How Teachers Change the World For the Better
We have 3.2 million public school teachers in the United States. They teach about 51 million students. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, elementary school teachers had a median salary of $56,900 a year in 2017. That means half of the teachers made more than that, and half, less. Entry-level teachers earn as little as $22,500 a year. On average, the bottom 10% of teachers earn $37,350.
Public schools and teaching are (along with health care) the area of endeavor where a strong human orientation toward community and the wellbeing of others is obvious. It is one area where positive change is easily measured.
Our country does well in public education as compared to the G20 nations, not poorly.
Although I am a college teacher myself, I was thinking this morning about all the teachers and counselors and aides who saved my life. I wanted to say “thank you” formally. I want them all to know they saved my life and the lives of so very many others.
I grew up in a very abusive environment which grew much more frightening after my grandfather died when I was 13. This is nothing unusual; part of my life changed forever when I learned about ACES (Adverse Childhood Experiences) while raising funds at Beyond Shelter. I realized that all of the homeless parents had very high ACE scores. At the time, I thought I had 9 out of 10 on the ACE scale; only later did I realize I was in fact 10 out of 10 because my brother did indeed die of AIDS in a prison halfway house. I even came to realize that I might have been part of the Kaiser-CDC study that identified the ACES and correlations with adverse adult health and life outcomes. I was diagnosed with complex PTSD in June, 2006 and was a Kaiser member. The psychiatrist asked me all of the ACE questions (and then some). When finishing, she said, “You must be a very strong person. Almost all other people with your experiences have been hospitalized or are dead.”
One time back in Family Service days (probably 1990) I was bagging groceries with Barbara Wormser (mother of one of my oldest school friends and also a Scripps graduate) and she said, “You know Amy — we didn’t think you’d make it.” Barbara was one of my surrogate parents.
People like her and all of my incredible teachers, so many I can scarcely name them all: they are what helps us to survive. They are what helps us to heal and thrive.
They are the contributing factors that help people counteract ACES. They give us the all-important ability to heal, grow, be healthy: they provide resilience.
I truly do not think that people who have few or no ACES can understand what these experiences cost. What they do to us.
Great teachers don’t just teach: they truly do save lives.
So, from Richard Long to Orv Nease, from Terry Alexandris and Catherine Dunn to Coach Earp teaching me how to drive in his spare time. From Lois Langland to Paul Darrow to Brad Blaine to John Peavoy and Frances McConnell. From Pilar Rotella to James P. Blaylock and Kevin O’Brien and Gordon McAlpine.
I am pretty sure that my high school English teachers would be a little pleased that I have been able to earn even a small living from professional writing. They were harsher critics than any college or grad school instructor. Harsher than nearly every editor I’ve ever had! In their case, their high standards have borne fruit decades later.
Thank you great teachers. Thank you for everything you did. Just doing your jobs made all the difference in the world. You weren’t millionaires or billionaires. You weren’t famous — and your power was the power to teach and encourage and coach. But what a tremendous power it was and is!
Teachers, every single day you walk in the classroom or gym and just do your jobs the way you have been trained and know from experience to do — you are making the difference for your students. You may never know which student got which benefit. They received it all the same. This is no platitude: it’s a fact.
I have read countless attacks upon public school teachers over the years. I have read many conservatives stating how “easy” public school teaching is. I’ve seen many others state that teachers get summers off so they don’t work as hard as people who get only two weeks or no vacation.
Let’s see some of the other objections to public education in addition to “I don’t have kids so why should my taxes pay to educate other people’s kids?” Some conservatives don’t like public schools because they supposedly teach students things parents don’t want them to learn such as Darwin’s theory of evolution. Others don’t like public schools because they pass out condoms to older teens.
Just about everybody who says or thinks this type of thing sends their child to private school or takes advantage of a high-functioning public school in a well-off neighborhood or high-functioning community (like my hometown of Redlands). Their children may need help just the way I did. The joke on people who think private church-run schools or private prep academies are inherently “superior” to public schools is that these schools are not inherently superior. And the incentive for a teacher or administrator at a private school to reach out and help a child who may be abused at home is far less than the one who works in a public school who is mandated to do so. It’s also far less of an incentive for a private school administrator to discipline or discharge his or her staff who are performing poorly or who are abusing students. Better to cover up — as we have seen in countless scandals in recent years.
I didn’t mean this to be about abuse but rather about education.
I guess we cannot avoid this topic since it is being addressed openly in many environments.
A good school is a safe place for a child. And we have many more good schools than bad ones. Many more good teachers than bad ones.
I think one of the greatest foundations of change this country made was the establishment of public schools. I say this as author of John Dewey: Founder of American Liberalism.
I write simply. That doesn’t mean I think that way.
I think the horse was let out of the barn when Boston opened the first public high school in 1821. I honestly — and I know what public school privatization advocates like Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos think and why — and she is so wrong it isn’t even funny — believe that it is far too late for the barn door of learning and growth and progress to be slammed shut. Irrevocable change for the better occurred because of the great public education movements of the late 19th and early 20th century.
Here I am: in total agreement with John Dewey, in total admiration of Maria Montessori.
So here’s the order of business.
- Rich people don’t have anything unless poor people work to produce the excess that the rich hoard or consume. Hurting people and putting them down is not just bad — it’s bad for business. Take Jeff Bezos, for example. If no one has any money to spend then he has no money to hoard.
- The work of today and the work of tomorrow requires flexibility, skill, and extensive practice.
- Teachers have all of those skills and then-some. You know: the human skills the Zuckerbergs and Bezos of the world lack.
- Tomorrow’s wealthy will be wealthy in health, joy and life and human rewards.
School does this and these riches and wealth come from inclusion and caring and empathy and consistency and personal sacrifice —
All the things the great teachers do just by being who they are.
Can a great teacher change the world?
They already have.