When I was 13 years old, my literature teacher and I never got along. She would call me out in class. She isolated me from my friends, and she even continuously called and emailed my mom about minor issues. One day, when a different teacher was absent and failed to acquire a substitute, my class had to be split up and I was told to attend class in the literature teacher’s room. However, she blocked me and backed me out of her classroom. We were in the middle of the hallway when she said she never wants me to step into her class again. She said she disliked me as a student and believed I would only cause her and her class trouble. That was a strange moment. It felt as though she had put every ounce of venom she could manage into that action, like her entire life purpose was to make me feel miserable. She acknowledged the incident afterward but refused to believe she was wrong for doing that in front of other students.
The power an educator has over the mind of a child is vast. Teachers have such a strong influence over a child’s mind, one would think they would try their best to serve as a figure of hope and intellectual growth. However, this was not the case for me or many other students.
A Stream of Negativity
I was raised in a middle-class household in metro Atlanta. Throughout most of my academic journey, my family was able to remain active in my education to get me into good schools that claimed academic success was their main goal. However, these institutions seemed to have a hidden foul and toxic ecosystem filled with cliques, social isolation, and nepotism. This undercurrent was mimicked in students, parents, and teachers alike.
A stream of negativity flowed from my educators in the earliest parts of my academic journey, which stunted my confidence and impacted me for many years. My teachers’ status allowed them to spread negative impressions of me to other students, thereby impacting my social well-being.
Their initial disapproval most likely resulted from my lack of social understanding, which in turn resulted from mild ADHD. However, as mild as my symptoms were, ADHD in females is much less commonly diagnosed and so may be taken less seriously (according to CHADD). Several of my teachers did not believe that I had ADHD and refused to understand why I presented the symptoms, such as impulsivity, missing social cues, hyperactivity, and having difficulty focusing on a single task.
Even after I matriculated to the next stage of my education, the negative stigma followed. I later learned through several administrators that staff from my previous school told my new teachers about the way they viewed me. Teachers and classmates I previously went to school with began to tell other students about the disapproval I received from teachers and parents. I was once again prevented from entering another social hierarchy. My actions were much more scrutinized than my peers. For example, if there was a disturbance, I would be the assumed source. This continued the plague of judgment and isolation in my life.
In fifth grade, my history teacher invited the class to an activity where we played with water guns and balloons in a reenactment of World War I. The teacher assigned roles to students, yet I was left out. When I inquired and protested, my teacher scoffed and sent me out of the class. This kind of exclusion made me feel unwanted. Social isolation followed me all the way to middle school. For seven years, I was demonized and isolated.
One Teacher Took Special Care
My second-grade teacher, Ms. Langston, was the first person who saw me as a child and not as a constant disturbance. To this day I am thankful for her. She cared a great deal about her job and loved every child she taught. She took special care of me by customizing her teaching plan to fit my learning needs. She and I would sit in her classroom and go over material until I fully understood the information. Ms. Langston also came to my defense whenever she saw me being harassed by teachers and parents. I kept in contact with Ms. Langston after my graduation to middle school. On multiple occasions I’ve asked her why she didn’t treat me the same as the other teachers, and every time she has responded, “I just like you.”
It’s clear that my academic journey has not been filled with an abundance of kind faces and warm encouragement. I should have been able to leave my trust in the authority figures around me to guide me in the right direction and catch me if I fell, but that did not happen.
Emergency, non-certified teachers
With the strong influence that an educator has over a child’s development, teachers should be held at a higher standard than they are now. Too many educators are underpaid and under-qualified to have such a strong, if any, impact on a young person’s mental development. The national Learning Policy Institute reported on teacher shortages in many states and estimated 108,757 “Minimum Number of Teachers Not Fully Certified for Their Teaching Assignments” and 87,091 unfilled teacher vacancies nationwide in 2015-16 or 2016-17 (there wasn’t enough data from Georgia to report on our state specifically).
The epidemic of untrained teachers has affected me in many ways. I have had many encounters with educators who are overqualified for the position of teaching a subject like middle school biology, yet they have no idea how to talk to children. There should not be this much of a social and mental gap between a teacher and student. It should be a well-known fact that there is much more to teaching than just informing students on a task or skill. Teaching a child is about fostering self-esteem and building confidence as well as competence. Teaching is about motivating students and encouraging them to learn and try new things, not just assessing their ability to regurgitate information.
Elevating Teachers’ Profession
Educators’ salaries must be increased, so individuals who are actually passionate about teaching have an incentive to take on that role. This is to ensure that students have access to a better quality educator and not end up with unmotivated individuals.
The Learning Policy Institute reported that teachers’ salaries start about 20% lower than other professionals with college degrees. Training / preparation, lack of support and challenging work conditions were cited other main reasons teachers leave the profession. The way teachers are paid and supported now, individuals who are genuinely interested in teaching may be forced to choose a different career.
Unqualified teachers may have chosen childhood education as a “safe” option to ensure they have an income. These kinds of teachers have no passion for their craft. By raising the salary and supports of teachers we can provide for those who are passionate about teaching. This would also prevent unmotivated individuals from turning to teaching as an easy way to acquire a check because the job would require much more interaction between students and teachers. Their involvement would be mandatory instead of optional.
I hope that more passionate and compassionate adults are given the role of educator. This way, the education of children is fostered by individuals who genuinely care about their well-being.