Teachers and Students Deserve More Than Pity
My students needed more computing experience. Our graduates were coming back to thank us for their rigorous mathematical training, but they told us their lack of programming experience put them at a disadvantage. I had the skills to teach them, I just didn’t have the resources: Classroom sets of laptops were scarce and expensive. But my students deserved this opportunity. What was I going to do?
I went to my principal, explained the situation, and next year he had a laptop cart for me.
This story of classroom need will never go viral. You won’t see it written up in the papers or profiled on the nightly news. After all, I didn’t run a Kickstarter that tugged at the nation’s heartstrings or convince some celebrity on Twitter to bankroll my classroom dream. My students needed something and luckily my well-managed school was in a position to provide it. It’s a pretty boring story.
But school funding should be boring. Schools should have money to buy the things that teachers and students need. Things like computers, books, paper (why are we always running out of paper?) and paint. Isn’t it totally obvious that elementary school kids should be painting? Shouldn’t it be a simple matter for schools to make sure those kids and teachers have paint?
But for some reason it isn’t that simple. In fact, it’s gotten so complicated that we now regularly see stories about teachers like Arizona’s Elisabeth Minsch, whose Facebook plea about her impoverished classroom caught the attention of Ben Adams, a sympathetic and generous New Yorker. Thanks to Mr. Adams, Ms. Minsch’s students now have the supplies they need. One of her students said she was thankful that now she gets to paint a lot.
These everyday heroes rightly deserve our admiration. Ms. Minsch went above and beyond for her students, as so many teachers do. And Mr. Adams not only continues to support Ms. Minch’s classroom, he has also created a program to help other teachers find the financial support they desperately need. This is a heartwarming story about two well-intentioned people going out of their way to do good.
But it’s also a story that should sadden us. Pity is not a healthy funding mechanism for education. It demeans both the profession of teaching and the experience of schooling. Teachers should not have to beg to make sure their kids have enough crayons. Students’ vulnerabilities should not be the set up for feel-good human interest stories. Taking pity on teachers and students is not heartwarming: These stories are really about how we are failing to provide for the education of our children. And we should be ashamed.
I’ve been a teacher for a long time, and a taxpayer even longer. I know the answer isn’t as simple as throwing more money at the situation. But throwing an appropriate amount of money at the situation would be a good start: For example, paying teachers professional wages and funding schools at the proper levels. And maybe if someone paid closer attention to those billion dollar iPad deals, hundred million dollar data systems, and charter school rent checks, we might save enough so that all the Ms. Minsches out there could get the paint their kindergartners need. And maybe my colleagues and I could stop stashing reams of paper around school like squirrels hiding nuts.
Let’s fund schools properly, pay teachers appropriately, and stop making pity a policy. Then let’s talk about that heartwarming story of the guy whose neighbors started a GoFundMe campaign to pay for his kidney transplant.