Last week, I attended my son’s Kindergarten Open House. For the first time in my career, I sat in the room while a teacher talked about her class.
It was a surreal experience for me. For one thing, there wasn’t a lot I didn’t know. Systems that teachers use to monitor grades, test the students, determine Lexile levels, etc., I already know. And I’m not good at managing my face in situations like that.
What was most striking to me though, occurred between the teacher and a couple other parents. This is the conversation as it happened:
Parent 1, looking at a primary journal: These here, can we buy these for them?
Teacher: Yeah, they were on the supply list.
Parent 1: No, I mean, I didn’t get this for him.
Teacher: Well, I have plenty of them. I picked up a bunch at the store the other day.
Parent 2: Wait…you bought these for the kids?
Teacher, hesitantly: We…needed more so…
Parent 2, shocked and appalled: But, you bought these? With your own money?
Teacher: Yeah…yeah, I did.
Parent 2: Is that normal?
Teacher: Yeah, I would say it is.
The parent then proceeded to ask if they could contribute money to the teacher, which was followed by a lot of discomfort by the teacher, but with persistence, the parent got the teacher to say that gift cards would be an option.
What amazed me about this whole experience wasn’t that the teacher spent their own money. It wasn’t that there was a parent in the room who hadn’t bought supplies. It was that there was a parent that was in dismay that the teacher had spent their own money on supplies for the students.
Was this woman living under a rock? I thought to myself. Surely she knows the stats. She must have seen the countless articles and videos that circulate social media about teachers spending their hard-earned dollars to support kids in need!
But no, she had not. And it wasn’t because she lived under a rock, or because she didn’t care. It was because her social media, her social awareness, didn’t look like mine. Naturally, as a teacher, my feed is full of teachers. They share “viral” videos about the time and money teachers put in, and they are viewed by millions…of teachers. Much like political affiliation creating a distortion bubble of people who agree with you, our plight is widely known to people like us.
Here’s where we can all do better. We need to tell our story. We need non-educators to know the effort and cost of being a teacher. When we are at parties, when we are having dinner with friends, when we meet people in coffee shops, when we are talking to our grocery cashier, we need to tell our story. When someone asks you “How’s work?”, don’t simply reply, “Meh.”
“How’s work?”, you might reply, “Fulfilling, life changing, and amazing. I love my job and I love my kids, so much in fact that I put part of my paycheck every two weeks into buying them paper and pencils, markers and crayons. Not because their parents are lazy, not because they can or can’t afford it, not because it is fair or equal, but because I love what I do, and who I do it for. I would love to live in a world where that isn’t necessary, and maybe one day we will, but for now, that is the reality of my life. I am not just a teacher. I. Am. A. Teacher. And I couldn’t be more proud.”