By MARSHA MERCER
If you’ve ever wondered,
as I have, what former presidents chat about when they’re sitting together, waiting
for an event to start, President Joe Biden gave us a glimpse.
Before the funeral of
former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright April 27 at the National Cathedral,
Biden told former Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton he would be
welcoming the Teacher of the Year to the White House that afternoon.
“And they all talked
about how much they enjoyed the years they were here with the Teacher of the
Year event,” Biden said told the teachers later.
I can almost hear some
readers snickering that teachers are a big Democratic constituency, so it’s no
wonder Democratic presidents welcome them. That may be true, but it’s offpoint.
Teachers are among the
professionals -- along with first responders, health care workers and military
personnel -- who deserve support and respect from all of us, regardless of our politics,
especially during the pandemic.
But surveys suggest educators
– everyone from teachers to bus drivers to cafeteria ladies -- are fed up, and
many are considering quitting.
Fifty-five percent of
educators say they’re thinking of leaving the field, according to a National
Education Association member survey released in February. That includes 62% of
Black and 59% of Hispanic NEA members.
Heavier workloads to
cover for absent employees, pay that fails to keep up with inflation and lack
of respect from students and parents are among the factors.
The average teacher
salary nationwide is $66,397 for the 2021-22 school year, which, when adjusted
for inflation, means pay is down 3.9% over the last decade, the NEA reported.
The average budgeted
classroom teacher salary in Virginia for fiscal year 2022 is $62,101, less than
a 1% increase from the previous fiscal year, the Virginia Department of
Education reported in January. Virginia ranked 28th in teacher
salaries in the nation in 2019-2000, according to NEA calculations.
Contributing to burnout
is the fact schools and teachers have become pawns in our culture wars.
In Virginia, candidate
Glenn Youngkin campaigned on restoring educational excellence but as governor launched
a “Help Education” tip line so parents can report – call it what it is: snitch
on – school officials who teach “divisive” lessons. That’s not supporting
schools and teachers; that’s intimidation.
Worse, he refused to
release records related to the tip line under the Freedom of Information Act,
claiming they are “working papers and correspondence.” So much for
transparency. The Washington Post and a dozen other news organizations filed
suit April 13, seeking the records.
At the Teacher of the
Year celebration, Biden decried the politicization of education, saying: “Today, there are too many politicians trying to
score political points, trying to ban books, even math books . . . Did you ever
think, when you’d be teaching, that you’d be worried about book burnings and
banning books, all because it doesn’t fit somebody’s political agenda?”
Teachers have enough to
worry about, with staying healthy and helping their students who have fallen
seven to nine months behind in their learning during COVID-19.
The activism of
conservative-leaning parents, ginned up by closed schools and mask mandates, is
probably here to stay for the foreseeable future, but other parents also need
to step up to support teachers and make their voices heard.
Biden touted the
American Rescue Plan, which he signed in March 2021, that included $122 billion
in emergency relief funds for elementary and secondary schools as well as an
additional $8 billion to states and school districts to meet needs of students
with disabilities and $800 million for students experiencing homelessness.
All 50 states submitted
plans for spending the money and are implementing them. Localities added about
279,000 education jobs in 2021 and 46,000 more in the first two months of 2022.
But more needs to be done to help teachers.
“American teachers have
dedicated their lives to teaching our children and lifting them up. We’ve got
to stop making them the target of the culture wars,” Biden said.
And he added, “It’s not
enough to give teachers praise. We ought to give you a raise.”
© 2022 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.