Michigan teachers are excited about her perspective “in the trenches” as an educator—one who will advocate for them from White House.
MICHIGAN—President-elect Joe Biden’s victory has been hailed by Michiganders around the state, and so have it’s consequences for the various executive agencies of the government. Teachers were happy to say goodbye to outgoing Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, and were equally happy to say hello to incoming first lady Dr. Jill Biden.
Dr. Biden is an educator herself and plans to continue actively teaching during the presidential administration of her husband. Jean Smythe teaches in Lenawee County and she sees an ally and champion in Dr. Biden.
“Really, you can’t know what a teacher has to do unless you are a teacher or have taught,” Smythe told The ‘Gander. “She actually is going to know what she’s talking about.”
For her, Dr. Biden is someone who understands what being a teacher is actually like. Teaching for 18 years, Smythe has experienced a lot of challenges she doesn’t think most people understand, from aggressive and unreceptive parents to laws that place expectations on student performance but fail to give teachers the resources to improve that performance.
Ultimately, she said, people think they know what teaching is like because they remember being a student, and that gives them a very skewed picture of what teaching actually is. People don’t know the frustration, or instance, of having to deal with parents who readily go on the attack at the slightest hint of their child needing help.
“I don’t think parents understand,” said Smythe. “Even though parents are home with my virtual students right now and they are working to help get their kids through the lessons, I see a lot of people complaining on social media that ‘oh my gosh, I can’t believe I have to do all this stuff to help my kid.’ That’s what teachers are doing, every day, for between 30 to 170 students.”
Smythe’s husband, who is also an educator, calls the kind of aggressive response teachers get from parents “teacher pinata.” The same sentiment was expressed by St. Clair County teacher Kim Eberhard, who described those types of parents as the worst part of her job.
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“I will always love working with young people. They are the future. They give me hope. They have hope and dreams. They are alive,” Eberhard said. “What brings me down is the lack of care for what I value. People want everything for nothing. Education has not been properly funded for decades, yet people piss and moan when schools are unable to provide for their children.”
That, she says, is where Dr. Biden will be a blessing to teachers—she understands them.
Eberhard has been critical of the underfunding of education and similarly sees Dr. Biden as an important ally in recognizing the situation educators face.
“The fact that she is a teacher and has an advanced degree in education is a blessing,” said Eberhard. “She knows what it is to be in the trenches. She’s not an administrator. She’s not an outsider telling us how to do our job. She is one of us.”
That makes all the difference in a field that both Eberhard and Smythe say often is underappreciated and not fully understood by the public.
And Dr. Biden is shedding that light for the President of the United States, which is a powerful asset to teachers. Particularly, said Smythe, if she takes a role in helping guide policy.
Smythe, like Eberhard, wants to see an end to the decades of disinvestment in education. She also wants to see schools given the resources to accomplish the goals legislators have set for teachers. As she explained, it isn’t enough to say all third grade students must read, schools and communities need the resources to address issues like trauma or homelessness that serve as roadblocks to learning.
That’s where she hopes Dr. Biden comes in.
“I don’t know what kind of hand she will play in shaping those policies, I don’t know if people will let her,” Smythe said. “But I have hope that, like Eleanor Roosevelt, she will have input regardless of whether it’s in an official capacity … As long as she stays in it, she’s going to have some kind of context.”