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by Kate Kooyman
Theresa Latini is taking a break from her rotation on The Twelve. While she’s away, we welcome Kate Kooyman. Kate is a minister of the Reformed Church in America who serves in the Christian Reformed Church Office of Social Witness in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Thank you, Kate.
Don’t get me wrong, teachers are my heroes. This week, my son’s kindergarten teacher discovered that he had been unknowingly playing with another child’s vomit on the playground — somehow thinking it was “slushy snow” leftover after the spring melt — and she calmly sent him straight to the bathroom to wash his hands. She’s a saint.
If you think teaching is easy, you have never spoken to a teacher. I helped with a craft in a kindergarten class once and was so exhausted after five minutes I had to buy a big coffee and take a nap. Teachers are on their feet, performing for a crowd, one step ahead, improvising and anticipating and redirecting and instructing. All. Day. Long. Teachers are exhausted.
In this country, we no longer pay teachers a living wage. While the requirements for proficiency seem to go up constantly — ask a public school teacher some time if they have, or are working on, a master’s degree or a professional endorsement — the compensation does not. Many states have frozen pay raises, leaving lots of teachers with years of experience but still earning a starting salary.
In Detroit this week, teachers are protesting again. First it was because their buildings were unsafe places to work or to learn. And now it’s because the district is claiming it cannot pay them for the work they have already performed.
It’s also national Teacher Appreciation Week. So we get to hear a lot of happy rhetoric about the importance of our educators, while also expecting them to do our country’s most important work. For free.
I’m ready for things to change. What if appreciating teachers went beyond a Hallmark card and a latte this time? What if we called our elected leaders and asked them why it is that the profession that has the greatest impact on our nation’s economic and social future does not receive a salary that can adequately support a family? What if we asked them how they can keep passing laws requiring that teachers take more and more courses to remain “proficient” when they don’t make enough money to pay down the student loans they already have? What if we asked our neighbors how it is possible that they applaud my U.S. Congressman when he bemoans the horrors of Common Core curriculum at a town hall meeting, but they remain wholly unconcerned when teachers can’t get approved for a mortgage?
I’m done appreciating my kid’s teacher. I think she deserves better than that. I think she deserves to be treated like she is valued, and she deserves to be honored for the service she gives to our community.
I want her to get more than appreciated. I want her to get a raise.