Few two-syllable words have elicited such a varied response from the public. In my mind, the professional teacher is an educator, nurturer, mentor, guardian and friend. With the help of parents, teachers provide appropriate guidance that points children in the right direction whether it is academically, intellectually, socially or all of the above.
These thoughts come to mind about this time every year. The start of a new school year – or in my case the beginning of a new academic year – is a good time to reflect on the importance of teachers in our society. It is more important than ever to appreciate the teachers who make learning exciting and engaging in order to help our children learn to succeed despite the obstacles and pressures that are imposed upon them by the challenging world around them.
Our political leaders are attempting to improve educational outcomes of students by using standardized tests. This controversial movement has created an anxiety-laden environment in which children perceive that passing a test is more important than learning, and teachers believing the tests are a tool to blame them instead of hold them accountable.
Standardized testing comes at the cost of shifting the focus from teaching and learning to test preparation and test taking for a number of weeks every year. At the same time, school districts are forced to cut budgets and academic programs, while increasing class sizes because they have been receiving less funding from state and federal government sources.
Despite these challenges, teachers continue to put their students first even though they are feeling the effects of our partisan educational environment.
The results of these challenges are obvious in the profession, according to the MetLife Survey of the American Teacher released in 2013. The survey reported that teacher job satisfaction had declined 23 percent compared to the previous survey five years earlier. Furthermore, almost half of new teachers leave the profession after teaching for five years, according to the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future.
In recent years, horrible tragedies at school have illustrated a more realistic view of teachers, who are professionals that truly care about the students they serve, and are willing to give their all to serve and protect the children under their care. These teachers are not extraordinary heroes, but rather everyday heroes who are vigilant and always on the job.
Teachers help to raise and mentor our children. There is hardly an adult among us who does not have a teacher to thank for assistance both in and beyond the area of academics. If you wear corrective lenses, for example, it is likely a teacher who discovered this need in school before it was detected at home. Today, teachers are trained to meet the specialized needs of each individual student. If a child has a learning disability, teachers will provide specialized instruction to enable the student to succeed.
When many people think of a teacher, the image of a babysitter or an old-fashioned teacher from “Little House on the Prairie” might come to mind. These views are antiquated. Today’s teachers are highly trained, competent professionals who teach and care for our children despite the challenges posed by myriad obstacles.
Teachers and the field of education deserve more respect. During this back-to-school season, we should all take the time to thank a teacher for his or her dedication to our children, our communities and to society.
Stephen Broskoske is an associate professor of teacher education at Misericordia University in Dallas Township.