classroom.




Dan,


55, independent, white, high school teacher



Teaching’s always been challenging. I’m going into my 30th year, and it’s still a challenge. When I first started, it was a challenge to get stuff ready for my classroom. And I didn’t think I was doing a very good job. And I still don’t know if I’m doing a good job, but it’s less challenging for the classroom management part. But the other challenges come up. There are new initiatives. It’s always something new.




Moderator, Aaron Retica



Dan, several teachers here have mentioned that this last year was particularly challenging, and you said that all the years are challenging. Do you feel that the postpandemic period has been especially difficult for teachers overall?




Dan,


55, independent, white, high school teacher



Absolutely. Last year, we finally got back to being in a classroom. The kids who really hadn’t been in a classroom for two years — I kind of think they forgot how to be in a classroom and forgot how to act in a classroom. It was a challenge to get them to focus. This isn’t your house. Get off the furniture. You can’t do that kind of stuff. You’re back in school. And we have certain things we have to do in class.




Moderator, Margie Omero



If we had done this group three years ago before the pandemic, would you have picked the same word to describe teaching? How many people say, “I would have picked the same word if we did this three years ago, before the pandemic”?



If we had done this group before the
pandemic, would you have picked the
same word to describe teaching?


If we had done this group
three years ago, before the
pandemic, would you
have picked the same word
to describe teaching?




9 people raised their hands.




Stacey, 55, Democrat, Black, special area teacher




Brandie, 38, independent, Black, elementary school teacher




Jill, 35, Democrat, white, elementary school teacher




Carlotta, 35, Democrat, Latino, elementary school teacher




Bobbie, 48, Democrat, Asian, special education teacher




Dan, 55, independent, white, high school teacher




Shannon, 54, Democrat, white, middle school teacher




Laura, 49, Republican, white, high school teacher




Mary, 37, Democrat, white, elementary school teacher




Jessie , 37, Democrat, white, high school teacher




Tyler, 35, Republican, white, middle school teacher




David, 55, independent, white, high school teacher




Jessie ,


37, Democrat, white, high school teacher



I said “exhausting,” and I’ve always felt that teaching is exhausting, which doesn’t, at this point in my career, stop me from doing it.




Brandie,


38, independent, Black, elementary school teacher



Yeah, I picked “chaotic,” and I would just say I’ve been a teacher for 16 years. It’s always been a certain level of chaos and unpredictability. But I would say, postpandemic, it’s just intensified things that teachers have been saying for years about workload, about support with managing challenging student behaviors, about unrealistic testing and curriculum expectations.




Stacey,


55, Democrat, Black, special area teacher



I feel the same way. For the most part, I feel like being a teacher is a thankless profession. And it’s something that you definitely have to want to do. Otherwise, you won’t be doing it for long. I come from a district that’s a parent-pleasing district —




Moderator, Margie Omero



What does that mean, “a parent-pleasing district”?




Stacey,


55, Democrat, Black, special area teacher



Students aren’t held accountable, parents aren’t held accountable. For example, at one point, they wanted to implement a uniform policy. Parents raised a stink. OK, they scrapped that. A teacher gives a kid a grade — or a kid earns a grade on a certain thing, and they don’t pass the assignment or the class. And the district is breathing down the teacher’s neck: “You need to pass this child.” Well, the child didn’t do what he or she was supposed to do. At times, there’s pressure on you to change it because the parent is over here, barking at the district level. And then the district is barking at the administration. And the administration is barking at us.




Moderator, Margie Omero



Shannon, you said you would have picked a different word if we had done this a couple of years ago. What’s changed?




Shannon,


54, Democrat, white, middle school teacher



When I started teaching, it was more fun, and students were held accountable. Now my middle school students come with some kind of sense of entitlement. And I don’t know where that comes from. And many of their parents are younger, and they just want to be their friend. When I was a kid, you were afraid of your parents. If you got in trouble at school, there was a consequence at home. Now a lot of these kids, they get suspended, they come back with new fancy shoes and tattoos and rewards for being rude and disrespectful.



Who here has thought of leaving the profession
because of challenges during the pandemic?


Who here has thought
of leaving the profession
because of challenges
during the pandemic?




5 people raised their hands.




Stacey, 55, Democrat, Black, special area teacher




Brandie, 38, independent, Black, elementary school teacher




Jill, 35, Democrat, white, elementary school teacher




Carlotta, 35, Democrat, Latino, elementary school teacher




Bobbie, 48, Democrat, Asian, special education teacher




Dan, 55, independent, white, high school teacher




Shannon, 54, Democrat, white, middle school teacher




Laura, 49, Republican, white, high school teacher




Mary, 37, Democrat, white, elementary school teacher




Jessie , 37, Democrat, white, high school teacher




Tyler, 35, Republican, white, middle school teacher




David, 55, independent, white, high school teacher




Stacey,


55, Democrat, Black, special area teacher



For me, it was a fleeting thought because at the beginning of the pandemic, my district’s theme was compassion over compliance. Well, that quickly went out the window. Almost a year into the pandemic, we finished out the first year virtual, and the following year was almost completely virtual. And in the middle of our district’s Covid numbers escalating, they ordered all teachers back in the building, with no students. Well, some of us, like me, have children who are also in the district. You want me back in the building, but I can’t bring my child. And my child is a minor, and she can’t stay home by herself. If I wasn’t so close to the end of the rainbow, I would have said, “You know what? Forget this.” I just felt like I wasn’t appreciated.




Tyler,


35, Republican, white, middle school teacher



I had an exit plan this summer and was looking to shift careers. This past year, the group of sixth graders that I had was by far the best I’ve had in my six years of teaching. That wasn’t pushing me out. I still love the curriculum and love interacting with them. But it was the other stuff that I wasn’t sure was going to end. Everything that we have to do on top of teaching was kind of driving me out. But I do have hope for this next year.




Moderator, Aaron Retica



What are some of the other jobs that you’re performing when you’re a teacher?




Carlotta,


35, Democrat, Latino, elementary school teacher



A counselor, a parent, a nurse.




Brandie,


38, independent, Black, elementary school teacher



Technician, curriculum development. Mediator, social-emotional therapist, to some degree. Secretary, data analyst.




Jill,


35, Democrat, white, elementary school teacher



I’d say all the above, as well as, sometimes I’m — I don’t feel like a police officer, but I’m breaking up fights, even at the elementary level.




Mary,


37, Democrat, white, elementary school teacher



A safe space, the only safe space for some, and a confidante, an advocate.




Moderator, Aaron Retica



A lot of people suggest that teachers don’t have enough say in decisions about education.



Do you have enough control over
what you’re doing? Who says no?


Do you have enough
control over what you’re
doing? Who says no?




8 people raised their hands.




Stacey, 55, Democrat, Black, special area teacher




Brandie, 38, independent, Black, elementary school teacher




Jill, 35, Democrat, white, elementary school teacher




Carlotta, 35, Democrat, Latino, elementary school teacher




Bobbie, 48, Democrat, Asian, special education teacher




Dan, 55, independent, white, high school teacher




Shannon, 54, Democrat, white, middle school teacher




Laura, 49, Republican, white, high school teacher




Mary, 37, Democrat, white, elementary school teacher




Jessie , 37, Democrat, white, high school teacher




Tyler, 35, Republican, white, middle school teacher




David, 55, independent, white, high school teacher




Moderator, Aaron Retica



If teachers had more of a voice, how would things be different?




Shannon,


54, Democrat, white, middle school teacher



Teaching is a second career for me. And I’ve never had a job where so many people think they could do your job better than you without any training. People think they can just come in and be a teacher. Everybody says, “Oh, teachers are so valuable.” But in most states — and I’m sure many of you would agree — they’re not treated that way. In other countries, teachers are paid very well and given all these other things and revered. And here they’re not. We do need to be about the students. At the same time, with the pandemic, people are like, “Well, if you don’t like teaching, just quit.” Well, who’s going to teach the kids if we all quit?




Moderator, Aaron Retica



Laura, you were talking before about being pulled a million different ways. If teachers like you had a bigger voice, how could it be better?




Laura,


49, Republican, white, high school teacher



Well, I think the biggest thing is to let teachers be the drivers of policies that are created, instead of them being created at a political level or even an admin level. And when I say admin, I’m not talking about the admin within my school but the district itself. Really listening to the educators and just letting them drive the policy decisions, not letting people who have never been in a classroom — politicians and things like that — drive those policy decisions. Because we know what happens in our classroom on a day-to-day basis, and others don’t.




Moderator, Aaron Retica



Could a couple of you give me examples of what you would be doing in class that you’re not getting to do because of the jumble of other things?




Jill,


35, Democrat, white, elementary school teacher



Yeah, I would say focusing more on the social-emotional side of teaching, because my kids, they come in, and they’ve been home for a year and a half, almost two years. And they’ve forgotten how to play with each other or how not to argue — just the basics. I felt like because I teach first grade, they haven’t ever been in school, some of my kids. So I really wish we could spend more time building the background that they need, even just saying “thank you” after you get something. Some of them don’t get that at home. I just wish we could focus more on that instead of so much on the rigor of what we have to teach, because if they aren’t met emotionally, they’re not going to retain anything.




Stacey,


55, Democrat, Black, special area teacher



As far as nonteachers making policy decisions: In my state, any Joe Blow can be on the board of education. Most professions, you have to be in that profession to be on the board that governs that profession. And that’s not the case for education. Nonteachers making policy changes and decisions that affect us — it’s ridiculous.




Moderator, Margie Omero



We talked about some of the challenges of teaching. But what made you decide to go into teaching? What inspired you?




Brandie,


38, independent, Black, elementary school teacher



I wanted to be a teacher because of the children. That was my big drive when I started. And that’s what I continually think about on the bad days, is, “These kids depend on me,” especially kids that look like me. They need to see other teachers that look like them in the classroom. And I’ve always taught primary children, so third and second and first. And they’re just funny at that age. Just remembering something silly that the kids did or something they said or something they said to each other just makes me smile and gets me through the day.




Laura,


49, Republican, white, high school teacher



I love what I teach: government and history. I love the age group that takes those classes in my state, juniors and seniors in high school. I love talking with that group of kids. They have a lot to talk about and to learn about history, and we have a lot of great conversations.




Dan,


55, independent, white, high school teacher



I tell everybody I have the greatest job because I get to come to school and I get to play every day in physics. And I like teaching high school because the kids have a sense of humor. They start to laugh and get sarcasm. And we have a good time. I also coach and advise classes and see kids outside of the class as well. It’s just — it’s a great experience.




Carlotta,


35, Democrat, Latino, elementary school teacher



I had some teachers who were a great help to me in middle school. That’s why I wanted to go teach.




David,


55, independent, white, high school teacher



I didn’t want to be a teacher. I hated kids. I graduated from U. of A., was working for the city of Tucson. It was boring, and the people I worked with were boring. When my college career ended, my roommate kind of forced me to go help out at the local high school. I had fun with coaching. You can have some positive effect on kids. You see and you kind of become everything that everybody else is saying — a parent. You see their successes. You have the joy with them. But you have the accountability. And so I went back and changed my career and went back to U. of A. and got a teacher certification. And now I’ve taught 11 different subjects across 32 years.




Jessie ,


37, Democrat, white, high school teacher



Similar to David, I didn’t think I wanted to teach. I studied writing in college. And they say when you’re an English major, you can do anything. And I just said, tell me one thing because I don’t know what I want to do. And I loved books. And I thought — I had a friend who became a teacher, and I was like, “Oh, maybe I can just talk about books all day and have super-high-level conversations about literature. That sounds like a good thing.” And I learned quickly into student teaching that that is not what education was all about. So I went into education for books, but I stayed for the students. I don’t always get to have those high-level conversations. But once in a while, they do. The kids absolutely have kept me in it. And I don’t think I ever would have thought that. Seeing kids first in their family not only to graduate high school but to be in high school or to see them get those acceptance letters from college — I mean, there’s nothing like it in terms of being there when that happens.




Moderator, Aaron Retica



Sometimes people talk about how teachers are kind of superhuman. What do you think people mean when they say that?




Brandie,


38, independent, Black, elementary school teacher



As I’ve chugged along in my career, I’ve liked that phrase less and less. It adds an unrealistic pressure. And in some ways, it takes the humanity out of us. It’s like we can’t have bad days. We can’t be off. We can’t be unhappy. We have to be always on. The culture’s infatuated with superheroes. Superman can’t have a bad day. He’s Superman. He has to save everybody constantly. But who’s saving Superman when he has a bad day? Or he’s sick or he’s hurt?




Mary,


37, Democrat, white, elementary school teacher



The idea that teachers are superheroes — do people say that because there’s so much stuff we go through and have to deal with that normal civilian people are like, “There’s no way I could do it”? Well, half the time, we can’t do it, either. But also, when a student comes back to you or when you have a struggling student and they finally get it, that is the biggest emotion in the world, is when you have that kid, that kid who overcomes a behavioral issue or finally masters the standard or hits proficient on something. Those are the superhero moments, for sure.




Shannon,


54, Democrat, white, middle school teacher



Sometimes people say “superhero,” and my thing is, I’m just doing my job. I mean, everybody does their job. Sometimes I think that people expect teachers to fix everything. As much as we love the kids, you can’t fix everything in their life with school. But our school district has seniors write a letter to a teacher that’s impacted them, an elementary or a middle school teacher that’s impacted them — and when you get a letter from a student saying, “I hated going to the library at the beginning of the year, but after taking your reading class and reading better, I love to go to the library, and I might write a book myself one day.” I mean, that’s why I do it.




Moderator, Margie Omero



Let’s switch gears here a bit. What is the purpose of education? What is school for?




Bobbie,


48, Democrat, Asian, special education teacher



School is to help students realize their potential. They get exposed to different kinds of people and different backgrounds and different topics. And it’s for them to absorb as much as they want to and to do that exploration on their own. So my job, as a homeroom teacher or as a science teacher, is just to give them more options beyond maybe what they’re seeing online or in their home, to see that there’s other stuff out there and just to get out and figure it out for yourself. It’s really about encouraging them to find confidence and move on and just be awesome.




Moderator, Margie Omero



Carlotta, in your view, what is school for?




Carlotta,


35, Democrat, Latino, elementary school teacher



Teaching kids the basics of life: reading, writing, math, budgeting.




Moderator, Margie Omero



Tyler, how about you?




Tyler,


35, Republican, white, middle school teacher



To provide the next generation with the skills to help them succeed and to be responsible citizens with good values, to give students the foundation of what our democratic system is. This is how we participate in it. And this is why it’s important, along with compassion, strong families, kindness.




David,


55, independent, white, high school teacher



I think education is just formalized curiosity. Our skill set is to get a bunch of kids and individual kids who don’t want to be there — and don’t want to do what you do — to do it and do it willingly and happily. As teachers, we’re just the directors to help them get the skill set, the civic responsibility, as a person.




Moderator, Margie Omero



What do you mean by “civic responsibility”?




David,


55, independent, white, high school teacher



To understand that they’re not entitled to anything, that they have to give back and it’s a community. And you have to be respectful and listen. That’s civic responsibility, as well as, “You can have a chance. There’s still hope for social mobility.”




Moderator, Margie Omero



You think that’s an important part of your job as a teacher, is helping kids with social mobility?




David,


55, independent, white, high school teacher



Absolutely, to teach them there is hope. You can still, in this nation, be whatever and whomever you want to be.




Jessie ,


37, Democrat, white, high school teacher



I think part of it is helping students really figure out who they are. And I can say this, especially for high school, what they’re good at and how to foster that, what they’re not good at and how to either get better at it or kind of work around it and then prepare them to sort of take that and show them what possibilities there are for them in all that.




Moderator, Margie Omero



OK, Stacey, what do you think? What is school for?




Stacey,


55, Democrat, Black, special area teacher



Guiding the students in how to navigate this world that we live in. It’s changed. It’s not like it was when we were growing up. I was just telling my daughter this morning, she and her peers have the world at their fingertips. And there is nothing that they can’t find out by going online. And so at this point — I don’t see schools going away, but I see fewer and fewer brick and mortar buildings because, again, the pandemic has taught us that for older kids anyway, a certain level of things can be done online.




Mary,


37, Democrat, white, elementary school teacher



I want my kids to have a passion and to take ownership of their learning. And whatever they are thrilled about, diving deeper into — amazing. We’re all forced to teach to the standards and whatever, yada, yada, yada. That is not the entire thing of school. School is learning how to be social with people. School is building character. It’s so much more than reading, writing, arithmetic.




Moderator, Aaron Retica



Here’s the last thing I want to ask about: How much do you think it would matter if teachers had higher social status and were simply paid more? Would that revolutionize education?




David,


55, independent, white, high school teacher



Thomas Jefferson always said that you needed the best and the brightest to be able to educate the next generation. And if that’s true, you need to treat them with respect. That means monetary compensation. Then others will hold you in that same regard. If not, then anybody, like the guy next to me, says, “I’ll just go teach as a hobby.” They don’t have any idea of the skill set that we possess.




Bobbie,


48, Democrat, Asian, special education teacher



This is actually my second career. I am a doctor, a medical doctor. And due to circumstances, I went from being in the hospital to being in the classroom. And I’ve actually had a strange reluctance to let people know about my education or my professional background because they’re like, “Why are you a teacher?” And I always tell people, “I can teach the material. I know my stuff. But not everyone can relay it and get it through to the kids.” So for me, I actually have both sides of it. I do believe that we need a little bit more respect and prestige for teachers because, again, as we said earlier, a lot of what we do does go unappreciated, just because of ignorance. They just don’t know what we do, how we get there, how hard it is every single day. It’s not just at graduation or the first day of school. It’s that second Tuesday in the middle of November when nobody wants to be there. And you’ve got to somehow muster up the strength to get everybody to open up that book and try to learn something today.




Shannon,


54, Democrat, white, middle school teacher



I think part of the problem is that a lot of people discount being a teacher out of hand because it is such a low-paying, underappreciated profession. There are people that would probably be excellent teachers that do something else that they might not enjoy as much to make money. I mean, when I was a single mom and my kids were in school, I had to work two jobs because being a teacher didn’t pay all my bills. My students tell me, “I would never be a teacher.” If people felt like it was a more prestigious job and that they were going to get paid for all the work that they do, more people would want to do it.