Three Best Things About Teaching

August 18, 7:43 a.m: My shirt sticks to my back and I, like many others, hope for some rain to break the string of 90-degree days with high humidity.

As I walk the incredibly clean but stifling hallways of Northview High School, HVAC units shut down to save energy, I’m certain all who are following me pray our destination, the auditorium, is air-conditioned.

More than 200 high school administrators, counselors and teachers are here for a day-long seminar about the SAT. This on a day that screams LAKE MICHIGAN to anyone with the freedom to dictate their calendar.

Those outside of education probably believe this SAT Summit is an outlier, the rare summer conference important enough to draw educators off the beaches and out of their “up north” cottages and air-conditioned homes.  

Must be, because we all know the three best things about teaching are June, July and August, right? These months are precious in Michigan, as we typically boast some of the best summer weather in the nation.  

But they’re not the three best things about teaching. They represent the restoration and renewal season in the unique, circadian rhythm of education.

Are teachers glad to have a break from the classroom? No less than the students they teach. Do they get away for time for themselves and their family? I hope so. Does it extend all three months? Only for a very few.  

Most teachers use some or all of their summer to improve their skills in workshops, college classes or collaborative projects for their district or the entire region through curriculum development and other initiatives at Kent ISD.

By summer’s end, Kent ISD alone will have hosted more than a quarter of the region’s teachers in one or more of the 96 summer workshops and professional development sessions scheduled during the summer months. By mid August, some 1,700 teachers and administrative staff — including the more than 200 attending the SAT Summit — had attended a professional development program.

Teacher salaries and benefits have come under a great deal of scrutiny in recent years.  In conversations concerning compensation, critics cite the school calendar as consolation for relatively low wages. “They get the summer off,” is the common response to Michigan’s average starting teacher salary of $35,901. At just under $36,000 — a salary slightly higher than that paid by many West Michigan districts — entry-level teacher compensation doesn’t even make the list of average professional salary levels compiled annually by Michigan State University Collegiate Employment Research Institute. Phil Gardner, who heads the institute, finds the average starting professional salary at just over $39,000, with electrical engineers topping out at just over $57,000 and advertising, social work and psychology bringing up the rear with entry level salaries at or near $37,000.

For anyone concerned about our future — the children we’re educating in our schools — it is pretty clear our schools are not likely attracting the best and brightest young professionals to the classroom if their motivation is money.

Fortunately, for most who aspire to a career in education, it’s a calling, much like the ministry or the human service caring professions. For them, the three best things about teaching are interacting with children, changing lives through education and making a difference in their communities, one student at a time.

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