An Open Letter To The Teacher Who Is Overstressed And Underpaid

I haven’t been a part of the public school system for nearly a year and a half, but I definitely haven’t forgotten my time spent in the classroom. I adored what I did, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t see the teachers around me struggling not to collapse under the immense stress of trying to spread their time and energy in several different directions. There’s no doubt in my mind that teachers have always been deserving of higher pay, even more so now that they’ve been tasked with navigating virtual learning in the midst of the pandemic.

Now that many students are learning virtually from their homes, I’ve heard many parents claim that they’re essentially functioning as their child’s teacher. This is a woefully uninformed view. Let’s take a minute and acknowledge all of the expectations and responsibilities placed upon the teachers in our lives.

First of all, before even getting their own classroom, teachers need to obtain a license to teach. By the time they have acquired their license, they have graduated from college with at least a bachelor’s degree (although it’s quite common to see teachers holding higher level degrees), sat for and passed the required examinations, and completed student teaching hours in order to apply what they’ve learned in the classroom. This alone makes it obvious that sitting with your child at a computer while they are in their virtual classroom is not the equivalent of being a teacher.

Even before the pandemic, teachers were expected to juggle a plethora of work obligations. It’s not uncommon for those who don’t work as teachers to call them “lucky” because they (generally, but not always) have summers off. A teacher’s “work day” doesn’t end when their kids leave the classroom. On top of in-classroom instruction, teachers have any combination of the following to attend to: designing lesson plans, obtaining or creating materials to execute the lesson plans, grading assignments, developing IEPs (individualized education plans for students with special needs), IEP meetings, consultation with other professionals (speech pathologists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, etc.), parent-teacher conferences, required training meetings, and likely several other tasks I’m not even aware of. When school is “in session”, teacher’s don’t have the luxury of coming home and relaxing after a long day at work. There’s always more to be done.

In addition to all of the “behind the scenes”, we don’t tend to give our teachers credit for all that happens when they are face-to-face with their students. If you’re a parent who feels overwhelmed supervising your child during the online learning experience, imagine being a teacher who would generally be in a room with 20 or more children. Classroom management is a highly valuable skill in itself. Teachers also tailor their lessons to support learning of students with a variety of needs within that room full of children. The materials used with their children are often paid for out of their own pockets, too. It’s not just time that goes into preparing an environment that fosters learning, there’s also money.

All of this was before the pandemic. Now that we are facing a pandemic, teachers are simultaneously learning and teaching virtual learning models with their students. There have always been disgruntled parents, but now the complaining is even more common. There were always challenges in classroom management, now ensuring that all of the students have even successfully logged in and/or accessed the learning materials is an additional source of stress. Gaining and obtaining attention from children becomes even harder when you’re not both in a room that was designed to promote learning. If you’re a parent who is frustrated with the inconvenience of the switch to virtual learning, you should be able to recognize your child’s teacher is also likely immensely stressed out by this.

With all that teachers do, it’s infuriating how little they’re valued by some. It’s equally frustrating that they are often paid so poorly. I live in a county in which the cost of living is 55.6% higher than the national average. Median home price is in excess of $300,000. The $43,760 average salary of teachers in my county simply isn’t going to cut it. When I look at reviews from teachers working in my county, it’s not surprising to hear that teachers have had to fight for so many years for the smallest cost of living pay increase.

The message I have to share is from a letter I wrote to myself when I was still working in the public school system. I was frustrated with how difficult making ends meet felt, feeling as if somehow I had picked the “wrong” line of work (despite loving what I did) because I had chosen my career path based upon something other than monetary perks. After giving it some thought, I remembered why I chose to do what I was doing and I wrote the following pep talk:

When you leave this world, how much money you made won’t matter. It won’t be what’s talked about at your funeral; it certainly won’t be how people remember you.

I know you stress out a lot about it, but look at what you do you have. Your jobs over the years have helped raise children to be kind-hearted and productive members of society. You’re a caregiver and a teacher. Every successful adult received support from people like YOU to get where they are. You know what you make? A DIFFERENCE.

Your job is life-changing for both your kids and their families. Watching your kids learn and grow is worth more than any paycheck. You know very well that most people could NOT do your job. You should be proud, forget anyone that doesn’t see the value of your work.”

I meant it when I wrote it for myself, ready to reread my message whenever I felt low again. I mean it just as much now when I say it to you: Thank you for all that you do. You’re making our world a better place. Keep up the great work.

Personal Development

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