By Lacey Watkins
I am no auto mechanic, though I do know some basics.
I know that if I don’t change the oil, my motor will overheat and eventually wear out. If I drive on deflated tires, my rims will be ruined. Without scraping the winter frost from my windows, my vision will be limited and if I don’t fill up my tank with gas the car just won’t go. Eventually, if I don’t take care of my vehicle, I will be walking.
This piece, however, is not about maintaining a vehicle. This is a wake-up call to the lack of maintenance that has been provided to Idaho public schools.
I am a public school teacher. In January, I met with teachers across Idaho; teachers who were passionate and devoted against all odds. I have found teachers across Idaho are heroes. They don’t give up on students’ learning because the students come to school hungry. Teachers bring in breakfast. As they arrive at work, shaken from having classroom objects thrown at them or having been threatened the previous day, they don’t discount a student’s potential to learn and grow.
Teachers greet every student at the door with a smile, warm welcome, and the opportunity to begin the day with a fresh start. When a first-grade student enters a teacher’s classroom with little exposure to early reading skills, they welcome the student and begin leveling instruction.
This year Idaho teachers worked together on a K-12 task force with Idaho Gov. Brad Little to make recommendations for maintaining the state’s public schools. Some highlights:
— Optional full-day kindergarten: Optional full-day kindergarten is among the recommendations. Why? According to the Education Commission of the States, a nonprofit education policy organization, “full-day kindergarten can help to close achievement gaps early on in a child’s education. Research shows that longer school days enable children to receive more individualized, academically focused and meaningful instruction from teachers, as well as more time interacting with their peers – both of which can lead to long term benefits and increased scores in third-grade assessments.”
— Student mental health support: Increased resources for students’ mental health needs are also a high priority. We have students that come to school without their basic needs met. Safety and emotional needs are becoming more and more common. Despite these barriers to learning, teachers build student self-esteem, give them a safe place and help them grow academically.
— Teacher pay scale: Teachers are enhancing the lives of Idaho students every day. Yet they are still disrespected. Teachers persistently struggle to have their professional expertise valued, considered and supported when decisions are made that impact their students and teaching best practices. Additionally, Idaho teachers are amongst the least compensated educators in our country. We must continue to close the gap in teacher pay to retain high-quality teachers.
Teachers are heroes in Idaho. Against all odds, they motivate, inspire and educate Idaho’s youth. Teachers are also your neighbors and friends.
It is time for us to come together and provide Idaho public schools with the maintenance they deserve. Teachers are done being blamed for slow growth toward meeting goals. Just as a car cannot drive efficiently on a flat tire, our teachers can’t teach effectively when students’ basic needs are not prioritized.
Just like our vision is clouded by frost on a window, growth is clouded by a lack of resources for research-based early education and remediation programs. Just as the car engine will fail if the oil isn’t changed, teachers cannot maintain sacrificing their personal time and relationships.
Just like we must walk when our car’s system has been overworked; teachers are walking away from the teaching profession in Idaho and across our nation due to the lack of maintenance provided to public schools.
Let’s come together as Idahoans and make Idaho public schools the best they can be. If you have ever had a teacher be your hero, please write to your legislators and tell them, “Please support Governor Little’s K-12 task force recommendations for increased optional full-day kindergarten, mental health supports, and increased teacher pay.”
Even teachers need a hero sometimes.
Lacey Watkins coordinates and teaches in the Title 1 program at Lena Whitmore Elementary School in Moscow. She also serves as Moscow Education Association co-president and is a National Education Association leader for Just Schools. Her opinions are her own.