Educators: A profession in crisis

Prioritizing a major that’s often underestimated.

Dont+overlook+ed+majors.

Creed Bauman

Don’t overlook ed majors.

Riley Potter, Staff Writer

When someone tells you they are going to be a teacher, what is your first reaction? Be honest. Unfortunately, due to societal disregard for education — especially elementary education — some might consider that individual as not the best nor brightest nor most motivated. They’d probably smile and say, “Aw, good for you,” while judging them internally. If that doesn’t describe you, kudos on making progress, but we still have a long way to go to ensure higher salaries and appreciation for teachers. 

On a large scale, we need to change the way we perceive our teachers, in particular those in elementary education. Although the teaching profession is arguably one of the most crucial areas, teachers are constantly underestimated and overworked. Education is the fundamental building block of society and our elementary years are formative to our impressionable minds. 

Odds are high that we, as Westmont students, look back on our elementary years and remember either an amazing teacher who loved on us, encouraged us, and made learning an incredible experience, or one who made school a horrid and demeaning place. 

So much growth happens in the classroom. Teachers hold the power to shape the future outlooks and educational opportunities of kids. Especially in elementary school, kids find space for the first time to use their voices, tell stories and imagine what their lives could be like. These kindergarten classes are where our future poets, activists and engineers sit. Without high quality teachers, though, we run the risk of letting kids who have the most potential but need the most investment fall through the cracks. 

From an economic standpoint, we need to wholeheartedly embrace teachers and invest in schools, because attaining a quality education is the most effective way to break the cycles of generational poverty, when paired with healthy relationships. There must be mutual respect between the teacher and the student — an understanding of each child’s situation at home that ensures no kid feels isolated or alienated at school. 

Thus, being a good teacher encompasses so much more than teaching kids to add or spell; it means meaningfully supporting them and affirming their strength and worth. Juliet Hernandez, a second-year liberal studies major, mentioned that she wants to pursue teaching for this very reason — “the chance to be a positive role model.”

Even though the long-term financial gain of well-educated and confident kids is indisputable across the board, the economic aspects of teaching can be a bit disadvantageous. Property taxes still largely determine school funding, creating an inherently inequitable, self-perpetuating system, as less money is available in poorer school districts to invest in schools, trapping those neighborhoods in poverty. The schools that need the most funding to ensure kids don’t fall behind lack the most resources. 

Due to poor funding and lack of support in the most urgent areas, the turnover rate of teachers is incredibly problematic. Roughly one-fourth of teachers in high-poverty schools transfer schools because of the taxing nature of the job. We need the most brilliant, resilient individuals to pursue teaching in the forgotten corners of the U.S., but how will we ensure that they pursue teaching when we know the salaries are not competitive and the working conditions are far from ideal?

Thus, as schools constantly run into financial barriers, so too do teachers face economic insecurity. Per the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), those who studied education in undergraduate schools make roughly $7,500 less per year than the median of all bachelor degree holders. 

Even Westmont students pursuing a liberal studies degree are worried about their salary once they graduate. Alyssa Hernandez, a second-year planning to pursue a teaching credential, mentioned that a common reaction she gets when sharing her major is, “Oh, that’s cute, but how are you going to live on a teacher’s salary?” She has even considered changing her major as she takes the financial implications of her field of work into consideration. 

Ultimately, though, she can see the value in teaching is beyond that of her salary. Her joy was evident as she explained her desire to teach: “There’s just something so beautiful about watching [kids] be excited when they grasp a concept. My goal is to encourage them to love school and learning.” 

Coco Lagiss, a third-year liberal studies major, is currently student-teaching at Cleveland Elementary. When asked about her experience, she gushed that “it is evident that the teachers and staff there go above and beyond for all of their students.” She echoed the sentiment that teachers are overworked and underpaid; everything about their job is underfunded. 

Coco continued, “I work with kindergartners, specifically, and it’s clear that their time and experience in the classroom is crucial to their physical, mental, emotional and academic growth. The teachers are doing everything to help them succeed, but I’d argue they do need more help through proper funding. If they had the financial support that they needed, it would really help take pressure off the hardworking teachers and it would also encourage the success of the students.”

It is clear to see teachers care an astronomical amount about their students and that much of learning and self-growth happens in schools. However, how do we address the financial problems inherent to our system? Potentially, education could still be funded by property and income taxes, but instead of one’s taxes going directly to one’s own district, we could divide the tax revenue more evenly, providing equal funding to schools across the board. Through advocacy and increased awareness about the financial woes of public schools, we will begin to see positive change, ensuring our kids and our teachers are equipped with the most equitable resources possible. 

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Opinions expressed in letters and other editorials, unless otherwise stated, are those of the writers and not of The Horizon staff or the college collectively.

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