The 11th grade students who were in my class during my first year as a high school English teacher are now in their mid-30s. Most of them I lost touch with after they graduated, but a handful kept up with me over the years or found me later on Facebook. A few were in college in the same program where I attended graduate school, passing me in the halls now and then. A couple are still on my Christmas card list.
Earlier this month, as I got in line to pay for my pre-snowstorm eggs and milk, I ran into one of those former students, now a mother of two and a teacher herself. We hugged each other and laughed about how we were both buying groceries in advance of the snow predictions.
“Have you met M before?” she asked, motioning to the man behind her.
“I don’t think I have,” I said, introducing myself to her husband and shaking his hand.
“No, this is S__,” she said to him, emphasizing the name they called me back in 11th grade.
His eyes brightened with recognition and he pulled me into a bear hug. He knew who I was – and in a good way. He knew my name, 18 years after she was in my class.
That afternoon, she posted a sweet note on Facebook about our chance meeting. When I went online to “like” her post, another former student – one that I hadn’t kept up with – had already left a comment: “Wow! She was a great teacher!”
I almost printed it out and framed it for my wall.
Today, North Carolina’s governor announced a 14 percent pay increase over the next two years for beginning teachers, bringing starting teacher salaries above those of neighboring states. The plan sounds like a good start, but doesn’t offer anything for mid-career and veteran teachers already in the classroom. That may help with recruitment, but it doesn’t do much to retain or respect teachers in the trenches -- teachers who haven't had a real raise in more than five years.
Most teachers will tell you they didn’t go into the profession for the paycheck – it’s not exactly news that teaching isn’t a lucrative career (click here for the 2013-14 salary schedule in NC). But it is a profession – one that requires a college degree, licensing exams and coursework for continued certification. And it’s a job path that ought to provide a living that doesn’t include qualifying for federal aid programs to feed your children.
So while we wait for our policy makers to find the will – and the funds – to pay teachers what they’re worth, we can all show a little love to the teachers who have made a difference. You may not have the chance to run into them at the grocery store or on Facebook, but you can still thank them for all that they do.
Over the past couple weeks, teachers (and those who love them) have turned to Twitter using #evaluatethat to share the many ways – big and small – that teachers make a difference in students’ lives. The hashtag takes a swipe at the notion that standardized tests and evaluation formulas can assess a teacher’s quality and effectiveness.
Take a moment to tweet your own #evaluatethat story, write a note to your child’s teacher, or track down that educator who made a difference for you. Feeling appreciated and valued won’t help teachers pay their bills, but it sure still feels good – even 18 years later.