Society’s Keystone Species Part III

The previous two posts depict the way that teachers are treated in North Carolina from a teacher’s perspective. The first post was posted on February 5th, 2017 and the second was posted on February 6th, 2017. The last section of this series focused on teacher pay and policies that affect this.


Although teachers spend considerable time working outside of the classroom, their primary roles are within the classroom. What exactly does this look like? Imagine this kindergarten classroom. Jimmy is coloring on the books, while Janie is spelling her name and Jennie is reading her book upside down and Jackson is trying to explain to Jay that both “caught” and “paw” make the same “aww” sound. In an attempt to control the class and prepare them all for the first grade, she explains that it is now reading time. After a transition, she begins to read “The Cat in the Hat” to her kids. After about four minutes, half of her kids are trying to figure out what shape the stains on the carpet are, while the other half is trying to figure out how to sound out the word “hop.” The teacher’s heart is breaking. Teachers are experiencing increased difficulties instructing reading due to decreased time that parents spend with children at home. Lynn has “zero stay at home moms” of the children in her class which results in “lots of screen time.” This decreases additional individualized help with practicing educational skills at home. Furthering this anguish was Jane’s conversation with a mother about reading at home with her child. The mother told her, “I don’t have time to read with my child.” Let that soak in for a minute.

She needs help. If she’s going to meet the needs of thirty kindergartener, she needs support. However, that help is only available for an hour a day, as the school can only afford one assistant for the entirety of kindergarten- the foundation of all other education.

“I’m worried for my grandkids.” Lynn expressed when asked about the future of education. What if kindergarteners don’t learn their phonics and can’t differentiate between when a word has a long ‘o’ or a short ‘o’ sound? What if they don’t all master the capitalization of the “I”? What if they don’t know how to add? If teachers had time to really focus on meeting their needs outside class, maybe they could. However, occupied by their current responsibilities they barely has time to sleep. Not only is this tolling on teachers, but teaching’s effects are also felt by their significant others. Sara explains that, “my (teacher) friends and I joke that there needs to be a ‘Significant Others of Teachers’ support group.” She is currently engaged and her fiancé, David, understands that she is pouring herself into her work because she “loves her students like they’re her children, so she’s constantly worrying about them,” but at times feels annoyed because he feels that she is ignoring him when she’s working. She’s not. It’s just the intensity that is required to nurture young minds effectively.

Why do these mothers, friends, wives and fiancés subject themselves to the labors of cultivating future doctors, lawyers and business people? There are a few tangible benefits: healthcare, summer vacation and a retirement (if you work as a full time employee for over twenty-five years of service and you’re over sixty). Additionally, there is an intangible reward of knowing that your job is impactful. Though non-teachers can speculate the intrinsic reasons people dedicate themselves to pruning the minds of children and young adults, it is only the teachers who truly understand why have chosen this lifestyle. Sara “knows that what (she’s) doing is important. I know students are better off for having been in my class; not because I have taught them about environmental science, though that is important, but because I have taught them about the world around them. It is so cool to watch them develop into adults. Even if I’ve only taught 3,000 people, that’s still important to what we’re doing in the world, especially when they go on to influence others.”

Here is a Ted Talk from a teacher speaking about why she teaches. It illustrates real-world learning and character building that can only be done through teachers who care.

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2 Responses to Society’s Keystone Species Part III

  1. kbuffett says:

    Thank you for writing this post. In today’s economy, I hope that those who are going into teaching are doing so because of the intangible benefits and the sense of accomplishment and happiness they feel knowing they are molding tomorrow’s leaders.

    Your snapshot of Sara’s rationale as to why she is a teacher reminds me of my high school chemistry teacher. He had received his Master’s degree and was in his first year of his PhD program when he started working with high schoolers who were struggling with chemistry. He realized that this passion was not for research like he had originally thought – it was helping students.

    Even now, almost 5 years later, I remember what he told my class about teaching as if it were yesterday: “I would rather make one hundred scientists out of my students than to just be one scientist by myself.”

    Once again, great post. Passionate teachers are the ones who make a true impact on their students.


  2. liznels says:

    Thank you for this story of a teacher who really impacted you! Being a teacher is one of the most influential positions you can have (in my opinion) and being able to help others believe in their dreams and make them happen is worth so much more than the money.


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