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What do Teachers Want? More Pay, More Voice

Educators from a Teacher Appreciation Week Facebook Live panel say they need more respect, more pay, and more power in decision-making.
teacher appreciation week
Published: May 4, 2022

Key Takeaways

  1. PTA panel, moderated by Abbott Elementary star Lisa Ann Walter, celebrated Teacher Appreciation Week.
  2. Teacher panelists agreed that they need to address staff shortages with higher pay, more mental health support for student and educator wellbeing, and a seat at the table to make critical school policy decisions.
  3. Secretary of Education Cardona tells teachers, "This is your year."

To honor teachers for Teacher Appreciation Week, the National PTA hosted a Facebook Live panel discussion to ask what they need to feel valued and appreciated and to handle the enormous pressures that have been heaped on the profession.  NEA President Becky Pringle and Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona joined the discussion, which was moderated by Lisa Ann Walter, the actress and comedian who plays second grade teacher Melissa on the hit ABC sitcom Abbott Elementary.

Walter, the daughter of a public school teacher, said she is always gratified to hear from teachers who say Abbott Elementary makes them feel seen and understood. She said one of her lines in the pilot really resonated. "It’s a calling," she says to first year teacher Janine Teagues (played by Quinta Brunson). "You answered.’”

It was a particularly poignant line, Walter said, because she realizes that it’s not always great news that teaching is a calling because the profession is getting harder and harder, especially coming out of the pandemic.

“My respect for you has grown exponentially over the years...And what I wish for you is better,” she said. “Better pay, better resources, and better decisions by policymakers.”

Panel of Teachers Calls for Better Pay, More Mental Health Resources, and Respect 

She then kicked off the panel discussion with Kevin Adams, a Colorado middle and high school social studies teacher and cohost of the Too Dope Teachers with a Mic podcast, Teresita de la Torre, a New Mexico elementary school bilingual speech pathologist, and Samantha Twohig, a West Virginia middle school special education teacher who works with students on the autism spectrum.

First she asked about instruction regarding race and racism – hotly debated topics in education right now – and what the educators wished would be discussed more.

“Definitely, there are racial issues. We’re looking at how we work through having complex, courageous conversations for students who might not be good at this stuff, and how to help them process messages they get from home and the media,” said Adams. “But one thing I’d like to spotlight is the social and emotional needs of our students… I’ve never seen so many emotional breakdowns, across multiple grade levels. It has to be made clear that our kids are suffering… that our social emotional and mental health coming out of this pandemic is a critical need.”

Job satisfaction levels appear to be at an all-time low, and there is a growing perception among teachers that their work is not understood or appreciated. Walter asked Twohig what that looks like in her state.

As a new teacher who has never taught outside this pandemic, it’s been interesting to say the least,” Twohig said.  “One of our biggest issues is lack of support. It’s hard to do your job when you have different parties coming at you from every direction with different inputs…and thinking they can do your job better than you can.”

In her last question to the three educators, Walter asked what support they need the most from parents, students, administrators and lawmakers to stay in the profession. 

"Fully fund education. Funding is critical. If we care about something we put money into it,” Adams said. “You can show me you appreciate me by treating me with professional respect and understanding that I really am good at what I do…And the last thing, show me with that paycheck.”

“You can show me you appreciate me by treating me with professional respect and understanding that I really am good at what I do…And the last thing, show me with that paycheck.”

De la Torre agreed with Adams and said the compensation is looking much better in New Mexico after the salary increase they recently negotiated, but they want to be sure it doesn’t mean more work when teachers are already stretched to the breaking point.

“We want the compensation to be equitable for the work we’re already doing ,” she said.

Walter then turned the conversation over to NEA President Pringle, PTA President King and Secretary Cardona.

She first asked Pringle about solutions to attract and retain a quality workforce in our public schools.

“We must focus on pay to attract and keep quality educators in the profession,” Pringle said, emphasizing the importance of collective bargaining and labor-management collaboration. Strong collaboration leads to success, she said, pointing to Mississippi and New Mexico, which recently passed legislation authorizing historic pay increases for educators.   

Walter then asked PTA President King what ways parents and teachers should work together.

“We are in this together,” she said. “As parents, we must share information with our teachers. Not just contact information, but how are they doing at home with stressors, are they having a good day or bad day... keep in touch often, and teachers please do the same with families… We want our teachers to be successful we want them to have the resources and funding they need. When we build those collaborations, our kids can be successful. We want to make every child’s potential become a reality. How do we do that? By working together.”

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Walter’s final question was to Secretary Cardona, asking what the Biden Administration is proposing to address the crisis facing the teaching profession and support the mental health of teachers. 

“It all starts with respect,” he said.

The Biden Administration is fighting for an increase in salary, highlighting where it’s being done well as well as pointing out where it’s not.

“What other profession requires a Masters degree and also a second job to make ends meet?” he asked. “Salary matters.”

Cardona also said they are working for more social and emotional support by funding more mental health positions, improving working conditions including more time in the day for collaboration, and amplifying educator voice so that teachers have a seat at the table before school policy decisions are made.

“We are elevating the profession with NEA and PTA and the teachers who have been bending over backwards for our students.” Cardona said. “This goes beyond Teacher Appreciation Week; this is Teacher Appreciation Year. This is your year, teachers!”

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The National Education Association (NEA), the nation's largest professional employee organization, is committed to advancing the cause of public education. NEA's 3 million members work at every level of education—from pre-school to university graduate programs. NEA has affiliate organizations in every state and in more than 14,000 communities across the United States.