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Note: I really hope you’ve read Mark Hiskes’ important essay Afraid to Teach which was posted on the website this week. (If not, stop reading this; read that instead.) 

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Teachers are my heroes.

Yesterday was the first day back at school for my kiddos. When I dropped off my angsty carpool crew at the doors of their middle school, I felt a pang of guilt. I was experiencing the delicious silence of an empty minivan after a summer of Weird Al blasting on repeat while I frantically muted my Zoom calls. But the teachers! I could picture those poor souls as I made my way out of the parking lot. I felt a wave of gratitude, and then I waved goodbye.

Never has it been harder to teach than it is now. My seventh grader came home after the first day annoyed that the first 20 minutes of each of his seven classes had been devoted to the school’s cell phone policy. It does seem like overkill to review a policy seven times, but then again I can’t imagine trying to teach pre-algebra in the age of the iPhone.

But it’s not just the challenge of technology and the very weird ways that it’s shaping the social lives of this generation. It’s also the lingering pandemic. It’s the threat of gun violence. It’s the oppressive expectations of test-readiness. It’s the rampant, unmitigated trauma that kids come to school carrying every day, and that we expect teachers to magically solve.

And it’s the crappy pay. Have you ever wondered how underpaid teachers are in the state where you live? Well, you can find the answer here – a policy think-tank that’s been tracking the teacher shortage and its causes. One of them is the reality that you can get the same degree and make a lot more money doing something else. 

Teachers are my heroes because they show up anyway. Because the work they do is technical and specialized and we talk about it like it’s easy. Because we don’t reimburse them for their boxes of Kleenex, their classroom libraries, their Target runs to discreetly offer a backpack or a winter coat to the kid in need. Because without them, our society would crumble so fast our heads would spin. 

But I’ve recently decided I need to stop using those words. To call someone a hero perpetuates an unfair expectation. Teachers are not magical beings, or a million Mother Theresas; they’re people. People with a Comcast bill, a car payment, a minivan full of their own kids with places to go and braces to pay for. People who need to start looking for other work when the ends don’t meet. 

Calling someone a hero while also taking advantage of them feels manipulative. So while I firmly believe that teachers are the ones who are saving society, I also believe what the teacher shortage is telling us: even heroes don’t stick around if they aren’t valued. 

Thank a teacher today. Tell them they’re your hero. But don’t stop there: use your voice, and come November use your vote, to make a change.

Photo by Esteban Lopez on Unsplash

Kate Kooyman

Rev. Kate Kooyman is a minister of the Reformed Church in America who lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan.


  • Mary Dieleman says:

    Thanks! Well written and said!! Voting is not just a privilege, it’s an obligation.

  • Ann Schipper says:

    Right on, as always.

  • RZ says:

    Some very good insights, yours and Mark Hiskes’. It is truly a burden being a teacher( or a student, a preacher, an administrator, a medical professional, or an honest public servant) in this climate. I loved Mark’s CS Lewis reference to those confused, zealous, misinformed rescuers trying to subdue a flood with a fire extinguisher. What a metaphor! It becomes increasingly clear to me that the crisis is not one of the hot-button platform issues, most of which could be vastly improved by reasonable compromise. It is the survival of a civilized democracy, which cannot survive without HONEST, reasoned, respectful listening and collaborating. Step up Christians and other Bible- followers. We have the template and it is not ” winner- take- all” and “win-at-all-costs by-any-means,” and “control-the-narrative.”

  • Thank you, Kate. This gratitude matters. It really does. So does showing up to support teachers (and students and communities) at School Board Meetings.

  • Jack Ridl says:

    Thank you beyond thanks. My daughter teaches art at Holland Christian High—thank the school it recognizes art is a human necessity—and needs to also clean a local B & B and I worry every day that she walks into the school building where she gives and gives, loves and loves. I shall give her your profoundly understanding piece. It will help to sustain her.
    Endless grace and gratitude

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