It’s a typical Saturday evening and all the aunties have gathered around the kitchen island preparing for dinner when they begin their favorite topic of conversation: bragging about their children. One auntie says, “My daughter just got early admission into Stanford! We are so excited!” Two other aunties roll their eyes while another says, “Congratulations! My son’s robotics team got into the finals.” My mom is a quiet observer of the conversation until she finally musters up the courage to say to the others, “My daughter is a prekindergarten teacher, and I’m proud of her.”
When I tell my extended family that I am an early childhood educator, they either smile politely and say something like, “How great, you get summers off with your children!” or give me a questioning look, “But your husband is a doctor, why do you work?” My career choice is written off, even though I have an advanced degree and am National Board Certified. It isn’t respected, even though I work hard and make an impact. And as a woman, I’ve even had family tell me that it would be a better use of my time if I didn’t work at all, but rather raised my own children instead of “just watching other peoples’ children.”
I am Asian American. My parents came from India in the mid-’80s a few years before I was born. Like many immigrants, they were struggling back home, so they chose to come to America for a better life for their children. They left everything they knew behind — family, food, culture, language, way of life — just so that my siblings and I wouldn’t have to struggle. In their mind, economic security was the only way to a better life. In many ways it is, so they moved across the world for it. That’s why stereotypically, Asians enter high-paying professions such as medicine, law and engineering. The reason many Asian Americans don’t go into education is because it just doesn’t pay enough to justify our families’ sacrifices. That’s why the aunties brag about college admissions and extracurricular: For them, that is the only way to economic success and validates their decision to move to America.
I hadn’t planned on becoming an educator. I began college as a journalism major. While attending classes, I applied for a work-study job that placed me in a Title I prekindergarten classroom. I spent the year with a class of 20 children and saw firsthand how their teacher changed their lives and set up their low-income families for school success. I saw these children become better at engaging with their friends, solving conflicts on their own and learning how to listen and follow directions. At the end of that year, their families learned the importance of reading every day with their child at home and mastered navigating the public school system. I became an early childhood educator because of this impact.
Today, teaching is more than just a job, it’s my passion.
Research shows that 90% of a child’s brain is developed by age 5. The work of early childhood educators is critical. Our most important outcomes aren’t measurable on standardized tests, so it’s difficult to prove the impact of my career to my family and to society. What I do in the classroom has consequential, long-term effects on how children will continue to learn. My role as a prekindergarten teacher is to teach children how to be curious, how to ask questions, how to socially engage with their peers, and how to solve problems when things get challenging. While there are studies that show the direct impact of early childhood education on things such as third-grade reading levels and high school graduation rates, it’s much more difficult to measure being a well-balanced citizen.
As I interact with my family and others who question my profession, I ask them to consider what our world would be like if we didn’t have dedicated educators. I ask them to think about a single impactful teacher they had and consider how their educational journey would have been different if all their teachers were like that because they felt supported, respected and well-paid. What if more people decided to go into teaching because the profession could make up for all those things our families gave up in order to obtain the American Dream? Not only would we have a much more diverse teaching force, but our children would really get the education they deserve.
Margi Bhansali is a National Board Certified Teacher and teaches prekindergarten for Chicago Public Schools. She is currently a Teach Plus Senior Writing Fellow.
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Hans Andrews 1 month ago1 month ago
Hello Margi, I enjoyed reading your 'Teachers Deserve More Respect' writing in the Chicago Tribune today! Well done and so timely. The article below I just finished sending out to an international journal that publishes in India-and the UAE. The concept of recognition for teachers is neglected by so many school districts here in the U.S. and around the world. If you have an e-mail address I would be pleased … Read More
Hello Margi, I enjoyed reading your ‘Teachers Deserve More Respect’ writing in the Chicago Tribune today! Well done and so timely. The article below I just finished sending out to an international journal that publishes in India-and the UAE. The concept of recognition for teachers is neglected by so many school districts here in the U.S. and around the world. If you have an e-mail address I would be pleased to send you a ‘complimentary’ e-book titled Recognition vs. Merit Pay for Our Best Teachers! You appear to have an exceptional background as an educator in the Chicago area. A great article.
Hans A. Andrews, Ed.D. email@example.com
Distinguished Fellow in Community College Leadership
Teacher Recognition: A means to improving morale!
Hans A. Andrews, Ed.D.
Moving beyond the Pandemic schools everywhere should start utilizing improved teacher recognition. For the past several years teachers have been placed under the pressures of both in class and remote preparation for their students. In addition, ‘high stakes testing’ and the possibility of merit pay as a ‘reward’ for their students’ high test scores has been utilized far too often.
Preparing two daily teaching plans, teaching extra classes and/or having their class size increased are some of the ways teachers have had to adjust during the pandemic. Now with a growing crisis due to the teacher shortages they are experiencing been worn down and many have been losing much of their spirit for teaching. Far too many teachers have been deciding on an early retirement or switching to another career option. The immediate future looks that these decisions will continue with many teachers.
The fallacy of merit pay
The use of merit pay has been a reward offered to teachers who have had student testing scores improved in their classes. Merit pay has been proven to dissatisfy teachers and is one of the least preferred ways teachers wish to be recognized.
Recognition for excellence in teaching has been a much more satisfying and acceptable program for teachers. Teacher recognition, however, has been identified as lacking in over fifty percent of American K-12 schools.
Developing satisfying recognition programs
The basic levels of teacher needs need to be met before launching into recognition programs. This includes positive and supportive working conditions as well as adequate pay.
Recognition programs should be cooperatively developed programs between teachers and administrators. Recognition should also be tailored to reflect what is considered important in delivering high quality educational input and the improved teaching outcomes expected in each school district.
Ramsey talked about teaching as an underappreciated profession! He stated:
Without teachers, we wouldn’t have doctors, lawyers, CEOs, engineers, authors . . . the list goes on. Teachers go through additional schooling, work nights and weekends, and somehow have a knack for holding on to their sanity while dealing with other people’s kids.
He went on to say,
A few words of appreciation are all it takes to make a teacher smile and say, it’s all worth it, and honestly, it’s the least we can do (Ramsey, 2022).
Basic levels of teacher needs
The items most important to have in place for teachers before successful recognition programs can successfully be launched include:
• An adequate salary schedule for the teachers
• A professional work environment
• High level of trust between the teachers and administrators
• Evaluation of teachers on their teaching vs. ‘high stakes testing’ scores of students
One teacher’s response to receiving recognition based upon the recommendation of her elementary school principal is an example of the importance and goodwill it creates:
I’m just overwhelmed,” Lisa Carrier said upon receiving her award.
“It didn’t occur to me that I’d deserve something like this. It’s like
a dream. She said she does the job because she knows she is affecting her students’ lives.
The need to move away from high stakes testing and merit pay
The High Stakes Testing (HST) and Merit Pay movement over the past decade has brought to the surface issues that should not have developed. Some of them are outlined here:
• Evaluating teachers by the test scores their students receive on these state and national exams rather than their classroom teaching efforts
• Deciding on retention or dismissal of teachers based on these tests rather than their actual classroom teaching expertise
• Utilizing a merit pay system that had failed everywhere it was tried over the previous 50+ years
• Granting merit pay to teachers, many of who may have been able to ‘recruit’ top students to their classes for the purpose of improving the test scores of those students.
Watching these types of evaluation processes to develop over the last decade has brought to mind so many of the things that teachers should expect but were pushed aside.
Professional evaluators and evaluations
With this in mind the following expectations should become guidelines toward evaluating teachers everywhere:
• Competent evaluators should be expected and used in all evaluations of teachers
• Evaluators should have been excellent classroom teachers themselves.
• Evaluators need to be able to accept a wide range of teaching processes they observe.
• Fairness needs to be expected and will allow for teachers to express disagreement where there are questionable evaluation comments or observations recorded.
• Positive ‘recognition’ should be expressed both orally and in writing for excellent teachers.
Evaluation expectations as outlined above should be looked at as ‘guidelines’ in developing or in improving a professional evaluation system. Such an evaluation system with input from both teachers and administrators can build trust and support between teachers and administrative evaluators. Developing such a system can help make it a positive experience for both teacher and evaluator.
Positive recognition is important
It still means the world to me. I had never even heard of Michigan Teacher of the Year before my nomination. It truly has changed my life!”
Bill Cecil a former Michigan Teacher of the Year award winner.
When teachers were asked to state some ways that their teacher recognition programs assisted them the following type of responses were received:
• It renewed confidence in their teaching and encouraged other teachers
• It improved their voice in their profession
• It inspired them to work harder
• It validated their ideas
One teacher responded that it “reinforced what we have known all along, we are doing the right thing for kids” (Million, 2004).
The Pandemic years added much to the stress of teaching in the U.S. and in many other countries. Utilizing high stakes testing and merit pay as a reward for improved student scores as an evaluation process of teachers should end. Now is an excellent time to find ways to properly evaluate teachers in their teaching as they move back full time to their classrooms and students.
There are various ways to introduce recognition for the many teachers who continue to work extremely hard and with a high quality of work. Recognition needs to be expanded to many more teachers now. Recognition is one of the main processes available for providing satisfaction to teachers by letting them know they are appreciated!
Todd Maddison 6 months ago6 months ago
Regrettably another article perpetuating the myth of the underpaid teacher. Perhaps true in Chicago, I can't say I have data on that, but certainly not true in California. Would be nice if a CA-focused site like Edsource would make that clear when publishing - nothing in this article except the author's bio indicates she's not talking about our state. In CA, according to latest data from actual district pay records obtained through legal public … Read More
Regrettably another article perpetuating the myth of the underpaid teacher. Perhaps true in Chicago, I can’t say I have data on that, but certainly not true in California. Would be nice if a CA-focused site like Edsource would make that clear when publishing – nothing in this article except the author’s bio indicates she’s not talking about our state.
In CA, according to latest data from actual district pay records obtained through legal public records request, the median total compensation of a teacher in 2021 was $127,091. Median total “pay only” was $98,083, and of course that number does not include the additional 17% of salary a teacher receives in retirement plan contributions above and beyond what private employees are given by their employers, which adds another $17,000/year to their “comparable” compensation.
According to data from the US Census Bureau, the median teacher makes about $16,000/year more than comparably educated private employees.
Is this “riches”? Certainly not in CA, but actual evidence says that most teachers are making more than they would make with the same education by being a teacher.
And they get the benefit of summers off to be with their kids.
Doesn’t sound like a tremendously bad deal, does it? Maybe teaching would have more respect – and more people would choose it as a profession – if Edsource and the rest of the teaching industry stopped lying to the public about the compensation and instead published the real numbers…