A Florida teacher tells us why she thinks Jill Biden could become a valuable advocate for better schooling across the nation.
“Teachers affect eternity; no one can tell where their influence stops,” wrote Henry Brooks Adams, the American historian and member of the Adams political family.
Yet despite their importance to our children, to say nothing of society and the future of the country, teachers face daily challenges, from an often crippling lack of funding, to balancing diverse learning needs among their students without proper aid.
That may be why when Dr. Jill Biden said on the campaign trail that she would like to continue teaching when she became First Lady of the United States, many teachers breathed a sigh of relief at the thought of having an ally—and a possible advocate—in the White House.
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Sylvia Vera León, a Cuban American who teaches first grade in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood, is one of them.
“I think it is wonderful that Jill Biden, a lifelong educator, will have the ear of our president. She will be an advocate for public school teachers,” Vera León told The Americano. She added that her goal as an educator is to develop and nurture in her students “a love of learning that endures.”
A Labor of Love
But doing this job, no matter how lovingly or devotedly, is often fraught with obstacles. Teachers, Vera León said, need more time and support to do their jobs well; she would also like to see smaller class sizes and for students and faculty to have resources, such as speech therapists, occupational therapists, psychologists, and social workers, available to them.
“We know what it takes to get almost every single child to read well but it isn’t happening because of a lack of teachers and teaching loads that make it impossible for a teacher to give each student what he or she needs,” Vera León said.
For example, this year, because of the pandemic, she has children in her first grade class who should be starting kindergarten. She also has four children who don’t speak English and four others with disabilities. And yet, she said, most of them don’t receive any additional services that would help them develop academically.
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“The idea of cost effectiveness that rules in all professions now means that one teacher is responsible for all her students’ academic needs with little or no outside support, or if there is some support, it is not consistent and reliable,” she said.
For this reason, she would like for public schools to be funded by the state and federal governments, and not be dependent on property taxes, which means many children from low-income families don’t get the support they need to thrive academically.
“This would ensure that less wealthy school districts have equal resources for their students,” Vera León said.
A Teacher’s Wish List
Her years of experience as a public school teacher have given her a clear outlook on the obstacles most teachers face, so if she had Dr. Biden’s ear, she knows exactly what she would ask for.
“To establish a commission made up of experienced teachers and curriculum specialists to study what students need across the nation,” she said.
She would also like to see them do away with the system that gives schools a grade and evaluates teachers in ways that are not always fair, especially when taking into account the disparity in the resources and support different schools receive.
Yet despite the obstacles, the often scant resources, and the real human drama she faces every day, teaching remains a source of joy and fulfillment for the lifelong educator who fell in love with teaching when she was 6 or 7 years old.
“As a kindergarten teacher I had to learn how to teach children to read and I love this process,” she said, adding that, without a doubt, opening up a child’s world to the endless wonder of literature is a gift unto itself. “My biggest reward is watching a child, for whom it has been very difficult, learn to read.”