Our public schools are nothing without our teachers

STATE AFFAIRS: Educators ought to be at the forefront of Berkeley voters’ minds come election season.

Illustration of teacher and students in classroom
Lily Callender/Staff

Thinking back to those rose-colored days of elementary school, most of us remember lots of free time to read, color and play with one another to our heart’s content, buoyed and supported by teachers who have honed their craft over years and years of leading a classroom.

But the idea of teaching no longer evokes these picturesque, colorful images for many educators. A sinking state budget has left many grade schools throughout California struggling to provide the bare-minimum education to their students. Desperate for federal funding, schools are pushing teachers to focus on preparing for and performing well on standardized tests rather than on providing a well-rounded, holistic education to students.

Not only are teachers paid far below what they deserve as a baseline, but they are also not compensated appropriately for the amount of experience that they have under their belt. Berkeley Unified School District teachers had to lament their inadequate pay again at a school district board meeting last week. Some teachers end up taking on additional roles at school to make ends meet or to earn credentials to teach more subjects than they can handle. In an effort to optimize education on a suffocatingly tight budget, we’re unfairly taking advantage of our teachers’ dedication to their craft.

This isn’t something to sweep under the rug or push off until a more fortuitous time. If teachers aren’t paid properly, school districts run the risk of losing teachers to more lucrative (and, therefore, more tempting) jobs. Teacher turnover rates increase, causing more inexperienced teachers to rotate through already struggling school districts. It takes time to build the skills necessary to effectively manage a classroom and successfully teach critical subjects, especially during a child’s formative years; taking experienced teachers out of the equation poses a huge detriment to student learning.

Of course, it’s not like this everywhere. Because the onus of supporting public schools mostly falls on local communities, different jurisdictions have the power to tangibly improve the quality of their schools. In 2016, the Roseville Joint Union High School District in Sacramento approved a $96 million bond issuance to upgrade core academic facilities. Within a 10-year period, the Fremont Union High School District in Cupertino passed three bond measures — all around $200 million in value — to build new classrooms and support a growing student body.

For Berkeley, renewing the bond and maintenance tax and passing a tax to fund teacher salaries is a great place to start. While it’s a pity that the state hasn’t yet prioritized grade school education, it’s on Berkeley voters to keep teachers in the district and let them do what they do best.

Public schools exist to ensure that everyone has access to education. Investing in our students means investing in our teachers — let’s do our part in eliminating the financial barriers that our teachers face and bring back the idea of a robust, rewarding education.

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the editorial board as written by the fall 2019 opinion editor, Revati Thatte.