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Teachers, this is our time…

My fellow teachers:

I would like to humbly suggest that given the massive teacher shortages that school districts are experiencing around the country, we must recognize that our value to our school districts and society has never been higher.

People have long claimed that teachers change the world. They assert that education is the backbone of our country. Then they fail to demonstrate this belief in any meaningful way.

They fail to provide the basic essentials for a classroom, for example, requiring teachers to use their own money to purchase supplies for their students.

In fact, it’s become quite popular these days to use social media to offer to help a teacher pay for the needs of their classroom. This is exceptionally generous but also absolutely insane. Teachers should not depend upon the kindness of others in order to do their job. Americans are not offering to purchase legal pads for attorneys, stethoscopes for doctors, adding machines for accountants, drafting tables for architects, or pocket protectors for computer programmers.

Why are we tacitly acknowledging that teachers are using their own money to purchase classroom supplies but not trying desperately to change a clearly broken system?

Elysha was purchasing supplies for her classroom last month when someone in line heard that she was a teacher and offered to pay for her purchases. It was an act of kindness that brought tears to her eyes, but rather than hoping to bump into a teacher in line at Staples and helping out a bit, how about this instead:

Demand that your local schools be funded to a level that meets the needs of every student. Vote for candidates who promise to do these things. Fight like hell to support professionals who are educating the next generation of Americans. Treat teachers like the highly educated, highly trained, critically important professionals that they are.

No other professional is required to purchase the basic supplies needed to complete their job. It’s a disgrace, and it’s been going on for decades.

Today teachers face many new challenges:

  • The politicization of our profession. School districts are now faced with people who believe that their mere existence gives them permission to dictate what and how we teach in our classrooms.
  • A lack of adequate staffing
  • Threats of violence
  • School shootings

As a result, teacher shortages are real. Vacancies have never been higher. Administrators are struggling to fill classrooms with highly trained professionals. Staffing shortages exist nationwide.

With this in mind, my fellow teachers, I would like to suggest that we demand to be treated like the highly educated, highly skilled professionals that we are. When you have leverage, use it. Right now teachers have an enormous amount of leverage.

For example:

If you’re spending your own money on classroom or student supplies, stop. It should shame and humiliate a superintendent to know this is happening in their school district, and they should do every damn thing in their power to end this practice and ensure that teachers have the materials needed to teach their students.

If your school or district has arbitrarily expanded your workload to meet staffing shortages absent any form of compensation, push back hard on this decision. Professionals are not required to work longer hours without additional compensation or advancement of any kind.

If you work for an administrator who doesn’t allow you to leave the school during your lunch break to pick up food, run an errand, stop at home to kiss your child, or do anything else, challenge this asinine absurdity. Professionals are permitted to use their free time in any way they see fit. If you work for one of these administrators, you work for an infantilizing fool who doesn’t understand the basic principles of management and professionalism.

Push back hard. Demand that your time is recognized as your time.

Or how about this one:

Your administrator gives you the last two hours of professional development to work on report cards but forbids you to leave the building to do this work at home. Even though the completion of your report cards only requires a laptop and a connection to the internet and can be done anywhere on the planet (and will most assuredly be done at home on your own time as well), the two hours of professional development given to complete this task during the work day must be completed within the walls of the school.

This is asinine. Professionals are not treated like this. It should not matter where you complete this kind of work. Having worked with a multitude of clients in almost every possible sector of business, I can assure you that when work can be done remotely, people are permitted to work wherever the hell they want.

Many of these problems are the result of the way that so many schools are run today:

Administrators, who are often little more than glorified teachers lacking any formal management training, treat their staff in the same way they once treated their students. They impose the same strategies and limits on adults as they did on kids because the only way they know how to manage people is to pretend that their school is one big classroom, filled with much older, much larger children.

The primary reason teachers leave the profession?

Dissatisfaction.

The reasons cited for this dissatisfaction?

Unsafe working environments. Micromanagement. Not being treated like a professional.

I’m lucky. I have worked for (and currently work for) administrators who avoid most of these pitfalls. For most of my career, I have been treated as a professional, and when I was not, I was able to demand that policies be changed with a fair amount of success. I’m not always pleased with the way my school district is run, but most of the people to whom I report have treated me like the highly trained professional that I am.

This is not the case for many of my fellow teachers. The infantilization and degradation of the teaching profession is a real thing. Untrained, unskilled, uninformed administrators routinely chase outstanding teachers from the profession through their inability to support and manage their people effectively.

But today teachers have leverage. Our skills are in demand. Schools across the country are placing thousands of untrained adults in classrooms because they cannot find teachers and staff to fill open positions.

If you’re working in a school that does not treat teachers like professionals, the time has come to let your thoughts be heard.

Teachers deserve better. They have always deserved better. We may now be in a position to demand better.