Bonnie Brown: Mississippi Teachers Deserve More

I’ve been thinking about teachers recently given the debate about teacher salaries. I remember back to my teachers and am in awe of how much I learned from each of them, academically and otherwise.

My first-grade teacher, Mrs. Helen Wilson, was the finest woman. She was beautiful, charming, and enthusiastic about her job. She was a friend of the family, so I saw her outside of the classroom setting. I also had a serious crush on her son Jimmy that lasted through sophomore year in high school. My mother joked that Mrs. Wilson was horrified that I might walk in to find her smoking. She was very mindful about being a good role model.

My “junior high” teachers were three males and one female. Mr. Distel was my history teacher, later to become the principal of my high school. Mr. Webb was my math teacher and wore a bow tie, unusual for the time. Mr. Jackson taught me science in a way that I felt like I understood the workings of the universe. Mrs. Haynes taught English. She was a lovely woman, very elegant and very smart. She could discipline an entire classroom with one look.

I couldn’t tell you what their salaries might have been back then, but I’m pretty sure they were not adequately compensated. Although, honestly, their jobs consisted of teaching their subject, keeping order in and out of the classroom (not too demanding), and ensuring that we were ready for the next grade. Sure, there were challenges like trying to keep us from smoking, using bad language, and such. Bullying was not what it is today and we kids usually handled the bullies ourselves. My brother was bullied by a classmate and we invited him home to spend the night. Our plan was to beat the snot out of him, but our mother caught on to what we were about to do and made us be nice to him. That taught us a lesson, but at least after that, he didn’t bully my brother again.

Not a single time was there a concern that someone might come into our school to do us harm. No shootings, no drugs, no suicides. There was no school nurse so the teachers were the ones to administer aspirin or ice packs if you caught a fly ball in the kisser. The teachers didn’t have to be social workers, mediators, counselors, and surrogate parents.

Evidently, there is a teacher shortage approaching crisis level in our state. A problem that administrators are trying to solve with online education programs for students. While these online programs may provide academic lessons, they can hardly provide the feedback, one-on-one attention, advocacy, nurturing, and encouragement that a classroom teacher provides.

These days, teachers face many challenges. They spend lots of their own money making up for the lack of resources available to them for their students.

They worry about the students whose home life is fraught with all kinds of issues, including lack of food, particularly during school breaks and over weekends. They have to deal with bullying over social media which greatly impacts the students’ performance and behavior in school. Teachers have to deal with trying to engage parents, discipline, students’ attitudes, learning disabilities, cultural and language differences, grades, and teaching for the high-stakes tests.

Mississippi currently ranks among the lowest in average salary for teachers in the nation. The Senate just passed a bill giving teachers a $1,000 pay raise across two years. That’s $41.67 a month.

Most teachers will tell you they don’t enter the teaching profession for the money, but in my opinion, our teachers deserve more—much more. They deserve to earn a living without having to take on a second job. Just think back to your own experiences with your teachers. Don’t you want the same for your children?

They deserve our support, our encouragement, our gratitude, and recognition for the important job they do to educate our children.


Bonnie Brown is a retired staff member of the University of Mississippi. She most recently served as Mentoring Coordinator for the Ole Miss Women’s Council for Philanthropy.

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