Connecticut needs to value its teachers more

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Too many people complain about the overall quality of teachers. The old saying that “those who can, do; those who can’t, teach,” has been less and less true as the economy creates fewer and fewer jobs. According to Connecticut State Department of Education, there are 43,805 public school teachers in Connecticut. As someone who will hopefully be joining the ranks soon, I feel our voice needs to be heard.

The road to becoming a teacher is a difficult journey. Before we allow teachers to care for children they must first meet numerous requirements and strict standards. To start, while in college all prospective teachers must maintain a 3.0 average, submit three letters of recommendation, pass an out-of-date state entry test and pay $90 a section to take it, write persuasive essays about our philosophies of teaching, prepare for interviews and show professional teaching acumen while taking a demanding load of courses, doing student teaching, and achieving good class observations despite their inexperience.

If they manage to make it to the graduation semester, then the big job of finding a job begins. Once a student does become a teacher, there are a few things to worry about such as re-certification, more training, rigid performance reviews, and fear of scrutiny at the will of the school administration, more state testing, and the real challenges of making learning matter for groups of students whose needs change from year to year.

Average annual pay for educators in Connecticut is roughly $42,000. Some would argue that teachers’ pay is an accurate reflection of the amount of education required to obtain a job. However, in an article on the National Education Association’s website dedicated to debunking some of the most common myths of education, that isn’t the case. According to the NEA, there is a gap of $10,000 or more between the average salaries of graduates entering the teaching profession and graduates in other fields that require a similar amount of training and job responsibilities. This earnings gap grows larger the longer we work.

Education students certainly possess an extensive amount of training and expertise, and we are perfectly situated to influence and build future generations. Every year each teacher is given a new group of young people with the primary intention of shaping their minds, bodies and values in positive ways.

In 30 years, with annual average classes of approximately 25 students, a single teacher will affect the future of about 750 children. Every day those children are sent home with stories about what they’ve learned, displaying signs of intellectual growth that they themselves are only beginning to see and understand.  Although teachers are admired, commended, valued, and even trusted with full supervision of children, overall regard and respect for their work is lacking.

We tend to form some judgments we hold as adults based on emotions we’ve experienced in the past. One, fifth grade teacher with leopard print pants (who shall remain nameless), made me feel miserable. For a long time, I believed all teachers were like her. However, as I progressed through high school and college, I learned my generalized feelings about the teaching profession needed to change.

When I finally experienced great teaching in college, I learned that I would someday want to do the same. I got hooked into teaching by realizing that more good teachers were needed. Now that my days of being a self-proclaimed “teacher hater” are far in my past, I’ve started to come to some hard-earned realizations about my future.

As I stand as a college student completing a teaching program, I realize the first step for teachers who want to change the way society views them is for them to first change their view of themselves. We need to understand and convince others of our worth, while we have to determine it and improve it every day in the classroom for ourselves.

A survey conducted by MetLife.com showed that when asked, only 44 percent of teachers will respond that they are “very satisfied” with their job. This represents a 15 percent decrease from 2009.

What happened is still happening. Weren’t these the same people who once saw purpose and opportunities as they cut through jungles of red tape? Weren’t these the same people who were willing to trudge through the trenches of higher education, if only to discover their purpose to become an undervalued teacher? Weren’t these the same people who decide to help others more than their incomes would reflect the worth of the work?

So many of us are quick to criticize educators without understanding that teaching is a profession that is difficult to get certified in, and even harder to do well every day. We need to make a change to ensure that we are producing top quality teachers in Connecticut.

Why is so hard to understand that undervaluing what teachers do is making it harder for our children to advance?

Justin Matthew Hitchcock is a student at Southern Connecticut State University.

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