A Teacher’s Story

I’m here in West Virginia where, for the second year in a row, there is a teacher work stoppage. My dear friend Anna sent me this a while back, and I think today is a great day to share it. Support teachers. Support public education.

When I was a little girl, my favorite game to play with my grandma was school. When she came to visit, I would be waiting with a pencil and paper to give her a spelling test. For some reason, my idea of fun was to subject my grandmother to the kind of thing my classmates and I hated. She played along, like any good grandmother would, and made intentional mistakes occasionally so that I could use my red crayon to grade her work. Four weeks ago, I attended her funeral. She suffered from dementia, so I don’t know if she ever really knew that I did, in fact, become a teacher.

Almost four years ago, I graduated from West Virginia University with a master’s degree in education. I knew it was not going to be an easy profession or one that earned me fame and glory, but I believed it was worth the low pay and high expectations. By far, though, the thing that surprises me most about being a teacher is the vast number of people who hear my title and respond, “Ew. Why?”

Think about that for a moment. I have chosen to go into a profession that shapes the minds of children. A profession that requires me to be knowledgeable about my content and then know five different ways of explaining that content so that my students understand it. I instill a love of reading and writing in my students, and spend my time and money ensuring they have the resources necessary to nurture that love. My students know they have someone in their corner, especially when that means I’m the only one on their side. I give up evenings and weekends to plan future lessons and to grade assignments. I notice when students are upset and ask what I can do to help, even if that means I simply pat them on the shoulder when they shrug me off. I could go on, and I haven’t even begun listing what other teachers, counselors, nurses, and aides provide for the children of this state.

Teachers and service personnel know what we do matters, but so often we must remind people outside the classroom of that fact. This is painfully clear right now when you look at what is happening in the West Virginia legislature. Republican Senators have introduced an omnibus bill that they will fundamentally change public education in this state. They claim this will be positive reform, but they evidently have no idea what teachers need or want.

Teachers do not need larger class sizes and less pay for those over-stuffed classes. Teachers do not need more “choices” in the form of charter schools and education savings accounts that do nothing but gut public school funding. Teachers do not need differential pay to pit us against one another in times of upheaval. Teachers do not need to be blamed for rising property taxes. Teachers do not need their seniority taken away so that their jobs become less secure simply because their experience means their paycheck has gotten too high to keep them around. Teachers do not need their union membership threatened at every turn. Teachers do not need their love for their students questioned when the students are the reason we do this job.

Teachers need smaller class sizes so that we can ensure we are paying the necessary attention to each individual students and their needs. Teachers need current resources to fill their classrooms with meaningful and enriching material for their students. Teachers need counselors available to help their students when they struggle with more than academics. Teachers need service personnel who feel safe and respected in their job.

Teachers need to know their benefits will not be threatened year after year in every legislative session. Teachers need fair compensation for the work they do without fear of being called selfish when we ask for it. Teachers need lawmakers to realize that we are the experts when it comes to positive education reform, and if they ask for it, we’ll be happy to teach them what that looks like.

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