Teachers in the U.S. are more likely than other professionals to balance multiple jobs to make a living. It’s Teacher’s Appreciation Week. Here’s how we can thank them.
Overwhelmed parents are singing the praises of teachers as the COVID-19 pandemic moves schooling into the home. Parents post on social media how teachers should be paid millions for their hard work. Their posts acknowledge how the teaching profession is underappreciated and underpaid.
This year’s Teacher Appreciation Week, celebrated from May 4 to 8, comes at a time of unprecedented changes in education, especially for teachers and students from grades K–12. Students are learning from home, using technology in new ways, and managing quarantines that have isolated them from schoolmates and friends, and stopped many of their usual activities. Teachers are completing the school year with technology and resources they had not used at this scale, or at all, for remote instruction and student engagement.
During this time of public health crisis, the vast majority of teachers have been doing what they do best: using the available resources to support the learning and growth of their students. They create manageable schedules and tasks for their students, convene virtual classrooms to support learning, and foster social connections with fellow students. Their full workweeks are now harder and longer, balancing work and home responsibilities while quarantining.
The pandemic has not only revealed gaps in access to quality educational resources, technology, and connectivity. Teachers have to fully understand the conditions and needs of their students. We know students benefit from having teachers who look like them, reflecting their race and ethnicity. Teachers who share their students’ backgrounds are more likely to predict and address unique needs that may not be as obvious to others.
Teachers in public schools are significantly less diverse in terms of race and ethnicity than their students. While over half of the students in public schools are non-white, only 20% of the teachers are people of color.
In Florida, nearly 70% of public school teachers are white. When we look specifically at the representation of Latino teachers in Florida, 34% of the students in the state are Hispanic, compared to only 16% of the teachers. With more diverse teachers, schools are likelier to come up with solutions that will work for all kids and families, especially when conditions are changing fast and drastically.
And then there is the reality of teacher pay. The median salary for an elementary school teacher in the U.S. is $63,930, but this varies widely across regions. In Florida, the median salary for an elementary school teacher is $55,210 and in Puerto Rico, the salary is $35,050.
One out of six teachers has a second job. Millennial teachers are leaving the profession for careers in the healthcare and social assistance sector at an increasing rate. In some cases, teachers hardly have access to the middle class and a living wage.
We can show our gratitude and solidarity with teachers by supporting efforts to increase teacher pay and diversify the teaching workforce. As community members and voters we need to look for these priorities in progressive education agendas.
That Starbucks gift card might be nice, but understanding the skill and love teachers put into their work, and supporting fair teacher pay and school funding are better and more sustainable ways of showing our appreciation.