The Debate of School Reopenings
Updated: Aug 22, 2020
The debate about when and how to safely reopen schools has largely been absent of discourse on the professionalism of educators. That's starting to change. #remotelearning#onlinelearning#distancelearning#technology#theresacapra#teachingtips#Covid19
As debates swirl around how to safely reopen schools, discussions about the costs, logistics, and need to supply childcare for a 9-5 society dominate the rhetoric. What seems to be absent is the professionalism of educators--until now. The federal government is pressuring states to reopen schools in a flash based on the belief that resuming daily childcare will stimulate the economy. The Governor of Florida stated that if Home Depot and Walmart can open, schools can open five days a week too.
But teachers are not babysitters--they are educated professionals providing a critical service similar to white-collar fields. Yet many of these white-collared professionals will be working remote because companies do not want to jeopardize their health by even asking them to board a crowded elevator. Furthermore, to imply that school is the same experience as picking up mulch from the Home Depot in a mask, and that teaching is comparable to working in a store, is downright insulting.
Educators are accustomed to being relegated. Teaching is a profession that has historically been ignored and held in low regard. The Irish playwright, Bernard Shaw, encapsulated this perception with the widely quoted line from his 1902 play Man and Superman: “He who can, does. He who can’t, teaches.” Woody Allen expanded upon this in his 1977 film Annie Hall: “Those who can’t teach, teach gym.” It’s not very different today. A couple of semesters ago, an engineer major enrolled in my Introduction to Education course anticipating an easy elective. Instead, he was blown away by the amount of coursework and surprised to discover that it was a hard profession to enter.
These perceptions have placed us in a pickle--education is a national imperative; we need great minds, great leaders, and at the least, all hands on deck to navigate the rapidly changing world. But unfortunately, we’ve failed to consistently invest in education and innovate. The United States school system was built on a factory model that relied on strong female graduates with limited professional options. Consequently, teachers have always been paid woefully less than other professions that require higher education.
The National Center for Education Statistics reports that 77% of public school teachers are female; up from 75% in 2000. The average public school teacher salary is approximately 60,000 per year with wide variations from state to state. The average salary of attorneys and Certified Public Accountants are almost double that.
These are overall averages--average starting salaries for teachers are dreadfully low in most states compared to other professions that require degrees. Even starting and average salaries for sanitation workers are higher than that of teachers in many places! The world’s most successful school systems (e.g., Singapore, Finland) revere teachers and regard them as crucial to the nation’s health and prosperity in contrast to attitudes (and paychecks) in the United States.
The Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan organization, conducted an analysis of the teaching workforce and determined that 1 in 4 teachers are at serious risk for becoming deathly ill if infected with coronavirus. That should catch everyone’s attention because even if you open the schools in full capacity, you may not have enough teachers to maintain instructional continuity resulting in poorly planned emergency shifts to remote anyway. The wise approach would be to avoid this ominous prediction by innovating now to ensure meaningful learning experiences.
Covid-19 is teaching us painful lessons about the society we've created and shaking us to the core with realities that were once considered historical relics. Let's try our best to come out better than before.