I lead a dual life.
In the mornings, I work as a public school teacher in Oakland.
On evenings and weekends, I work as a pediatrician.
In many ways, the two careers are similar.
Both involve services that can have profound effects on our children.
Yet in some respects, the careers are unaccountably different.
As a pediatrician working at several academic and community medical centers, I spend much of my time following algorithms that anyone with the same seven years of medical school and pediatric residency can follow. Occasionally, I am privileged to be part of a team that saves the life of a newborn or infant. Families of my patients usually treat me with great respect and deference. They rarely “talk over me.” Often they leave saying, “Gracias doctora” or “Thank you, doctor.”
Medicine is hard and the training was grueling.However, I often have downtime during my work shifts. I can go to the bathroom when I need to. Sometimes I stay late an hour or two to finish notes, but generally not more than that. I am almost always paid in three digits an hour for my time.
As a teacher, teaching seventh-, 11th- and 12th-grade science and health at a public school in Oakland, I am responsible for the social, emotional, and academic development of nearly 100 students daily.
I am charged with attempting to close the “achievement gap” for students whose academic performance may be years below grade level. For every hour of class I teach, I spend three to four hours preparing, grading, and taking care of follow-up. I receive texts and emails morning and night from my students and their families. I stay late and uncompensated for meetings with my colleagues, meetings to support struggling students, and direct work with students. All too often I do not have the supplies I need for instruction, so I purchase them out of pocket.
What I do is no different, and often much less, than my teacher colleagues.
We doctors do save lives from time to time.
Yet we teachers are continuously shaping lives.
Teachers help young people discover their potential, imparting the skills for them to become successful in the workforce and in higher education. Teachers are laying the foundation for our young people to find the cures for the diseases that are killing us, to address climate change to preserve our well-being for years to come.
Teachers support the critical socio-emotional development of our young people, often serving as the first-line support for students struggling with mental health issues.
Teachers are just as likely to be making referrals to needed mental health resources as pediatricians.
Teachers play a critical role in the development of our young people as citizens. How critical may be debated by some, but the uncomfortable truth is that the number of jail cells needed by a community is well predicted by the number of young people in that community reading below a fourth-grade level.
Two overnight shifts at a San Francisco hospital will pay me the same as an entire month of my work as an Oakland public school teacher. How can it be 36 hours of respiratory checks, switching antibiotics, and attending newborn deliveries to make sure babies are breathing is the equivalent to about 200 hours of classroom planning and executing the instruction and supports that shape the future of our citizens and this country?
This is an almost scandalous misallocation of our societal resources.
America, we must wake up!
Our teachers are nation builders.
They hold keys to shaping the future of our workforce.
And our citizenry, our country, and ultimately our world.
Let’s recognize teachers’ crucial role by closing their compensation gap and according them the immense respect they deserve for performing this critical mission for us and our children.
Dr. Emily Frank is a pediatrician and public school teacher in the Bay Area who is passionate about health literacy, youth empowerment, and diversifying the health-care workforce. She teaches at Life Academy, an Oakland public school.
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