I have defended the critical role of teachers during my six years of writing for San Jose Inside. I have also consistently advocated for raising the stature of the teaching profession, while also fixing the broken teacher pipeline. These are two priorities—a third is finding a way to provide high quality learning for every 3- and 4-year-old in this county.
Physician, author and anti-nuclear advocate Helen Caldecott argues that teachers “are the most responsible and important members of society because their professional efforts affect the fate of the earth.” We should have the same respect for teachers as we do for brain surgeons.
Henry Brooks Adams says that a teacher “affects eternity,” and that person “can never tell where his influence stops.” In an email President Obama sent to his White House email list on April 29, he credited his education to Ms. Mabel Hefty as much as to any of his higher learning institutions he attended.
Without being assigned to Ms. Hefty’s fifth-grade class at Punahou School in Hawaii, it’s possible Obama would not have become our 44th President. His email went on to say that “over the course of the year, Ms. Hefty taught me that I had something to say—not in spite of my differences, but because of them. She made every student in that class feel special.”
Every once in awhile I hear from one of my former students. I received an email in March from one who said he was hoping he found the right “Mr. D” from a social media search. He did and we recently sat down for breakfast. He is now 52 years old. I could remember his voice from when he was 16 years old and a student in my classroom.
I implore you to take an extra moment this week and reach out to thank a teacher for the extraordinary work they do each and every day. Teachers in California work in an underfunded system without the ancillary staff—counselors, nurses, librarians, coaches, instructional assistants, mentors, etc.—schools once had. Our teachers have the highest student to teacher ratios in the nation.
Teachers also have to mitigate the effects of poverty more often in this country than of the other top-tier economic and military powers. Thirty-year-old Sean McComb, the 2014 National Teacher of the Year, gave an interview about the challenges many students face. “Any time a student is dealing with scarcity at home there are consequences,” he said. “Sometimes it is food scarcity, sometimes it is financial scarcity. Sometimes it is love, or a scarcity of self-esteem.” A study out of Princeton University reported that the stress of scarcity lowers a person’s IQ by an average of 15 points.
We invest robustly in the military industrial complex to the tune of approximately $600 billion each year. In 2009, the Pentagon employed 27,000 people for recruitment, advertising and public relations, for all branches of the military, at a cost of $4.7 billion. Equally critical to our national security is employing a quality teacher in every classroom. The supply is dwindling and millions of baby boomer retirements have occurred the last several years, and many more millions are on the way.
Teaching, from my personal experience, is complex and challenging work. President Obama, when announcing Shanna Peebles as the 2015 Teacher of the Year, noted that teachers “deserve our support and our appreciation and they also probably deserve higher salaries.” I wholeheartedly agree.