After This is Over, Let’s Give Teachers What They Need and Deserve


After This is Over, Let’s Give Teachers What They Need and Deserve

Sure, teachers were admired prior to the pandemic. Parents and the community were respectful of the work that educators do, and they generally appreciated that this is a difficult job and that not everyone is cut out for it. But it was this comfortable sort of regard where they could acknowledge us from arm’s-length and nod their agreement without any depth of understanding of just how much it takes for us to pull off this circus. Now they know. 

Do you remember the day that Will Smith showed everybody what he was worth? He had early exposure with kitschy songs like “Parents Just Don’t Understand” and “Girls Ain’t Nothing but Trouble,” and those hits and his popularity launched him into an acting career in a hit sitcom as the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Smith was commercially successful and recognized, and audiences liked him in a generic, take-him-or-leave-him kinda way. 

Then during season 4, episode 24 of his sitcom, Will Smith gave the performance that made everyone sit up and take notice. If you ever need to test whether or not someone is a human or a cyborg, show them this clip and see if they cry:

With this one scene, Smith showed us that he was much more than a goofy sideshow actor. That performance made people stand up and take him seriously. Nobody discounted his talent or his abilities ever again. His work and his value to the profession were never questioned thereafter. In short, that scene proved Will Smith’s worth to the world. 

Teachers, this is our scene. 

For the first time, parents and the larger community are forced to realize the absolutely critical role that teachers play in the lives and minds and hearts of children. They are now witnessing firsthand the level of energy and intensity and sheer stamina it takes to wrangle in a group of personalities and chart a course toward learning and development while minimizing disruption and distractions with limited resources. People suddenly realize that motivating children, communicating and explaining foreign concepts effectively, and taking them from a place of “not knowing” to a place of “understanding” is hard as hell. The awareness of our worth is there in a way that it has never been before. And it should never be forgotten. This is the time to fight for what we deserve.

Teachers deserve the salary and the status and the standing that traditionally signifies that level of respect in other professions. In no other career is there a ridiculous status quo expectation that wages can and should remain at the brink of poverty with the preposterous justification that “they knew what they were getting into” when they signed up. That’s not the way value works. If the Baby Shark trademark can be worth millions, teachers should be able to at least afford to buy a Frigidaire. 

Teachers deserve the freedom, the flexibility, and the autonomy to conduct their classrooms as their expertise and education dictate. Many teachers entered the profession because they appreciated the creativity and the imagination that their own teachers provided that shaped their experiences as a student. In a misguided attempt to “teacher-proof” schools, decision makers are stripping teachers of that creativity and innovation and instead handing them scripts to read and cookbook lessons to present and expecting miraculous results. We simply cannot continue to clip teachers’ wings and expect them to fly very far. 

They deserve the trust, the faith, and the confidence that THEY KNOW WHAT THEY ARE DOING. With the possible exception of the “armchair quarterback” phenomenon in professional sports, there is no other profession that provokes as much judgment from non-experts as teaching does. Not everyone who has had a baby can deliver one. Not everyone who has driven a car can build one. And not everyone who has been a student can teach one. That gap is becoming all too clear during our current trials. So let’s use the lessons from this time to give teachers the benefit of the doubt. 

And finally, they deserve thanks. I’m not talking about the baking cupcakes and sending notes that happens in May during Teacher Appreciation Week. Teachers deserve more than superficial displays of gratitude during one week out of the year. They deserve sincere and heartfelt appreciation for committing their careers and their lives to making their communities and the world a better place through the invaluable and unquantifiable dedication of their whole identities to the betterment of others. It’s the most selfless of gestures. For heaven’s sake, we owe them.

So once this is all over, how about we give teachers what they deserve, huh? Just like Will Smith went from overlooked performer to Academy Award and Grammy-winning entertainer of the decade, let’s decide as a collective world that teachers need to be catapulted from unseen contributors to iconic superstars who will never again be discounted. Yes, they deserve respect, but they deserve a helluva lot more than that. 

They deserve to look at their kingdom, and be finally there, to sit on their throne as badasses of care.

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After This is Over, Let’s Give Teachers What They Need and Deserve

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Leslie

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Leslie is a super fancy award-winning educator with more than 25 years experience and has taught students at every level from elementary through doctoral. She's tired. Her actual day job with benefits is to serve as the Executive Director of the Leadership Development Institute at Louisiana State University.

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