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Can I Continue to Be a Teacher?

by Keneane Williams
May / June 2001

During college, my roommate majored in business and accounting. I tutored her and other peers, knew the mathematics and science content better than they did, and graduated with higher honors than most of them. I chose education as my major even though I certainly had other options.

Now that my peers and I are pursuing our careers, I can see a tremendous difference between the way that I live and the way that many of them, including my roommate, live. For starters, the incomes from our jobs differ greatly. She can afford so many things that I can only dream about. She lives in a townhouse; I cannot afford to leave my parents' home. She has a big office with a secretary and paid summer vacations; I have a desk that is at least 20 years old, no paraprofessionals, and vacations at workshops and summer school for professional development. She has a travel-expense account that includes paid hotels, dinners, and a company car; I have a school reimbursement account that does not include prestigious hotels, paid dinners, or transportation. Did I do something wrong? Does anyone even care that I cannot bring my checking and savings account balances above three digits? Should other teachers and I have to choose between our love for the profession and food on the table? As a society, are we pushing our teachers from the teaching profession by requiring more of them than they can afford or than we are willing to pay for?

Teachers work with the future. They stand in front of our future leaders and guide them. Teachers are mothers, fathers, friends, and counselors. I chose education as a career because I know what my teachers did for me. I now choose to pass the knowledge and self-esteem that I gained to others. I am willing, ready, and able to prepare a child to be a lawyer, doctor, judge, or for any other profession that he or she may choose. I want to help children love themselves just as they are. However, realistically, I have to keep in mind that the cost of living is rising. Am I doing what is best for my own financial future? Can I afford to obtain the professional development that is expected of me and that I expect of myself so that I can maximize my potential as a teacher?

Why does the educational system continue to raise its expectations of teachers but fail to include more resources to pay for those expectations? Does anyone realize that beginning teachers have medical conditions, car payments, and student loans and are highly embarrassed about their salaries and their inability to pay their expenses? Some are forced to work two or three outside jobs. What about teachers who have dependents, apartments, or houses? Society wants teachers to dress professionally but does not provide enough income to do so. Society wants teachers to make sure that every child passes state standardized tests but does not even furnish laptop computers, copiers, other equipment, or adequate professional development opportunities.

Think about this: I have no decent planning period to make sure that lessons meet the needs of every child. Every lesson should meet the needs of the visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and tactile learner; but society does not allow teachers enough time to plan for the lessons. How are teachers to meet society's needs when the expectations are illogical? I have 56 students to whom I teach mathematics and science. In less than one hour each day, I am expected to call, meet, or write to parents about these students; attend meetings with the principal, grade-level staff, or curriculum committee; document students' behaviors and keep a daily log of these behaviors; assess and file papers; prepare lessons for each content area that meet the needs of all learners; maintain a clean, academic environment; and record and prepare grades. All these duties and teaching for less than $350 weekly.

Does this seem logical or respectful? Society is really expecting a teacher's work to be done by any means possible. If it takes using family time at home or family members' help, just do it. If it takes spending personal money, just do it. If it takes using a personal car, just do it. If it takes staying after school until night falls or getting up at dawn, just do it. And society cannot understand why a teacher shortage exists or why teachers do not seek the professional development that they need. The answer is simple. Every certified teacher is a four-year college graduate. Their degrees are as authentic as any other degrees. Teachers are greatly needed but are not respected by society. Just imagine if doctors, engineers, lawyers, and judges were teachers. Although many of them think highly of the educational profession, they probably would not make the financial sacrifice to become part of it.


Keneane Williams is a fifth-grade mathematics and science teacher at Ridgeland Middle School in Ridgeland, South Carolina. She is relatively new to the profession and is devoted to her students and to teaching.




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