I was a high school Spanish teacher for over a decade. My student teaching experience at Hillsboro High School was mostly terrifying, and my first year in my own classroom in Seattle remains a blur. I never felt caught up, and was amazed at how easy it seemed for my seasoned peers. I was earning a little more than I had as a waitress the year before, but was thrilled to finally get to teach students every day. Over time I found my confidence and eventually took on a leadership role in my school. I was hesitant to leave the classroom, but excited about the challenge. And frankly, we needed the money. We had two kids entering high school, and college expenses were on the horizon.
The people that have inspired me the most in my life have all been teachers; my father, my aunt Sandy, Professor Irving Katz at Indiana University, and countless colleagues and mentors in the schools where I have worked.
The teachers I worked with are selfless; many give more in time and attention to their students than to their own families. But there is a limit to that selflessness, and change is in the air. Over the past few months we have seen teachers standing up and demanding better pay and greater voice in walkouts across the nation.
I see this as a moment of opportunity – a chance to increase teachers’ pay and benefits, and to expand their access to critical supports and resources. It’s also a chance to acknowledge the value of their work, and provide them with greater voice in the decisions being made on their behalf.
Much has been asked of teachers in Tennessee; implementing new standards, differentiating instruction, adapting to a new teacher evaluation system, utilizing the latest instructional technology, and most importantly, ensuring every student is successful. And Tennessee teachers responded to the challenge, helping our state become the fasting improving in the country over the last decade.
But the compensation for our teachers does not honor the work that we ask them to perform. Tennessee teachers, with an average salary of $45,000 per year, often have multiple college degrees, yet they are grossly underpaid in comparison to their similarly educated peers. Many teachers supplement their salaries, taking on summer or part-time jobs to make ends meet. Time is not on our side. We face teacher shortages nationwide, and we must tackle this issue soon.
Our gubernatorial candidates have all committed to raising teacher salaries. Let’s make sure that we don’t end there – we must convince school district and city leaders to do the same. One of my four priorities as a candidate is to focus on our people. As a school board member I will commit to supporting increased teacher pay. But I’ll also promote policies that increase time for planning and preparation, peer support and feedback, and authentic opportunities and mechanisms for teachers to share their ideas, hopes and concerns. Let’s bring our teachers to the table instead of forcing them to walk out of their classrooms.
Election day is August 2nd – make sure you are registered to vote!