Roger Marolt: It took a virus to reveal the value of teachers |

Roger Marolt: It took a virus to reveal the value of teachers

Roger Marolt
Roger This

One thing we realized in the pandemic, as if there was doubt before, is how important teachers are. We may have been lulled into believing all they did was formally educate our children and lay the foundations for productive, rewarding and happy lives. We understand now they also are role models, friends and protectors. They help kids get organized. They are motivators. They are the guardrails for stable life. With new eyes, really watch them at work. You will come away shocked first, amazed second and grateful forever after.

If that weren’t enough, teachers oftentimes educate us parents and are good friends to us, too. They tell us things about our children we may not otherwise know. In many cases they dedicate more time getting to know our kids than we do. We found out how they help bolster our mental and physical health. They facilitate us going to work and earning a living. Sounds like they are pretty necessary, maybe even more so than hedge fund managers.

“We don’t pay our teachers enough.” These words are so often repeated without effect they don’t mean anything. Don’t bother saying them. It’s service through chapped, cracked and blistered lips. They only lead to rote lines of memorized dialogue as if we are all understudies in a play that just got canceled for lack of ticket sales.

In 2018, two-thirds of Americans said teacher salaries were too low, the highest percentage going back to 1969, according to the September 2020 annual PDK (Phi Delta Kappan) Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward Public Schools. That year, and again in 2019, about 7 in 10 said they would support a strike by teachers in their community for higher pay. This was well before the pandemic.

Allow me to summarize the results of this poll: We have known teachers’ compensation has been too low for at least the last 50 years. … Oh, and that the vast majority of us are big talkers and the value of already cheap talk may be at an all time low. Perhaps that helps explain why so many of us have bought into it. Budgets are stretched blah, blah, blah, I know. I also know voters can expand budgets if they want to. If we weren’t lying to the pollsters above, we clearly have the voting majority to do it.

None of that is surprising. What we finally did during the pandemic, though, is let teachers know just how valuable they are. In fact, directly and indirectly, the value of teachers was among the most discussed issues during this year of lockdown. We literally didn’t know what we had until it went remote. Once we put the masks on it all became clear.

We let our teachers know their invaluable worth in no uncertain terms, oftentimes in not very kind or respectful terms, either. At first we hoped in-person learning would get back to normal soon. Then we begged teachers to come back to work. Eventually we went so far as demanding they come back to the classrooms and face dangerous conditions we only also expected medical professionals on the front lines to endure. We said it was their duty as public servants. Yes, as ridiculous as that sounds, we really did say that. But, did anyone lobby for any of that nearly $3 trillion dollars of federal emergency stimulus money to go to teachers for their sacrifices? Hooters got some cash, I know that.

Valuing teachers has been a strong theme in recent years. Yet, according to the same PDK poll referenced above, public school teachers have expressed broad discontent. In 2019, “60% said they were unfairly compensated, and half said they had seriously considered leaving the profession.” This apparent discontent can only have been magnified over the past stressful year.

It is not hard to imagine a looming education crisis. Many teachers are burnt out and feeling under-appreciated. Don’t believe for a second that prospective future teachers haven’t noticed the suddenly revealed demands of the job that look increasingly incongruous with the relatively low pay offered and are now entertaining other career options. We are on the cusp of losing a disproportionate share of qualified and experienced teachers while also inadvertently thinning the pool of replacements. It is time to take action that needed to be taken long ago. If we don’t recognize the importance of teachers and fund public education accordingly now, the price we paid over the past year may only be the beginning.

Roger Marolt would love to be a teacher, but would probably take a hedge fund job instead. Email at roger@maroltllp.