Saturday, as we discussed a number of topics facing the city of Jackson, the writer and a friend reached the conclusion that a large part of the problem underlying crime stems from how law enforcement officials are compensated. From that, they shifted areas of discussion and concluded that a large part of the problem underlying the state of public education also stems from how teachers are compensated. Thirdly, they agreed that both teachers and law enforcement officers were held in higher esteemed or at least were more highly respected 50 years ago than they are today. It turns out that the levels of their salaries reflected the same.
It is amazing that the expectations for teachers have not changed. They are still expected to provide an intellectual foundation for practitioners of every occupation; they are expected to help students develop into strong, loyal citizens. At graduation ceremonies, among other places, one can frequently hear speakers talk about how important teachers are in caring for and molding the country’s most precious resources – the students.
In a similar manner, communities demand that the academic requirements for the preparation of teachers be increased. Mind you, they are generally already above those of most other professionals.
Despite these plaudits regarding the importance of teachers and the stringent requirements for entering the profession, there are almost always hard-fought struggles with state legislators when it comes time to deal with appropriations for public education, most especially with salaries for teachers.
To the public, it is clear that teachers are underpaid compared to the roles that they are expected to play and the amount and type of training demanded. Over a period of time, this begrudging treatment of teachers’ pay drives many very academically capable students from the field, either in the recruitment process or after they have taught for a while. This is not to suggest that the crop of teachers at any particular time period is less capable. There are thousands of quite capable and committed teachers who make the sacrifices yearly because of their love for teaching. It is to suggest that their ranks could be greatly enhanced with others if state legislators were not so stingy when it comes to these public servants.
There can be no sincere debate – most states can easily afford to do better; it is a matter of priorities. Unfortunately, as long as the current attitude and actions prevail, American education will continue to decline. We should be trying to assure that American students are equipped to be capable leaders when it comes to understanding and making decisions about not just their daily work, but the society as a whole. For that, they need more of the best teachers.
As in the case of teachers, law enforcement officers are expected to protect the citizens, to serve them before there are crimes as well as during the crises of crimes. Also, like teachers, they are praised as heroes when things go right. Yet, they, too, are generally paid very miserly salaries, even lower than teachers.
Like teachers, law enforcement officers are given rigorous training. They are essential public servants as well.
Even more than teachers, law enforcement officers around the country are being scrutinized and their departments are expected to undergo critical reforms. This is certainly in order since there have been numerous examples of abuse and misconduct in many communities.
At the same time, there should be upgrades in salaries in order to attract individuals who are more likely to be more professional, more caring, and more community-minded. Just as in the case of teachers, many capable individuals avoid serious consideration of law-enforcement as a chosen profession because of their low pay and the subsequent low prestige of the positions.
Obviously, without effective law enforcement officers, a community will continue to decline. People will move, businesses will flee or not locate in the first place, and the lives of skilled as well as unskilled people will be lost.
The writer realizes that what is herein is not new; thousands already know the facts. Until state legislators and city and county executives act, however, crime will continue to rise and public schools will continue to struggle. The public has to apply the pressure, causing them to act positively. Otherwise, people should not continue to quizzically look at one another asking, “What is wrong with our society.”