Teachers are the heart of the classroom
Sen. Hank Sanders, Guest Columnist
"We need to put the money in the classroom." I hear this statement so often. It sounds good but means the opposite of what it says. It means to put education money anywhere but in teachers. Every time the issue of a teacher pay raise comes up, I hear this refrain over and over again. It is as if the teacher is not in the classroom.
I recall my public school education in Baldwin County. There was no equipment except blackboards, erasers, desks and chairs. There were no supplies except chalk, books, pencils and paper. Yet we learned because teachers were in the classrooms.
As I grew up, there were no reading initiatives, math and science initiatives, or distance learning initiatives. We learned to read well, do math excellently, understand science in depth, and become productive human beings. We learned because teachers were in the classrooms.
I was a terrible child and stayed in constant conflict with my teachers. It got so bad that my teachers refused to call on me in class no matter how often I raised my hand. I even hit a teacher once. There were no alternative schools, but I stayed in school. We learned because teachers were in the classrooms.
This year teachers and other education personnel will receive a pay raise. There is, however, a struggle over the amount of the raise. Teachers last received a raise in 2002. It was 3 percent. Three years have now passed without additional raises. Teachers are the heart of our classrooms, and they also have to live.
Six percent raise fair
A 4 percent raise averages out to one and one-third percent over three years. Six percent amounts to two percent per year. Inflation was 6.6 percent over those three years. Even with a 6 percent raise, teachers will be worse off than they were in 2002. Yet there are those who begrudge a 6 percent raise, saying, "Put the money in the classroom." I ask you, "Are not our teachers in the classrooms? Don't we put money in classrooms when we invest in our teachers?"
Higher education better funded than K-12
Some in higher education suggest that we reduce the proposed teacher pay raise so they can get another $46 million. That would not be fair. Let's examine the reasons why. The biggest increase higher education has received during any of the last 10 years has been about $60 million dollars. The increases over that time have averaged $27 million. This year the increase is $180 million dollars and consumes one-third of new education dollars. Yet there are those who want to decrease raises for teachers so they can get more. I ask you, "Are our teachers not the heart of our classrooms? Don't they deserve to be treated fairly?"
Higher education says they are underfunded, and they may well be. I certainly would like to better fund all public education in Alabama. Let's, however, compare K-12 and higher education funding. According to the U. S. Census Government Report 2002, Alabama's K-12 is funded at 79 percent of the national average, while higher education is funded at 105 percent of the national average. I ask you the following: "Who is really underfunded? Should we cut K-12, which is funded at well below the national average, to increase higher education, which is funded at well above the national average?" Teachers are the heart of our classrooms.
If you don't believe teachers are the heart of our classrooms, try taking them out of the classrooms. Now place all the equipment you can think of in the classroom. Then see how much learning occurs.
It is not equipment or programs, or initiatives or anything else but teachers who are the heart of our classrooms.
Sometimes we major in the minor and minor in the major. That's exactly what happens when we say "Put the money in the classrooms," and exclude teachers from the meaning of the phrase. Teachers are truly the heart of our classrooms.
Reprinted with permission of the Alabama Education Association