As a parent of three children who have had outstanding teachers and as a public-school teacher myself, I know how demanding teaching can be.
I’m not looking for personal adulation, as I’ve always found these “tribute events” a tad artificial and embarrassing. Don’t get me wrong; I do appreciate people taking the time to recognize teachers. But the rewards that I value most are intrinsic — the positive and affirming interactions with “my kids,” for instance.
I didn’t always want to be a teacher. I worked in hospital public relations for six years out of college until a recurring feeling that I was not doing my true life’s work became impossible to ignore. So I went back to school to get the master’s degree and certification required, I student-taught, and I was hired in 1991 as an English teacher at Haddam-Killingworth High School.
It’s been 28 years and counting. I’m still at it because I still enjoy it. The fact that I teach in Connecticut has a great deal to do with my contentment.
First of all, Connecticut school districts pay their teachers what they deserve, by and large, thanks to the Education Enhancement Act of 1986. By providing more than $300 million to school districts over a three-year period, average teacher salaries jumped 22% in the first year, from $17,021 to $20,767. Additionally, the average salary for a teacher with a master’s degree at the top of the pay scale increased 30%, from $30,355 to $39,436.
Quite frankly, I would not have changed careers if not for the Education Enhancement Act. It still took me 10 years to earn the same salary in teaching (with a master’s degree) that I had earned in public relations (without a master’s degree). But adjusting to the pay cut was not nearly as daunting as it would have been without the improved teacher salaries.
To this day, Connecticut benefits from the Education Enhancement Act. The average salary of public school teachers in 2017-18 was $74,571, fifth highest in the nation — commensurate with Connecticut’s high cost of living wherein every dollar is worth just 92 cents, the sixth lowest value in the nation. As such, Connecticut schools are able to attract qualified candidates, whereas other states have recently seen teachers striking over low pay.
According to the National Education Association, “Over the past year more than 500,000 educators have rallied, walked out, or gone on strike in both red and blue states — including Alabama, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona, Colorado, and California — to demand more funding for education, including higher pay.”
Moreover, even if Connecticut school districts do encounter contractual conflicts, strikes are out of the question, thanks to a law passed after the Bridgeport teachers’ strike of 1978.
“In the strike’s aftermath, the Connecticut legislature passed the 1979 Teacher Collective Bargaining Act that mandates binding arbitration when teachers and municipalities are stalemated in contract negotiations,” explains author Andy Piascik. “It remained illegal for teachers to strike, however (as it remains today), and changes to the law such as one that allows municipalities but not unions to reject the decision of an arbitrator have weakened the bargaining position of teachers.”
Everything is not pie-in-the-sky, of course. The Connecticut Education Association reports that the state’s teachers have concerns about classroom safety, minority recruitment, and their pension, to name a few issues. And the statewide achievement gap still looms large. But Connecticut is much better positioned to meet these educational challenges as compared to other states.
Here’s hoping state officials and educational leaders maintain a proactive stance with these challenges because, quite honestly, teaching is not getting easier. Like most teachers, I’ve been dealing for a while with situations that have little to do with actual teaching. Thankfully, I do not experience these burdens as deeply as Jonathan Carroll, a Florida social studies teacher, whose recent viral Facebook post explained why he’s walking away after 20 years.
“I think of all the things I did not sign up for,” wrote Carroll, “like students overdosing on drugs and collapsing in my classroom when they get back from the bathroom. Active shooter drills. Teachers being armed. Knowing where it is safe to hide in my classroom. Feeding and clothing my students. Buying my own supplies. Being told I should be thankful I have a job and to get over myself.”
No, I am not to that point. But I feel it creeping up on me. And I emphatically add one more issue of concern: smartphones. From severe attention deficits to a lack of intellectual curiosity, cell phones are causing troubling changes in the teen brain. I shudder to think of the challenges of teaching smartphone-addicted students 10 years from now.
Clearly, as the job of educating our kids becomes increasingly demanding, teachers deserve appreciation. Upon further review, then, I hereby recant my objection to “tribute events” and wish all teachers a Happy Teacher Appreciation Week!
Barth Keck is a father of three and an English teacher and assistant football coach who teaches courses in journalism, media literacy, and AP English Language & Composition at Haddam-Killingworth High School.
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