By: Evelyn Amparo Edited by: Ashlyn Bi September 28, 2023
*trigger warning for descriptions/mentions of school shootings and death*
When someone asks who your hero is, who comes to mind? A parent? A friend? A celebrity? Maybe even a fictional hero? All are valid answers. Though, your first thought would not necessarily be one of your teachers from school. Teaching, although widely unrecognized, is one of the foundations of society. According to Reader’s Digest, teaching is the fifth most crucial job that Americans cannot live without. Teachers are responsible for educating and equipping the youths of our society with the necessary skills to become capable adults to run the nation. Teachers prepare each generation to create a better society. This task is a significant undertaking. While it may seem as if our teachers are appreciated and respected for their work, being a teacher in America is one of the most strenuous and emotionally draining jobs in the country as of late.
As of 2023, teacher shortages encompass many areas of the USA, which correlates to the current average salary of public school teachers in America. The current median salary of a public school teacher is roughly $66,000 per year, ranging from as low as $20,000 to $92,000 per year, depending on the state. However, with rising inflation rates and a higher cost of living at around $61,000, a teaching salary would not cover the entire cost of living in the United States. Additionally, many teachers are responsible for buying their school supplies each year, taking a large portion of their paychecks to fund supplies that the school or the government should provide. Insufficient funding within the classroom has also been a significant factor contributing to the occurrence of numerous teaching strikes in recent years. In March of 2023, teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District, the second-largest school district in the United States, decided to strike for “equitable wage increases, more full-time work, respectful treatment, and increased staffing levels for improved student services” for three days. These may seem like simple circumstances, but LAUSD supports over half a million students, with most staff members making an average salary of $25,000 a year on a part-time schedule. In April 2023, their Board of Education approved the contract. Similarly, LAUSD shut down for a six-day strike in 2019 under similar demands, and smaller class sizes. This all leads to show how teachers are underpaid and undervalued because of a broken education system.
Unfortunately, at the same time, the public school system in the United States has been frequently associated with school shootings since the Columbine High School massacre in 1999. 13 people died, and 20 others were left injured in the shooting. Columbine was the worst school shooting event in U.S. history. However, since Columbine, there have been 386 school shootings, with 356,000 students experiencing gun violence in school. On May 24, 2022, a school shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, shocked many people. A 12-year-old named Miah Cerrillo bravely shared her experience of trauma stemming from a shooting incident. She witnessed the distressing event where an intruding gunman shot two of her teachers and several friends. Miah went to the effort of smearing the blood of her deceased friend on herself to play dead. This event caused severe trauma for Miah and has resulted in her need of tremendous therapeutic help. However, Miah’s story is a harsh reality in the United States, and the additional 300,000 survivors of gun violence in schools can likely all attest to the horrors of what has occurred in their schools. While the gun control conversation has been extremely controversial in America, it should not be in an educator's job description to be ready to defend a group of children from an armed individual. This level of fear and potential trauma for teachers is not “part of the job” or “just another day.” Teachers face numerous struggles daily, but the battles have become nearly impossible in recent years.
Further, the Covid-19 pandemic drastically changed society and how we structure our daily lives, especially education. A significant part of being able to teach a student is creating a sense of connection and trust, so that student will be open to learning in the first place. However, the pandemic made this process very difficult since having a screen between a teacher and a student made it nearly impossible to form the necessary connections to learn. While teachers did their best to do their jobs under the circumstances, standardized test scores, for the most part, have declined. Without in-person learning and a stronger connection between teachers and students, concepts of mathematics and English have been more difficult for students to grasp. These impacts caused literacy and numeracy knowledge to drastically decrease for students in the USA. According to NPR, for the average 9-year-old, math points declined by 7% between 2020 and 2022, whereas reading scores fell around an average of 5 points. In the aftermath of the pandemic, teaching has become more challenging over the past few years as educators strive to guide their students back to the necessary levels of achievement for future success.
Teachers, often a group of unsung heroes, are an essential foundation for society, nurturing its growth toward a brighter future for our nation. There are countless struggles in and out of the classroom that students and parents do not see. It is necessary to understand these difficulties to sympathize and empathize with these model figures for students. While many people have struggled with school or view it as a mundane place in their lives, it is still important to find time to say “thank you” to our teachers, and remember that teacher appreciation week is the first week of May!