Recently, I overheard my daughter in the kitchen giving her friend instructions on how to make guacamole. She was so patient, even-keeled, and genuinely helpful. In between bites of chips and delicious dip, I told her, “Y’know what? You’re a good teacher.”
Over the past decade, my daughter has wanted to be a basketball player, a chef, a graphic designer and a detective. She’s 13 now, so any serious career counseling is still a bit premature but we often talk about what she wants to do when she grows up. When I asked her if she ever thought about becoming a teacher, she said, “No. That’s low pay and not worth it.”
That answer made me partly sad. As a writer, I know firsthand about low pay. But not worth it? I, for one, credit my public school teachers for making me the person I am today. And the roster of diverse and attentive public school teachers who have helped shape my daughter over the years makes me beam with gratitude.
I was equally disappointed when I read a new poll by PDK International that 54 percent of parents in the U.S. don’t want their children to become teachers. For the first time in the poll’s 50-year history, a majority of parents are reluctant to support a future for their children as educators in public schools. Two in 3 parents say that teachers are underpaid, which is sadly true. But do we really want to raise an entire generation who only care about the size of their paychecks? And if we don’t encourage our kids to be educators, who will?
This is especially important for students of color, who, as Ed Trust has consistently reported, are woefully underrepresented in the teacher workforce—just 7 percent of teachers are Black nationwide, and 8 percent are Latino. My daughter, who is Black and Latina, has had a handful of teachers of color—most impressively, a Latino math teacher and two Black male history teachers, whom I consider benevolent unicorns. It’s important that children of color see themselves in their teachers as role models—early and often.
But back to that pesky salary question. Earlier this year, states like Kentucky, Arizona, North Carolina, and others set off a series of teacher strikes, and there are several other strikes brewing for the fall across the country. Fortunately, 73 percent of parents in the poll said that they support teacher strikes for higher wages. And 61 percent have trust and confidence in teachers’ abilities. So what’s it going to take to make teaching a noble profession once again?
Some countries actually revere teachers as performing a national service, and they are compensated accordingly. The United States is far from making that a reality. However, we as a country could be—and should be—investing more in our teachers.
I think as parents, we’re encouraged to prepare our kids for future mind-blowing jobs in Silicon Valley that haven’t even been invented yet. Meanwhile, a time-honored profession like teaching gets pushed to the wayside as not even an afterthought. Granted, the pay isn’t that of a doctor, lawyer, or astronaut. But teachers, not astronauts, are the backbone of a community. Teachers build minds, change hearts, shape lives.
Teaching is an enormous responsibility that I never want my kid to take for granted as long as she’s in school. And if she changes her mind and wants to become a teacher? Then I’ll support it, of course. (But she’ll have to learn to like kids first.)