Musings from the Museum: Our Guiding Lights Are Flickering Out

Another week of ours, another week in history.

This past week, we marveled at the resolve of school-shooting survivor David Hogg as he was harassed by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.). We students have collectively dared to fight for issues concerning our future, whether that be civil rights or climate change. Hogg himself founded March For Our Lives to advocate for gun reform at all levels of government. Our fervor has ignited countless movements targeting a plethora of challenges. A torch has been passed to us, the students. 

But it is our teachers who have and continue to mentor us as we learn to wield this torch. They help us make some of our generation’s most consequential decisions. They help us decide: do we use the torch’s flame to desecrate our people and our world, or do we use it to illuminate a new way forward? 

This week, we were in awe of the power of students. Yet, behind us students, countless underpaid and underappreciated teachers have poured every ounce of their passion into our success. But teacher appreciation often stops at charity — it is time to change that.

While we have often struggled to fully support our teachers, NASA’s Teacher in Space Project (TISP), now defunct, provides an example of what true emphasis and investment into teachers’ success can look like. 

This program was created with the goal of helping teachers like Christa McAuliffe create syllabi and lesson plans based on real-world applications. But sadly, this willingness to bolster our instructors’ resources and income has been piecemeal in the years since. For every McAuliffe, thousands of teachers have since been left scraping by. While McAuliffe’s death in the Challenger Space Shuttle explosion was an unforgettable loss, her sacrifice should not be in vain. She flew so her successors could soar.

This past week, on the 35th anniversary of the Challenger disaster, I found myself on a journey of gratitude — on a mission to recognize the spirit of McAuliffe. Bernie Sanders’s efforts to give back to educators via his mittens meme inspired me to give back to the most important educators in my life. 

From advisors to mentors, I spontaneously sent little gifts and sprinkled in some heartfelt notes, hoping to see a little joyous twinkle in their eyes. But one of the thank-you responses made me pause. It contained more than happiness. There, I saw some pain. 

He said that my little random act had momentarily helped distract him from the rampant “corruption among my so-called colleagues.” For many of his co-teachers, this job had merely become a way to pay the bills. The money preceded passion, and half-hearted lesson plans were the unfortunate result. 

This circumstance however, isn’t the fault of the individual, but rather a system. A system that takes the job of teaching for granted, undervaluing educators to a point of apathy towards their students. I felt defeated. I was just another person who equated charity to change. Bernie’s mittens meme-funded charity meals, and my small efforts to hit them in the feels can only go so far.

Our teachers deserve more than just an occasional token of appreciation. They deserve a system with innate respect for those training not only our generation, but also the many more that will follow us. Instead of counting on charity, let us focus on changing resource and income distribution so that teachers can maintain their empathy and be free from relying on others’ sympathy.

Art by Angela Liang for the UC San Diego Guardian