Yesterday (October 5) was world teacher day, in pretty much every country except America. Technically it existed here, but there was no special pomp and circumstance for those of us teaching America's youth. I didn't get anything special, though things didn't go particularly badly. Today a student told me I was going to "burn in hell for my sins," though he didn't specify what. My husband broke up two fights in his classroom... all in all, not a great day of celebration.
Let me tell you a story... I experienced one World Teacher Day in all its glory while I was teaching in China back... well... a long time ago, however Chinese friends tell me this is still the way it works.
At the time, I taught 12 or 14 classes. I don't remember. It was a lot. It sounds insane, but I only saw each class once a week for 45 minutes, so I didn't actually teach that many classes. One day, everyone I see starts wishing me "happy teacher day!" I'm thinking "oh, that's weird. I've never heard of teacher day before. It must be a Chinese thing. I'll go with it." Because, let's be honest. There were a lot of things that I simply accepted as "Chinese things" and never gave a second thought to.
I assumed "Teacher Day" was one of those things.
As the day progressed, I found that "Teacher Day" was not a Chinese thing. It was an Everywhere-in-the-world-exept-America thing. And it was a HUGE deal. All day long, I got cards and small gifts, and students went out of their way to greet me. Later in the evening, there was a banquet for all of the teachers. BANQUET.
But nothing prepared me for what I found when I got back to my apartment.
Next to the door of my apartment was a huge stack of boxes. I did not understand. I hadn't ordered anything. This was before Amazon or even decent internet shopping. I didn't think my mom had sent me anything. Clearly, this was a mistake. Nope. The boxes had my name on them. (Actually, many of them said "American lady", but that was still me)
What did I have, you wonder? Fruit. Cases and cases of fruit. All of the classes had pooled money and chosen a fruit to give to their teachers. Except most teachers saw their students multiple times per week and had only 5 or 6 classes. Remember, I had 14. Which means, 14 cases of fruit. 4 kinds of apples, some oranges, peaches, weird stuff I'd never seen before, some melons, you name it, I had it. I was like my own personal fruit Costco. And there was just one of me with a fridge the size of a gym locker.
So I ate a lot of fruit - no scurvy here- and then realized I could never eat it all before it went bad. No one at my school wanted it because they had their own fruit. I couldn't give it to students, because that would be disrespectful. None of my friends teaching at other schools wanted it, because they too had their own fruit. So I did what any normal person with too much fruit does -- every time I left my apartment, I put a bunch in my backpack and handed it out to homeless people, like some sort of one-man mission trip. I couldn't speak any Chinese at the time, so I just gave them fruit and ran away. People thought I was crazy, but they probably assumed it was just a "white lady thing".
I told you that story, so I could say this:
Teachers in America do not get fruit on World Teacher Day. Teachers in America seldom get fruit at all. Or a day. Or anything else.
This year, my fellow teachers and I in Las Vegas got our 4th salary freeze in 7 years, and since we have to increase our pension contributions, we technically all got a pay cut. Our health insurance has been mismanaged and many of us are losing the care of doctors we have seen for our entire careers, some of us are losing the care of doctors that offer desperately needed treatment for long-term illnesses. We are working without contracts in underfunded and under serviced areas with kiddos that desperately need education. Every year, we are asked to give more of ourselves for less & when we ask for compensation, we get blowback from a community that calls us "greedy" and "selfish". After nearly 10 years teaching, with 2 Masters degrees, I am barely making what most would consider a "professional" salary & only a few dollars more than a police officers and firemen their first day on the job.
While some argue that police and fire departments are more dangerous places to work, that isn't necessarily true. The number of teachers that are injured or killed by students is staggering. National statistics estimate between 7-15% of teachers are physically harmed by students in a given school year, not to mention the handful that are killed during incidents of school violence. Even at 7%, that means over 250,000 teachers are violently attacked every year at work. I have been a victim of violence (in some form) every single year of my teaching career. I have been hit by students, I have been pushed, and I have had countless object thrown at me (a desk, a chair, etc). I've also been bullied and sexually harassed by students. Of course, many still think of teaching as an "easy" job.
While I am fortunate enough to work for a caring administrator that does everything he can to make sure teachers have what they need, most are not so lucky. Many of my fellow teachers have to spend money out of their own pockets for classroom supplies -- basic stuff like pencils and paper -- to make sure they can teach their students. They do not get reimbursed for these expenditures. Even when the Nevada Legislature approved a bill that would allow classroom spending, the amount was whittled down to virtually nothing. By the time the money actually got to schools, most teachers receive less than $100 to spend on necessary classroom supplies -- or about $2.50 per student for elementary teachers, $0.50 per student for secondary teachers.
Every year, I write grant after grant in hopes that some will come through so I can supply my students with things they need. I ask friends and social groups to donate hygiene supplies to students in need. This is in addition to lesson planning, unit planning, mentoring both students and new teachers, parent conferences, grading, endless reams of paperwork to show that I'm meeting state and national standards as an educator, finding new ways to "connect" with my students on their terms (Instagram!), and actually teaching lessons. And I certainly don't do this for glory or recognition, because there really isn't any. I do this because it's what my students need.
We've all seen the cute signs that say: "If you can read this, thank a teacher." Perhaps next time you see one, you should -- because it's probably been a long time since anyone thanked them for anything they did.