As the first bell rings, one teacher’s message to Wisconsin

2016 Back to School Column

By Ron Martin
8th Grade Social Studies Teacher
President, Wisconsin Education Association Council

Ron Martin

Ron Martin

Growing up I never knew that my family was poor. We weren’t the only ones in Frog Creek, Wisconsin, that lived the way we did — struggling to buy groceries and cranking up our kitchen stove on really cold nights to keep warm. But even when things were hard, I had opportunities through my local public school that inspired me to reach further.

The difference-maker for me, the one thing that changed the course of my life, was my public school, led by educators who believed in me. They motivated me to become a teacher, so I could unlock the potential in others. It’s been over 20 years now, and I’m still most proud to say I’m a teacher.

Because I believe in my profession, and the critical role of educators in our communities, I’m concerned about Wisconsin’s growing teacher shortage and staff turnover. Students lose when great teachers hang up their erasers long before it’s time.

poll by TeachStrong, a coalition for elevating the teaching profession, shows about three-quarters of Americans believe teachers are undervalued, demonstrated by how they are treated and supported. Across-the-board, respondents said changes and improvements are needed in the way we treat teachers.

This year, 179,000 new teachers are estimated to enter America’s classrooms, including those in Wisconsin. New and future educators need professional respect, time for planning and collaboration, and a voice in their schools if they’re going to stay in this challenging profession for the long haul.

Public schools cannot be run like professional sports – unless the goal is creating winners and losers and a revolving door of educators in our classrooms. Students need stability, and so do the professionals who teach them.

We are teachers, social workers, parents, counselors and so much more to our students. Educators buy classroom supplies and send children home on weekends with food when they’re hungry. At the same time, many educators work second jobs to provide for our own families. Better salaries that pave a predictable path for advancement are one solution to attract and keep the best and brightest in the profession. Another is to get away from unnecessary testing and mandates so students have more time to learn and educators have time to plan and collaborate. Finally, respect for our voices in school decisions would go a long way in making sure schools stay centered on students.

Teaching is a difficult profession but also a noble one. It’s the profession that creates all others. That’s why the Wisconsin Education Association Council is advancing solutions to support the education professions by amplifying the voices of public school educators and providing professional supports like lesson planning and classroom tools. We’re also working to increase the number of National Board Certified Teachers, the highest achievement in the teaching profession. As Wisconsin heads back to school, please join us to support public education and educators. Together, we can reach, teach and inspire every child.

Ron Martin of Eau Claire is an eighth-grade social studies teacher, advisor and coach, and a member of the city’s Patriotic Council.