In 1968, the Supreme Court ordered states to dismantle segregated school systems, which forced institutions to consider integrating their staff and extracurricular activities to accommodate an influx of a more diverse student body. One of those called upon to help in this effort was Olyvia Green, a native of Magnolia, Arkansas, who had recently relocated to Austin after her husband’s death.
Shortly after arriving in Austin, a staff member of the Austin Independent School District recommended Green apply for a substitute teaching position at Pease Elementary School. Green initially hesitated and declined multiple offers to teach at Pease Elementary, fearing the adversity and abuse she would inevitably face being the first and only Black teacher at the school.
After much persuasion and consideration, she eventually accepted the job and taught for 26 years, from 1969 to 1995, persevering through racial provocations and mistreatment, all while educating generations of Texas families.
As a result of her compassion for her kids and her peers, she became known as the “hugging teacher” because she always made sure that everyone who did not get a hug that day received one.
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Today, teachers are still embracing their responsibility of grooming the next generation of leaders. Green’s compassion and commitment to her students reminded me so much of my wife, who is also a great educator, in my biased opinion. Like Green, she and hundreds of thousands of teachers across the state make immeasurable sacrifices for the health, safety, and well-being of our children.
Yet they are often underpaid and undersupported, sometimes forced to work two jobs to make ends meet.
According to the most recent data from the National Education Association, Texas ranks 28th in average teacher salaries. Notably, the average teacher salary in Bexar County is roughly $58,052 for the 2019-20 school year. Currently, the United States is projected to lose 1.9 million jobs in the education sector based on data from proposed coronavirus relief legislation being considered by Congress.
“What isn’t captured in labor statistics or the service narrative we so often associate with teaching is the countless hours professional educators spend learning, training, researching, analyzing, and yes, stressing how they can be better and do better by and for their students,” stated Julia Grizzard, executive director of the Bexar County Education Coalition, a new advocacy group that includes 19 local superintendents.
“The professionalism educators must possess to do their job is on par with medical professionals, and teachers care for our most precious patients. The work is constant, always shifting, life-changing, and essential to the betterment of our entire community.”
With this in mind, there’s a contrasting opinion that the average public school teacher already receives total compensation plus retirement benefits that vastly exceed those of accountants, paralegals, and midlevel managers. Although I understand and respect this viewpoint, I would pose this question: What job description is more critical and delicate than guiding and nurturing the mind of a child? I’ll wait.
Our teachers make daily commitments and sacrifices, often with money from their own pockets and resources from their own cupboards, to ensure that students’ basic needs are met. Those commitments and sacrifices were never more evident than when millions of parents became full-time educators overnight when the coronavirus pandemic caused the closure of school campuses in March.
As for my family, I became responsible for teaching math, art, and recreational activities. I did not realize how much energy it took to keep kids entertained and engaged throughout the day. I immediately recognized the enormous task and responsibility our teachers have in educating my child and everyone else’s in the classroom every day.
We have learned that teachers are doing more than just teaching. They are substitute parents and miracle workers, a friend to laugh with and a shoulder to cry on, and a calm voice of reason that says everything will be OK after an accident – all before the morning bell rings.
Teachers provide the power of education to today’s youth for a better future. As we prepare for the uncertainties the new school year will bring, I felt it was appropriate and timely to write about the best among us – those whose life’s mission is to educate and nurture the next generations of leaders, the wipers of noses, and the igniters of imaginations. Those who go above and beyond to ensure every child has the tools needed to tackle the ever-changing challenges of the world.
Our teachers are the best among us, and as Olyvia Green did with her daily hugs, our leadership should do with livable wages for our teachers. Each one who is not receiving one should be given one.