As we are coming upon the Memorial Day holiday, the proverbial beginning of the summer vacation season, it is best to remember the service of others. Monday, itself, is reserved for military men and women who paid the ultimate price to defend our great nation.

But our nation is strong due to the service of others who deserve recognition now: teachers. Those who work in the classrooms educating this nation’s children have been the unsung heroes of many a generation. For whatever reason — say value forgotten or not recognized — teacher pay has never been commensurate with the private sector or even with occupations in the public sector requiring the same education and level of experience. Private school teachers, in many instances, are paid even less. It’s a travesty and remains a vast and embarrassing blemish on the face of the public.

Sure, teachers get summers off every year, two weeks off at Christmas and another week in the spring, and most of the three-day weekends the government allows. Where else can you find a job with that much time off, right? Wrong. Teachers work around the clock when school is in session grading papers, preparing lesson plans, studying strategies for improving the lives and education of their students. They even spend numerous hours just working in their classrooms to keep information on bulletin boards and displays fresh and engaging for the children in their classes. It is nothing for a teacher to spend 12-16 hours a day working during the 180-day school year. I know, I am married to a retired teacher.

Now here’s something I learned from a teacher to help make my point: basic math. Let’s take an average of 14 hours per day for teachers and multiply it by the 180 work days on a school calendar. This comes to 2,520 hours worked each year, which includes all the time off I noted. A typical non-education job where a person spends say nine hours on average at work each day, five days a week or 260 days a year comes to 2,340 hours. But wait, there’s more. We have to subtract two weeks vacation (80 hours) and six days of recognized holiday (48 hours) and the total for the non-education job comes to 2,212 hours at work per year. That’s a little more than 300 extra hours each year that teachers work over the non-education employee, even with all that time off. And they likely do it for much less pay.

Then there is the social aspect of being an educator. Teachers help students through personal problems at school, acting as counselors at times helping children to overcome some of the anxieties associated with growing up. Teachers meet with parents, after class hours, to listen to and advise them on how well their kids are doing in class: the highs and the lows that make up their sons’ and daughters’ educational experiences.

Depending on the season, they show up at work before dawn and leave after dusk. They spend many of their lunches monitoring kids. Their mornings and afternoons are spent on bus duty greeting students and sending them home at the end of the day. They work after hours at concerts, dances and other extracurricular events. Many teachers who also coach a sport receive a stipend but it doesn’t come close to covering the time and commitment teachers give to their players/students.

Finally, teachers make a rather substantial financial contribution to their students. Sundry items the schools will not provide, and parents can’t, come right from the teacher: notebooks, paper, pencils, crayons, markers, heck — even Kleenex. We discussed the low pay teachers face. They certainly don’t have deep enough pockets to afford these extras. But they pay for them anyway. It’s all part of their commitment.

At the top of this piece, I called teachers unsung heroes. They are, believe me. And it is time to let them know how appreciated they are. We thank the military and first responders for their service, and such appreciation is warranted. But it is the responsibility of us all to extend our thanks to teachers as well. Whenever you meet up with teachers, thank them for their service. Sing out for these unsung heroes with praise for their generations of service past, present and future they have given and continue to give to this nation. Thank you, teachers. 

Duke Conover is editor of the Goldsboro News-Argus. Email Duke at dconover@newsargus.com or call 919-739-7840.