Like many Americans, I sat with mouth agape when I heard the news that Betsy DeVos had been confirmed as the new secretary of education. Here is a woman who has zero experience in public education — either as a student, a parent, or a professional. DeVos can’t commit to safeguarding students with disabilities or making sure our schools remain gun-free zones — and that’s just the tip of the iceberg in terms of her dangerous views on education.
Many of us who have children in public schools (or who might in the future) were downright sickened when we heard the news. As the mom of children who attend public schools, I immediately wondered how all of this will affect my kids’ schools, their teachers, and the future of public education in general.
But the news struck me on another level too. Both of my grandparents were public school teachers; my grandmother was a math teacher (rare for a woman in those days), and my grandfather taught chemistry for years before he became a school principal. My mother — a single mom of two — taught special education for 25 years. And now, I’m married to a man who teaches high school English in New York City.
I have seen firsthand how incredibly hard teachers work. Contrary to popular belief, teaching is not a cushy job, not in the least. You might think, “Oh, teachers get done by 3 p.m., have tons of vacation time and summers off. Sounds like heaven!” But that’s where you’re wrong.
My husband, for example, wakes up at 5 a.m. so he can get to school by 6:30 to prep for his day. He works nonstop all day, using his prep periods to grade papers and hone lessons. Then he stays after school for meetings, clubs, and more preparation. He spends a lot of his vacation time catching up on paperwork and planning learning units.
Did I mention the fact that he gets observed and evaluated by the administration at least four times a year, and spends nights worrying about his students who are falling behind or who are having emotional and familial issues? It’s no wonder teachers are stressed AF and so often don’t get the appreciation they so clearly deserve.
But here’s the thing: All of us who entrust our kids to the care of public school teachers really do appreciate it all. We see you, and though we may not say it nearly enough, we are grateful. We see all you do for our kids, and we look at you with awe and admiration.
We know that it’s not easy spending six-plus hours a day in a room full of 25 of our children (frankly, we find it hard to spend that many hours with just one or two of those kids). We know you are constantly thinking about each and every one of your students — hoping that you are reaching each one and making a lasting impact.
We know you spend your lunch break scarfing down your food while fine-tuning your lessons, making copies, calling parents, and meeting with colleagues. We know you often spend your own money on books, classroom decorations, and pizza and donuts for celebrations. We know there is so much you do that we can’t even see, but that you keep in little notes by your desk and in the worry that fills your head as you drift off to sleep.
We know that you think of our babies as your babies. Your heart breaks when our kids mess up, and it soars when they achieve what they never thought they could. We know you worry about our children the same way we worry about them, and if faced with the unthinkable, would lay down your life for our children.
We know you most likely don’t get enough support, money, and time off. We know you work ungodly hours and still sometimes get nasty comments from supervisors, students, and parents.
And by god, we know for sure that you deserve your freaking summer break (and a raise to boot!).
Most importantly, whatever happens in the next few years, we are here to fight alongside you. Many of us have taken a vow to become more active politically and that includes calling our representatives whenever any aspect of our public education system is being threatened by the powers that be.
More of us will join school boards, the PTA, and public education advocacy groups. There will be more of us volunteering at schools and partnering with teachers in any way we can to ensure that our schools continue to be the amazing, inspiring places that they are.
Teachers, you are not in this alone. We know how painstakingly you have stood up for our kids all these years — and now, more than ever, we will be standing with you in solidarity, strength, and gratitude. We truly can’t thank you enough.