To the Editor:
In a recent letter to the editor Richard Vis takes issue with Sen. Barker's contention that a 3 percent increase in teacher salaries would help close the gap in student achievement. (Article "Raises for Teachers," Jan. 17, 2013). Mr. Vis, having taught in Virginia for 30 years, contends that achievement gaps come about "only" by the heart and soul of the educators giving their "all" to the cause.
Reducing gaps in student achievement is certainly the education profession's conundrum and Sen. Barker's and Mr. Vis' contentions are at the center of the debate. Like Mr. Vis I, too, taught in Virginia (Alexandria) for 30 years. I know from my experience that if heart and soul devotion were all it takes to erase the achievement gaps, the task would have been accomplished long ago. The issue is not a passion for teaching, but rather an economic challenge.
In my 30-year teaching career I fought hard to increase money for teacher salaries, serving a two-year term as president of the Education Association. Legislators all too often tell us that throwing money at education won't solve the problem. Historically, however, I question whether we have adequately compensated teachers for their important work.
In my long lifetime, teachers' salaries have remained at the lower rung of the professional career salary ladder. The result, among other problems, is that we can't attract the "best and brightest" into the career. The task of giving "all" to the profession becomes much easier if teachers don't have to work second jobs to support their families. Too many teachers can't afford to live in the communities where they teach; hence, have to spend time and money on long commutes to work.
Additionally, teachers have the same desires as other professionals to send our children to good universities and to be able to take a nice vacation once in a while. We also have to continually update our certification as well as keep abreast of new information and teaching techniques another time and cost issue.
Most importantly, we need the respect of the public and other professionals. Self-respect and self-worth depend to a large extent on how the community views teachers. We need to feel good about ourselves in order to effectively accomplish the myriad tasks we are called on to perform.
This is why I think legislators like Sen. Barker who fight for funds for teacher salaries deserve not only educators' support, but community support as well. This is why I will do what I can to help him get reelected and why I will urge my teacher friends and people in his district to do the same.