In defense of school teachers

There are a lot of reasons I wouldn’t want to be a public school teacher these days.

First and foremost, they’ve become punching bags for conservatives who don’t care much about education but do care an awful lot about busting unions. The biggest shame there is that we let them get away with it. We’ve let them paint teachers as lazy, greedy and not very good at their jobs.

None of that is true, of course. There are bad teachers and lazy teachers, sure. But I’ll bet you the vast majority care deeply about what they do and are good at it.

It’s not their fault that test scores are down while poverty and crime are up. We’re the ones who give them kids unready to learn, who don’t read to them, who don’t bother to instill the values of discipline and drive.

We’re hypocrites when it comes to education, to be honest with you. We complain bitterly that the schools aren’t doing their jobs and blame it all on teachers, but do we spend more money to fix the perceived problems? No. We spend less.

And who tries to make up for it, despite all of the undeserved criticism they get? Teachers. I was reminded of that fact by this recent Facebook post by a teacher friend of mine. If her words don’t give you a twinge of guilt, I don’t know what will. She writes:

“As those of you in Michigan know, by law, a school district must provide any supplies required for use in the classroom. This includes such basics as pencils, pens and paper, but could stretch as far as calculators. District budgets have been repeatedly slashed and funds for individual teachers have sharply declined. In the English department (of my school), we used to get around $20-25 per section. It’s now down to $20 total. Virtually all of our English Department budget goes to lined paper. We used to be able to buy index cards, rolls of colored paper and miscellaneous supplies, like staples and paper clips, to be divided among department members. Some teachers would get a few boxes of that practically transparent, rip-one’s-nose-off tissue.

“At the end of last year, after realizing I had gone through over 400 pencils, I made a vow that I was not going to buy any supplies this year with my own funds. However, as any self-respecting office supplies junkie can tell you, that vow was crushed the minute I started thinking about activities that are part of my curriculum and what supplies they require. I know many, many parents can’t afford all that is used in my class and I refuse to put any student in the position of being a ‘have not.’

“Two shopping trips later, the grand total for this year is approximately $576. That does not include paper towels, desk cleaner, Kleenex, Band-Aids and other disposable items that I make available to students. I know there are things that we could probably live without, like file folders, glue sticks and markers, but I also bought several binders and index tabs to help students who can’t afford them. I tell them to see me privately.

“I am not alone. Most teachers spend a good amount of their own money to make sure their students have what they need. But I wish parents would join together and make some noise in Lansing. Schools need money.”

I couldn’t agree more. And if you don’t, if you’re thinking, “Why is she so upset about buying a few supplies?” let me ask you this: How ticked off would you be if you had to buy the pens, paper, copier ink and all the paper for half the people in your office.

Case rested.

EDITOR’S NOTE – Andy Heller, an award-winning columnist, appears weekly in the Daily Press. He graduated from Escanaba Area High School in 1979. Write to Andrew Heller at or follow him on Facebook and Twitter.