In praise of teachers


Teaching is one of the easiest jobs in the world — easiest to do poorly, and one of the hardest to do well. Nevertheless, the great majority teach as well as the circumstances and contexts permit. Teaching is hard, and it is getting harder. Many schools face a crisis of too few teachers. Indianapolis schools lack 1,000 teachers. Many teachers have left the profession, and too few are preparing to become teachers. The very least we can do is praise our teachers for persevering.

We require too much of public school teachers. Teachers are expected to respond to the many mental, emotional, physical, and social problems that our communities dump at the schoolhouse doors every day. During Covid, new difficulties appeared, and challenges increased. Neither schools nor teachers are prepared to deal with all those problems. Nor do they have the resources needed to response effectively.

Various political and social divisions that rile communities are well documented. No matter what teachers do, they are often “damned if they do, and damned if they don’t.” Special interest and groups fight pitched battles over teachers’ heads, and at schoolboard meetings, by dictating what and how they must teach and to what ends. No wonder teachers hunker down and so many give up.

Teaching is one of those professions where true satisfaction must await delayed gratification. Only when the positive results of good teaching appear later in the students’ lives can teachers know they have been successful. Most of us remember that teacher who cared about us and encouraged us, thereby helping us to develop and flourish. Teachers realize that assigning grades to each student is not their goal in teaching, and they recognize that standardized tests do not provide reliable criteria. Moreover, it is virtually impossible for teachers to be successful or be seen as successful when students arrive from homeless shelters, in poverty, and unloved, from social contexts already shattered by drug and alcohol abuse. Success for some students is simply making their way to school through phalanx of temptations along dangerous streets.

Our best teachers do not continue to teach for their high salaries. While most citizens agree that education of our young people is a high priority, teachers receive lower wages than professionals with similar backgrounds and training. A hundred percent of Crawfordsville teachers are certified, and over 90% have more than three years of experience. At the same time, celebrities in inconsequential fields make millions — for example, in sports and entertainment. It is an ironic shame that dedicated people in the helping professions receive so little monetary compensation — and even less respect and praise.

We in Montgomery County are blessed with excellent teachers who continue to teach because they have a calling rather than a job. The best teachers persevere because of love for children and their hope that students will flourish in the future as an outcome of their teaching. No teacher starts out wanting to be a bad teacher. So, let us respect and praise our teachers for the good work they do. Not just with words, but by providing the salaries, resources and support that will encourage them to continue as teachers in Montgomery County schools. A whispered commendation for our neighbors who serve on our school boards is also appropriate.


Raymond B. Williams, Crawfordsville, LaFollette Distinguished Professor in the Humanities emeritus, contributed this guest column.