I just learned that Oct. 5 is World Teachers Day and immediately started thinking about what we could do to show appreciation for our son Harvey’s incredible educators. As a longtime teacher fan, my mind wandered, and I started imagining all of the things I really wish we could offer all of the educators in our state.
See, my parents moved to Utah in 1977 to share a single teaching internship (for a total of $9,000) after they graduated from Indiana University. They went on to get full-time positions, my mom in the “young mothers/pregnant teens program” in Ogden and my dad in the “gifted underachievers” program, before they both taught for Washington Alternative High School the year it opened.
They’ve been believers in education as the great equalizer longer than I’ve been alive. Growing up, I remember hearing their former students say my mom or dad had fundamentally changed their life for the better (if I may so humbly brag on my parents’ behalf).
But at that time I didn’t fully understand the gravity of their impact — of having a teacher who can care for you sometimes more than you might be able to care for yourself — because, well, I was young.
Adolescence and early adulthood are tumultuous times for many of us. It’s when we go from awkward to less-awkward and we get to drive and vote. All signs point to the idea that we’re capable people. Except, you know, our brains aren’t fully developed yet and lack some serious critical thinking abilities.
But you know who plays some of the most significant roles in our maturation and development? Teachers.
I know this is true for Harvey, who now advises me on how to be “safe with my body” and asks me when I’m not paying close enough attention, “Are you hearing my words, Mimi?”
In addition to colors and counting, his early childhood teachers have taught him how to share, they potty-trained him and are teaching him how to productively handle big emotions.
It seems like we often think of school as the place where we learn the scientific, historical, theoretical, mechanical and political ways of the world. And that’s true, but it really only scratches the surface.
It is through teachers’ gentle (although sometimes firm) guidance that we learn about possibility, what it looks like to believe in ourselves and how to coexist with others in this increasingly polarized world. They teach us boundaries, coping skills, civility, how to succeed gracefully, how to fail gracefully, and how to be in the middle of the bell curve gracefully.
I had my very own handful of compassionate, knowledgeable mentors who changed me for the better, too, and one who I think saved my life.
She taught me about courageous leadership. She taught me about courageous writing (super helpful tool, it turns out). And she taught me how to be courageous in life.
She saw me as a human with potential when I didn’t see any in myself. And she invested in me.
My wife, Elenor, had similarly impactful teachers. They fed her good books, they nominated her for awards, and one, in particular, scooped Elenor under her wing in a probably life-saving (surely life-affirming) way, as well.
But as extraordinary as our experiences are, they’re ridiculously commonplace. Teachers are literally and figuratively saving lives every. Single. Day.
They’re not just experts on some subject matter; teachers give of their knowledge AND their spare time, their personal resources, and their hearts to students in classrooms across the world on the daily. They enrich us, encourage us and inspire us.
Teachers sustain democracy by creating an informed electorate. They sustain innovation by creating critical and creative thinkers. And they sustain parents’ sanity by being parts of each of our villages.
But here in Utah, I’d grade us a D- on recognizing their impact, celebrating their powerful work, providing them fair work environments and compensating them appropriately.
For example, Salt Lake City School District’s starting salary for educators is $46,845, making pay the No. 1 reason they leave their positions. We are dead last in per-pupil spending and have some of the largest class sizes in the nation. Is it really any wonder why our high turnover rates and recruitment struggles have us short more than 1,600 teachers across the state?
And despite all this, Utah teachers are somehow still bringing it big time. As ranked by U.S. News & World Report, Utah made the top 10 states in the nation for education!
Our teachers deserve more than apples (especially red delicious, like we can’t spring for honeycrisps or something?). They deserve fairer compensation, reasonable expectations and 365 days of admiration and appreciation.
Marina Gomberg is a communications professional and lives in Salt Lake City with her wife, Elenor Gomberg, and their son, Harvey. You can reach Marina at firstname.lastname@example.org.