This Thanksgiving, Thank Your Teachers

Writer Hailey Gates discusses the role of teachers in her life.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always loved school. 

It’s one of the reasons I feel so lucky now, to be studying at an institution surrounded by other lovers of learning. But I’m only capable of truly appreciating this education because of my elementary and high school teachers. 

They were the first references on my job applications, read my college essays and sponsored my ambitious endeavors. They were the people who encouraged me to write. 

However, notoriously low salaries combined with ongoing struggle in the years following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and a vast increase in school shootings have made being a K-12 teacher in America a profession of seemingly unending tribulation. 

It’s for all these reasons, and for the commitment teachers have to their students despite a recurring lack of public support, that they are who should be thanked this Thanksgiving. 

Despite these ever present struggles, my teachers were always motivated to share their wisdom and dedicated to ensuring student success. I didn’t realize until after I graduated high school and came to a university how much weight they were pulling — how little they truly had to work with. 

Growing up in Gilbert, Arizona as the child of two former public school teachers, I went to public school all my life. Although I am proud of all I accomplished there, after moving to Chicago I realized how limiting certain aspects of my education were and how much my teachers did to supplement statewide shortcomings. 

Arizona is ranked second-to-last in the country for overall public education funding per pupil — topping only Idaho — and is last place for funding derived from only the state level, according to the United States Census Bureau and U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis,  

I went to a public high school in a relatively wealthy suburb of Phoenix, in a district which pays its teachers a median salary slightly above the state average of $58,000 per year. Still, the limitations of my education presented themselves upon moving to Illinois — which has the 7th highest average of public education funding per pupil in the country, according to the United States Census Bureau and U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.

My school didn’t have the capacity for certain Advanced Placement classes or extracurriculars that my friends from states with higher education funding did. It was solely due to the innovations of my teachers that I graduated with any extracurricular experiences, such as my involvement in the National Honor Society and Best Buddies

Despite the particular financial struggles of public education in Arizona, teacher pay and education funding are issues nationwide. America dedicates 12.7% of its public funding towards education, which falls short of the United Nation’s Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s 15.0% recommendation, According to the United States Census Bureau. 

This lack of support is further indicated by the various teacher’s strikes which have occurred across the country. Noted among these are Chicago Public School’s 11-day walkout in 2019 — the longest educator’s strike in decades — and the Portland Association of Teachers’ which began Nov. 1, according to The New York Times

Arizona’s teachers also participated in a Red for Ed statewide walkout in 2018, which garnered unprecedented success despite the fact that majority of the protestor’s demands — such as a 20% pay increase — still haven’t been met. 

Being a lifelong public school student and the daughter of public educators, I know I’m biased towards teachers — but it’s a bias derived from hands-on experience. 

I’ve seen my dad travel around the country trying to convince people to teach in a chronically under-funded state. I’ve watched teachers who teach students with developmental disabilities trudge through wood chips because the school can’t afford to build a long enough ramp. 

I’ve seen math teachers teach, provide after school tutoring, sponsor multiple clubs, get an online master’s degree and raise a family all at the same time. I’ve had performing arts teachers pay for production materials out of pocket while splitting their days between two different schools because the district couldn’t afford to hire more than one fine arts teacher. 

The most baffling part of all this is they love what they do. Even when demands aren’t met and materials can’t be provided, educators persevere for the success of their students. 

This article isn’t meant to demand legislation or endlessly degrade my home state. It’s simply meant to bring awareness to a nationwide issue which is close to my heart and happening in my backyard. It’s meant to prompt people to think critically about the nature and import of their education, and to emphasize the sacrifices teachers make for the success of their students.

If anything, I hope this sheds light off of the bureaucracy of education and onto the grassroots of where educating happens. I hope the information above — both objective and empirical — reminds readers to remember their teachers this Thanksgiving and realize that, without their dedication, they wouldn’t be where they are today. I can say for sure I wouldn’t be. 
Feature image by Eliza Thomas / The Phoenix

Hailey Gates

Hailey Gates