Tonight, I’m attending a screening of Waiting for “Superman”, the new documentary directed by Davis Guggenheim which captures the shortcomings of the public school system and miseducation of American youth. It’s a highly controversial doc because Guggenheim seems to suggest the problems start with the grown-ups, not the kids.
More particularly, teachers.
I’m a product of the Sioux Falls (S.D.) public school system, which employs the lowest-paid teachers in the country. Though the cost of living is lower in South Dakota compared to most states, $35,000 is hardly a livable wage for someone with a family to support. Despite having teachers whose annual income ranked dead last in the country, I had many great mentors who guided me all the way through graduation. I can’t speak on behalf of my former classmates, but I feel like I got a quality education.
I had initiative, but I also had stability. I had supportive parents who were involved in my studies. I’m sure many teachers — among them, my long-retired grandmother who taught elementary school for nearly 40 years in Fairmont, Minn. — would argue much of the problem with underachieving students comes from poor parenting. That’s hard to dispute, but this is challenge is what singularly makes teachers so important. Today’s parents may stink at raising their kids, but don’t forget, teachers are educating tomorrow’s parents. Teachers have the opportunity to break destructive cycles and mobilize their students. The great teachers know this. The great teachers do this.
The problem is the great teachers aren’t being paid enough and the complacent ones hide behind tenure and unions. Again, I haven’t seen “Superman” yet, but if Guggenheim’s doc suggests teachers be rewarded for excellence while the dead weight gets lopped off, I’m on board.
I’m coming back to this topic tomorrow, but I’m interested in what teachers — current or future — have to say about the movie. More than that, why have you chosen such a demanding job?