Thank You for Your Service, Teachers


Well, that’s that. Kindergarten graduation went out with a bang — that is to say, with one kid refusing to wear a cap and gown, another kid requiring a handheld escort during the processional, and another cracking jokes the entire time he stood on the risers.

These kids know how to read, every single one of them. Their assessment scores are unprecedented in the school, all of them. I could not be prouder of their academic achievements.

Their little characters and budding social skills are, shall we say, somewhat lacking, but I’m too exhausted to go into that.

Exhausted is the word of the day for me lately, especially this last month of school. Exhausted. Teaching was hard. Disciplining some of these kids was harder. Dealing with all of that when all everybody wanted to do was go swimming and play their Xbox was hardest.

When I finally got a chance to lie spreadeagle on my bed, in front of the fan, listening to T-Swift on Spotify for an uninterrupted hour, it occurred to me that teachers deserve more respect than they currently get.

You know how veterans and members of the military (rightly) get instant respect from everybody, regardless of politics, or whether or not they were deployed? Our society is conditioned to honor their sacrifice, to recognize it, make much of it, because we value the work they do for our country.

We say “thank you for your service” whenever we find out somebody served in the military. We honor them at baseball games and at church. We have national holidays and songs and rituals. We are reminded what we owe them — our life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

I think a similar societal respect needs to go towards teachers. I think teachers need that sort of recognition. I think our society needs to remember what we owe them.

Teaching is peacemaking. Teaching is making life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness possible. Teaching is bringing hope to places where there’s not much of it. These are more stereotypically “feminine” virtues, but I think our culture needs to honor the peacemakers just as much as the warmakers. What good is the noble sacrifice of our military if there is no good left to sacrifice for?

Teachers are preserving that good. They fight for virtuous, educated citizens, against the odds of poverty, bad behavior, bullying, horrible home situations, and whatever else they face every day in the classroom.

Having experienced this fight, I know what a sacrifice and an emptying this is. It is a slow death, in a lot of ways — not only of the physical body, worn down through trying to keep up with the demands of the administration and the state testing and the homework and the kids, but also of the spirit, worn down from all the discouraging setbacks.

I think we need to start acknowledging this peaceful war waged in our schools as just as urgent as the war waged overseas. I think we need to honor this “feminine” sacrifice, in a similar way we honor the “masculine” sacrifice of those who fight to defend our country — not to challenge the military’s sacrifice, not to denigrate it, but to raise up the importance and the necessity of the sacrifice of those publicly involved in shaping the souls of the next generation.

Teachers’ challenges aren’t just little boys throwing a tantrum at wearing a graduation gown. They’re entering the lives of children who get threatened at gunpoint on the street at eight years old, who solicit sex at age six because their parents didn’t teach them any better, who commit suicide at age seven due to bullying. They’re trying to build a future for children whose moms have more babies just to get more welfare, whose parents’ proudest accomplishment is graduating eighth grade. They’re trying to give hope to the kid with rotted teeth and an ever-present stench, the student who’s embarrassed that his mom can’t buy anything for the end-of-school party, the children who can’t play outside of their two-bedroom apartment because it’s too dangerous.

They’re trying to give kids a decent education even when administration piles on unnecessary busywork and the state requires too much and nobody ever listens to the teachers, who actually know what’s best for their students. They’re trying to give kids a decent childhood, even though recess is mostly nonexistent now and even kindergarten is rigorous and kids have to set in plastic chairs all day.

There are real demons out there in society, and teachers stare them down every day with determination and kindness to spare (sometimes).

Please thank a teacher. Thank them for their service like you would one of the honorable members of our military. They deserve public respect for their public service to our country and community. And they could use a little encouragement right now.

8 thoughts on “Thank You for Your Service, Teachers

  1. villemezbrown

    Thank YOU, Bailey, for working extremely hard to be the best you can be at an important, difficult, often thankless job.

    I have a M.Ed. degree. I did one semester of student teaching at a large suburban high school. I am not certified and I have never actually taught as a full-time professional. That is partially because in the process of getting that degree and doing my student teaching I discovered that I hate teaching, but at least as much it is because I was really bad at it. Teaching is an incredibly high impact profession. I honestly thought it would be unfair to every child in my classroom to subject them to having me as a teacher when I knew I was not capable of doing a good job.

    I know personally many excellent teachers and I have the utmost respect for them. However, my daughter will be a senior in high school next year, and during her time in the public school system she has had entirely too many teachers who should be fired immediately. I have no respect for them whatsoever. I don’t care that the job is hard and they are making a sacrifice. I really wish they wouldn’t. Their “dedication” and “sacrifice” is resulting in hundreds if not thousands of children receiving a sub-par education.

    Teaching is not something just anyone can do, but unlike being a soldier, teaching is a job that, unfortunately, you can fail at miserably and still keep the job year after year and make a living (in the US anyway). I greatly appreciate every one of the outstanding teachers my daughter has had, and I had. I wish teaching as a profession got more respect in this country, but I don’t believe we can start by just making a decision to respect teachers. We need to change our whole education system so that more high-quality people want to go into teaching knowing they will get the support they need.

    Unfortunately, I don’t see that happening. We don’t recognize and respect the peacemaking sacrifices you talk about so eloquently because we as a society don’t really value peacemaking. The last few elections have made abundantly clear that the majority of people in the US do NOT value intellectualism or education, but rather they deride any sign of either as condescension and elitism. We do not value peacemaking and, sadly, see it as weakness. I agree with the larger point you are making about traditionally feminine vs. traditionally masculine service and sacrifices, but I don’t agree with encouraging respect for all teachers, even teachers in name only, as a step toward correcting that imbalance. I just wish I had an idea for what would be a good step in that direction. :-(



    • Bailey Steger

      I see your point. And that’s the problem with systems and people — there are always horrible exceptions. I can think of many dishonorable military people, for example, but like you said, they get weeded out for more quickly than crappy teachers. The larger point, which we both agree on, is that we should have equal respect for peacemaking professions. Perhaps a blanket respect for teachers is too much right now, particularly since so many parts of the educational system are broken, but I still think there’s importance in valuing and respecting individual teachers on a high level. When they do their work well, they deserve it.


  2. Justine

    I did a four month placement in a public school as a child and youth work student. What I saw there has given me a tremendous respect for teachers. It’s not something I could do!


  3. Abigail

    I meant to comment on this the day you posted it, but only remembered when I was at work or doing chores. =P

    I agree that the teaching profession and individual teachers merit greater respect, but I don’t think that this is necessarily an issue of society devaluing traditionally feminine characteristics. After all, people have raved for centuries about the beauties of motherhood and the value of nurturing, homemaking, and raising the next generation. I see the elevation of military sacrifices as people appreciating the most tangible way that someone can sacrifice their life for others. When I see a serviceman, I think, “You are willing to die or be horrifically injured so that I can live in freedom and peace.” When I see a teacher, I think, “You are willing to sacrifice your time, energy, sanity, paycheck size, etc. for children’s benefit and the good of society.” The latter is very significant, but its sacrifices are less visceral, literal, and universally understood.


  4. tersherr

    All I know is that I have gone without basic services, as have my children. Many people who would like to teach, don’t – because they can’t “afford” to. In reality, I can’t “afford” to either – but I refuse to abandon my post – I refuse to abandon children to the least trained and qualified people. So, I stay. I spend my own money – even if doing so means that I go without food. I have real wounds from lack of medical care and sufficient resources. Now I am staring at old age without money saved for an adequate retirement.

    Have you read our terrible statistics on our countries care of children? We are near last in the world for meeting their needs for health care, poverty, time off for parents, etc. The children of today will be the citizens of tomorrow …and our future will depend on their strength of character and creative problem-solving skills. Do you think that our inalienable rights will be upheld if Russia or China becomes the dominant superpower? (The answer is “no.” They are not interested in empowering individuals, or in helping us to realize our fullest potential.) Teachers are the last line of defense. So, I say “not on my watch” do I give up on children. Not on my watch do I allow myself to be forced out of a profession by low wages or egregious conditions. I am standing and fighting every day. And it’s okay with me if other adults don’t get what I am doing. The children know. They will grow up having had at least one person who believes in them and is willing to do anything to make sure they are safe and cared for.


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