By Rosie Alger
Teachers in Oklahoma are walking out of school and protesting for better pay. Similar protests have already taken place in West Virginia and Kentucky, and one is being planned in Arizona. Teachers are demanding a higher salary, better benefits, and more resources for their students. Some people see these protests as an abandonment of the students, but treating teachers with respect is the only way to ensure a quality education for all students.
America’s teachers are some of the least paid across the globe. In 2017, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development released their annual Education at a glance report, which stated that, “On average, teachers in the United States earn less than 60 percent of the salaries of similarly-educated professionals, the lowest relative earnings across all OECD countries with data.”
On top of this, in order to keep up with the demands of large class sizes and a wide range of student needs and skill levels, teachers have to work hours long after they stop getting paid. They work overtime, pay for classroom supplies out of pocket, and try to teach in classes with 30+ students and no other adults in the room to share the load. Our teachers are overworked, and they deserve more.
Even if you don’t agree that the teachers should be paid better for their own sake, their situation has lots of negative repercussions for the students themselves. Teachers in states where the salaries are particularly bad are forced to relocate, leaving their local school system with a shortage of quality teachers. In an interview with NPR, Amanda Carter, an Oklahoma teacher protesting, said, “I love my state, but right now I feel like they’re kind of abandoning us or they don’t care about education.”
The state did just pass a raise for teachers, but many are saying that this isn’t enough. The raise is fairly small, and does not address large class sizes or the lack of resources available in the classroom that teachers have to go without or supplement from their own pay.
Another protestor, Christina Wertz, told NPR, “I’m very grateful for our raise. But it will still be hard to keep quality teachers if our environment is challenging with large class sizes.”
Teachers are the backbone of our nation. They are raising the next generation, and preparing the next leaders of our political, economic, and social institutions. Budgeting government spending in a state where no one wants to raise taxes is going to be hard, but if we can’t value education and the people who devote their lives to it, what are we even paying taxes for?
Complaining about old textbooks may seem like a small thing, but these individual factors make a big difference in classrooms.
Kalhan Rosenblatt at NBC said, “protesting educators and school employees said they need more from the state after years of struggling with outdated textbooks, broken desks and shorter school weeks in the absence of desperately needed funding. Some teachers at Monday’s rally said they were forced to raise funds for basic school supplies or pay for them themselves.”
Think of all the new information that we are denying our students by failing to update their materials. Students are missing out on valuable creative problem-solving skills, and other extremely important life skills and knowledge. A lack of classroom resources tells students and teachers alike that they are not valued or prioritized by the powers that be, and that their success or failure is not important to the general population.
We can change this narrative. The first step is paying teachers for the work that they are already doing. We all know they deserve it.