A teacher's job used to entail, well, teaching. Kids went to class and were expected to listen to their teachers' lessons and to do their homework. Parents were expected to make sure kids got to school ready to learn, and to make sure that the youngsters did their part in getting an education, such as paying attention in class and completing their work.
Nowadays, teachers are expected to take on a whole host of other roles, from counselor to disciplinarian to hallway fight mediator (a tough one, since many districts dictate that a teacher cannot ever touch a student, even if a student is hitting another student or teacher). In some areas, teachers are trying to school students from families where there is abuse or drugs, where the children don't get breakfast before leaving home, or where poverty creates a perpetual atmosphere of tension and stress. So many teachers have fulfilled these roles, in spite of having the added pressure, under No Child Left Behind, of being responsible for the academic progress of students who face such unusual challenges.
And now, teachers are taking on an even tougher role: first responders. As teachers did during the Sandy Hook elementary school gun massacre, educators in Oklahoma on Monday put their very bodies between their elementary school charges and danger. One teacher lay on top of a half dozen little kids to protect them from the deadly tornado. Another at Plaza Towers elementary school covered several children even though she herself was pinned down by a vehicle. When the tornado warning came, teachers at Briarwood Elementary quickly ushered kids into a closet just as a hallway was collapsing nearby.
And what do Oklahoma teachers get for their work? A teacher right out of college with a bachelor's degree in Oklahoma is given a starting salary of $31,600, according to state government statistics. If you have a doctoral degree, you get to start at $34,000 minimum. Have a quarter century's worth of experience? You are guaranteed $42,325 in Oklahoma with a bachelor's degree, $43,950 with a master's, and $46,000 if you have the credentials to be called "doctor." The poverty rate for a family of four is $23,950, to put those numbers in perspective.
Teaching is a calling, and members of the profession are often treated as though they should be satisfied with being able to do the mission itself. Yes, there are bad teachers, just as there are bad performers in all fields. But as Sandy Hook and Moore, Oklahoma remind us, teachers are crucial players in the raising of the next generation – even the saving of the next generation. They deserve the respect commanded by the enormity of their roles.