As the coronavirus disrupts and displaces most aspects of our lives, most of the professions that support systems in society, especially ones that support our youth, have been strained. As the pandemic rages around the globe, it is impossible to ignore the value that public schools provide and the services provided for society. Hit most hard at this moment are the teachers that serve students from Pre-K up through higher education.
They allow parents to work and contribute to the economy. They support students with disabilities as they pursue equitable educational opportunities. They often serve as a source of stability for students that live in dangerous or precarious circumstances. Teachers work to help youth develop the social, emotional, and intellectual skills they need to move through life successfully. Yet even as we understand the value teachers play as in our critical infrastructure, there still is a negative public perception of teachers and teacher education and a need to re-valuing teachers.
The role of a teacher is much more than filling up time during the day while parents and guardians are at work. The job of a teacher is much more than just conveying content knowledge and assigning grades. Teachers begin their careers as they care about the livelihood of youth and a desire to help young people thrive. Teachers are asked to wear multiple hats of educator, counselor, life coach, disciplinarian, and role model. Instead of lauding their efforts, there are some in society that seeks to demean or denigrate education as a profession. This may be a response to a field that is dominated by women. It may be due to efforts to demean efforts to strive for truth, understanding, and learning. Regardless of the rationale behind these attempts, teachers are increasingly underpaid and undervalued while other members of society heap expectations and responsibility upon them.
Teachers are doing one of the most important jobs in our community without the adequate support and compensation expected in other professions. The challenge is that this discussion boils down to a discussion of risk. Teachers are asked to scramble and imagine how to make the complex social, economic, and academic systems work in the midst of a pandemic. They are put at risk as they are forced to risk exposure to illness by entering a public building every day to provide in-person or virtual schooling. Obviously, there are no simple solutions to address these challenges and no simple ways to replace the caretaking role of schools and educators. Even with the tremendous value provided for individual households and society at large, like many systems that operate at scale, the decision will ultimately be an institutional one.