What's the first thing that teachers want? R-E-S-P-E-C-T Skip to content

What's the first thing that teachers want? R-E-S-P-E-C-T

2 min read

I spent 1981 living and working in South Korea in Bucheon, which is closer to Inchon than to Seoul. On the bus, people would ask me what I did, and I would say, “Songseng” (teacher). And, usually, they would correct me, “Anyo, songseng-nyim!” (No,honorable teacher!).  Saying you were a teacher in South Korea got you the same admiration you’d get in the States if you said you were a doctor, a lawyer, or a tech CEO. Teachers there are absolutely revered!

Teaching is hard. Your day doesn’t end at 2:30 or 3:45. There are lessons to plan, papers to grade, supplies to buy (out of your own pocket…thank you, Bevin!), Prezis and PowerPoints to create — well, you get it. It’s the hardest job you’ll ever love, to borrow a phrase. It would be nice to get a little respect.

Contrast the attitude in South Korea with the United States, where education policy is set by folks who’ve never been in a public-school classroom. Business tycoons like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg decide what schools need – as if asking teachers would be a waste of time.

It’s all part of disrespecting teachers.

In 39 of the 50 states (including Kentucky, of course), teachers made less in 2016 than they did in 2010 once you adjust for inflation, according to Axios. I think that fact plays into the disrespect: If teachers settle for salaries that are less than that of comparable professionals — in Kentucky, that’s $6,000 less annually — then it must be because they’re too dumb to do anything else, right? That’s what these business tycoons think – these men (and they’re always men) who wouldn’t take our jobs on a bet, even for considerably more money. They can’t conceive that teachers teach because they have a calling and they love their students.

So, we get no respect. We’re lazy, ignorant, selfish, prone to temper tantrums — oh, yeah, we’re thugs, too. And that’s just the insults from Governor Matt Bevin, the man who claims that Head Start is “something that serves no purpose.”

Most states, unsurprisingly, are having trouble attracting teachers. The response has been to recruit Ivy League students without education degrees and train them for a few weeks before plunking them into the most difficult classrooms in America. For example, one-third of the teachers in Arizona are either not certified at all or are not certified in the subject they are teaching. Last year the Arizona legislature passed a law to allow school districts to hire applicants who haven’t even had the minimal and inadequate Teach for America training!

We would never respond to the shortage of doctors by saying, “Well, why don’t we hire a biology major from Harvard with an excellent GPA and give him five weeks training before shipping him off to Appalachia?” Why would we not do that? Because medicine is considered a real profession, something that takes study and practice.

Well, I’m here to tell you that teaching takes study, and practice, and training, just like medicine. In other words, it is a real profession too … even though certain elected officials don’t think so.

As a teacher, would it be nice to make more money, to be assured that our pensions won’t be raided, to know that our funding won’t forever be cut to the bone? Of course.

But a little respect would be a nice start.


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Ivonne Rovira

Ivonne is the research director for Save Our Schools Kentucky. She previously worked for The Miami Herald, the Miami News, and The Associated Press. (Read the rest on the Contributors page.)