By Alison Derbenwick Miller
My kids went back to school recently, and our days leading up to that occasion were filled with the usual flurry of buying backpacks and school supplies, meeting teachers, and attending back-to-school events. Classrooms were freshly decorated, pencils were sharp and new, and everything was burnished with the shine of anticipation and expectation.
During a Q&A with my son’s teacher at this year’s back-to-school night, one parent raised her hand and said, “This is the third time we’ve had you for our family, and we feel so blessed. Every year, everything is exciting, everything is new, and your enthusiasm is as if you are teaching for the first time.”
Listening to her, it occurred to me that as parents, we do look for that fresh passion and enthusiasm in teachers. Even if they’ve been instructing the same class or grade for years, in any given year, that teacher is new to us. We seek that first-day excitement from them, hoping it reflects an engagement and appetite for learning that will become part of our children’s characters.
Oracle Academy Scholarship—for Teachers
In the course of my job at Oracle Academy, I had the pleasure of spending a good part of my summer in the company of some amazing, dedicated teachers who gave up their holidays—often unpaid and at their own expense—to bring computer science (CS) into their classrooms.
Watching them work, talking with them, and listening to them share with each other, I realized anew that too often we take teachers and the work the good ones do for granted. We assume teachers are re-energized after three months off. For many, not so. For many, their summer breaks were short or nonexistent. That first-day enthusiasm is rooted in real passion for teaching and requires work.
Two important things I learned this summer:
I learned these things because Oracle Academy launched a program this year to grant scholarships to first-time attendees of the annual Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) conference. Without question, the CSTA conference is one of the world’s best professional development opportunities for CS teachers and for teachers who want to start teaching CS. A particular favorite of Oracle Academy’s, the CSTA conference is three days of useful learning that can be taken directly to the classroom and administrators to provide increased support and access to CS education.
Oracle Academy initiated the scholarship program—which gives teachers $1,000 each to offset conference registration, travel, and hotel expenses—after being inspired by a conversation at last year’s CSTA conference with a teacher who had paid her own way, including using her personal frequent flyer miles for airfare.
CSTA administered the program and received more than 300 applications for only 20 scholarships. The gratitude we received from teachers and sometimes their administrators was humbling. One of this year’s scholarship recipients, a new CS instructor from Ohio, shared how her principal refused to fund any professional development for her until she won an Oracle Academy scholarship.
“Without you, there is no way I would be here,” she told me. “This opportunity changed everything for me.”
Wage Gap for Teachers Gets Deeper
The fact that $1,000 was such a profound gift has haunted me. It became clear to me why these scholarships are so appreciated when an article about the growing teacher wage gap in the US recently hit my Twitter feed. According to the study, conducted by the Economic Policy Institute, female teachers in 1960 received a pay premium of 14.7%—in other words, they earned 14.7% more than women in other comparable positions. Compare that to an average pay deficit for teachers across genders of -17% today (that’s minus 17%), deeper than the -2% gap in effect as recently as the early 1990s.
According to the article, the average teacher’s weekly pay decreased by $30 (adjusted for inflation) between 1996 and 2015, and experienced teachers have suffered greater pay deterioration than new teachers.
On occasion, my sister and I have wondered why people from our father’s generation seem to know how to do everything—from rewiring circuits to racing sailboats to playing musical instruments to naming constellations and the stars in them. Well, maybe, just maybe, it’s because that generation went to school during an era when, as a nation, we placed far more value on, and invested much more in, public education.
It’s not National Teacher Appreciation Week in the United States—that officially happens in May, when all the shiny newness has tarnished more than a bit and everyone needs extra love and support. But as our nation’s kids head back to school this month, take a moment to stop and thank a teacher anyway. I guarantee he or she will appreciate it.
Alison Derbenwick Miller is vice president of Oracle Academy.