As I watched the Strongsville teachers fight for their rights I wondered how many people realized we were witnessing a heroic act. Those teachers were willing to risk all for the future. I say this because so frequently when discussing school related issues, females outside the field can’t get past the fact that teachers have summers off, and some have generous retirement packages. There is no other career, where the perceived perks inhibit reasonable people of different fields from exchanging work related concerns. We can’t really begrudge job security for the people we expect to enable our children to succeed in the 21st century. I wouldn’t entrust non-teachers, who are exploring their career options, to teach my own offspring, so I could not with a clear conscience support that situation for the more at risk students. Six weeks of training for non-certificated personnel is not nearly enough, and the nation can’t afford to take these risks as a solution to balancing the budget. To attract the most capable professionals, the salary and benefits must match the responsibilities and expected outcomes.
Before Shirley Chisholm was elected to Congress, she was an early childhood teacher and educational consultant. She also was a co-founder of NOW; she managed an all female staff, and ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1972. Mary M. Bethune founded a school, that is now Bethune Cookman College, with a few dollars. Later, she advised a president. Frances Perkins was a teacher before she became the first female cabinet member. These are only a few educators who became known as advocates on a grander scale. Women nurture, mentor, and advocate for our future. We birth the babies and become their first teachers. Some educate them in grades K-12. Mariam Wright Edelman, attorney, champions the rights of children, and from various careers yet others become educational leaders of universities. Kathleen McGee-Anderson president emeritus Spelman/former acting Surgeon General of the U.S., Ruth Simmons of Brown University, and Barbara Snyder at CWRU are examples.
Let’s keep our girls moving forward by committing to those actions that will empower rather than derail the progress we’ve made. Our girls need bright, strong leaders to set examples and encourage them to stay on track. They need role models that demonstrate what is possible and challenge them to go even further. Transients will not satisfy those needs. Additionally, no matter how many females are able to negotiate their own salaries in other fields, about three fourths of classroom teachers are female. In this century,
women will not make inroads in narrowing the pay gap if we abandon this field where we are so prominently represented. Now that these professionals have started making a competitive salary and receive benefits that reflect their education and responsibilities, there is suddenly no need for job security. The new evaluations seem to create a Catch 22 situation, and there are few, if any administrators who could model the same standards teachers are expected to display. It is even more critical that AAUW denounce these attacks on this female dominated field, because if we are not vigilant women will quickly take a giant financial slide backwards. If we find that teachers need to be better prepared, or more informed, we must challenge the institutions that prepare them for the profession. We can encourage teachers to continue growing and expanding their skill set. Those of us from other fields can network with educators to help them understand employment needs outside of schools. Within our communities, we can “adopt” some children and help them understand the value of networking across age, gender, and culture lines. We can do this because we are sophisticated and results oriented people. Let’s continue to be catalysts for change!