I recently visited my alma mater, Wayne State University, to discuss an idea for mentoring education students. There I was introduced as Miss Lyons, a middle school teacher in Detroit Public Schools.
Who? I was tempted to look over my shoulder for my mother—but my mother wasn’t there, so Miss Lyons had to be me. After almost two years of teaching in my own classroom, I still can’t get used to the fact that I am a teacher.
But it is true: I am Miss Lyons, an English language arts and debate/forensics teacher at Frederick Douglass Academy for Young Men. I am a teacher.
The fact is, I ran from my passion for so long and so far that I got two degrees in other fields before I came into the classroom. My mom loves to tease me about this, because when I was growing up, I always said I did not want to teach.
All the reasons I ran from teaching
I spent my youth in schools until 6 p.m. or later because my mom would teach after-school classes for students who were struggling or needed a safe place to stay after school. I watched her endlessly grade papers and write lesson plans (in those pre-technology days, both were done by hand). I spent hours in clothing and shoe stores with her because I was the size model for purchases she made for her students who needed shoes and winter coats. Back-to-school shopping was never fun—it meant extra time shopping for supplies for other students, and sometimes it included imploring sale associates for rain checks on sale items.
My mom wasn’t the only teacher I knew who did this; almost every one of her colleagues did the same thing or something similar. I remember one year, a group of educators worked together to help one particular student because that child’s needs were too great for one person alone.
One of the biggest reasons I didn’t want to teach was the lack of respect for the profession. Even though my mom completed all of these tasks outside her job description, working to improve students’ lives and education, she was not respected as a professional.
I listened and watched as she was blamed and scapegoated for numerous “failures” among her students and sometimes for the failure of the education system in general—just because she was a teacher.
This is not just a problem for me or for my mom; it is part of the educational crisis for our nation. Good teachers are leaving schools in droves because they are not treated like the professionals they are.
"Even though my mom completed all of these tasks outside her job description, working to improve students’ lives and education, she was not respected as a professional."
These are competent, skillful, assured and engaged educators who cannot stick with their jobs because they are not paid the professional wages that would allow them to support themselves and their families. They are undermined by the lack of resources in their schools, where they are trying to teach students who come to school unprepared and/or distracted by family and/or community challenges that are completely out of their control. These educators are saddled with so many standardized tests that they have no time left for the creative, innovative teaching that would help their students thrive. And they are constantly stressed out and in “panic” mode because there are so many tasks to complete and not enough time in the day to complete them.
In order to do the best job they can for their students, in order to stay in the profession, teachers must be given the tools they need to do their jobs—they must be respected as the professionals they are.
So, in the words of Otis Redding as sung by the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, I am calling for a little “R-E-S-P-E-C-T.”
Make sure teachers are paid fairly for all the work they do. Respecting me as a teacher means acknowledging that I spend far more than 40 hours a week working for my students, but that my inadequate compensation reflects only the hours spent in the classroom.
Provide counselors and support staff for students whose experiences keep them from being fully present for learning. Respecting me as a teacher means acknowledging that I am walking with my students through some trauma, sometimes trauma that mirrors my own.
Always respect a professional’s time and contracted schedule. Respecting me as a teacher means acknowledging that I am an adult, and even though I do not have biological children, I do have responsibilities outside of my job.
Give teachers the autonomy they deserve and allow them to make decisions about how best to teach their students. Respecting me as a teacher means acknowledging that I have studied the art and craft of educating, so I am skillful and competent.
Help fix the disparity. Respecting me as a teacher means acknowledging that I earn an average of 30 percent less than other similarly educated professionals in the service sector.
Respecting me as a teacher means honoring my time, my effort, my knowledge and my need for self-care.
This is a message for principals, administrators, legislators, parents and guardians, community leaders, students, other teachers and everyone else. Only through working together can we honor teachers with the respect they deserve.
Corinne Lyons is a member of the Detroit Federation of Teachers and an English language arts teacher at the Frederick Douglass Academy for Young Men.
This blog post is re-published with permission from AFT Voices. Read the original post. To learn more about AFT's Schoolhouse Voices from PreK-12 public educators, visit: https://aftvoices.org/school-house-voices/home. Follow on Twitter @rweingarten or on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/AFTunion.