Can't Blame the Teachers for Getting Us Into This Mess

04/01/2015 12:54 pm ET | Updated Jun 01, 2015

In today's America, why would anyone ever want to become a teacher? The budgets for our classrooms dwindle each year, and teachers continue to take money out of their own pockets to provide their students with supplies. The schools are getting older, and fewer new schools are being built annually. Based on the school shootings over the last few years, teachers must now worry every day about the security of students and themselves. All of this seems to eclipse why teachers wanted to teach in the first place.

In spite of the pressure on teachers, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics, public schools employed 3.1 million teachers this year. There were 284,000 new teachers joining public schools (compared with 222,000 a decade ago). Thankfully, the spirit to teach has not been lost on our newest college graduates. Why teachers choose to teach can be a very personal decision, but common themes include giving back, being a caring adult in a child's life, proving one person can make the difference and inspiring students.

This year, 49.8 million students attended public elementary and secondary schools. There are 13,600 public school districts, with 98,300 schools between them. We will spend $619 billion on our schools, which works out to $12,281 per student. And this school year, 3 million students will graduate from public schools.

It does pay to stay in school. Today's working adults aged 25 to 34 with a bachelor's degree earn $46,900, while those with an associate degree earn $35,700. High school graduates earn $30,000, and the median is $22,900 for those without a high school diploma.

The fact that the United States is ranked the 14th best educational country in the world, according to Pearson, is a real wake-up call for all of us. South Korea is ranked first, followed by Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Finland, the United Kingdom and Canada. Pearson found that the top-ranked countries offer teachers higher status in society and have a culture emphasizing education. Society's attitude about education and its underlying moral purpose seems to be stronger in the top-rated countries. And to think that just three decades ago, the U.S. was ranked first in the world.

It continues to amaze me that people want to become teachers. New teachers make around $36,000 and can earn $58,000 after 20 years, so striking it rich does not seem to be a reason to pursue this career. There are so many stories about teachers helping others that remind us that there is spirit within these individuals that the rest of us don't posses.

ABC News had a story about Lindsey Painter, a first-grade teacher in New Braunfels, Texas, who is donating her kidney to one of her students. The Arizona Republic reported about a Phoenix fifth-grade teacher, Reid DeSpiegelaere, who helped the school's families when their rent was increased. Many of the families were immigrants from war-torn countries who could hardly pay their current rent and were very connected to the school, teachers and staff. DeSpiegelaere organized the effort to find the families other places to live in the district. "In modern education, especially in this area, we need consistency," DeSpiegelaere said.

Schools are the heartbeat of our community. And it isn't only teachers who mold our kids, as People magazine reports. Charles Clark is a janitor in Euless, Texas, and for 26 years has been mentoring poor and fatherless kids. Trinity High School's 2,400 students name Clark as the most influential person at their school, and he has hundreds of thank-you letters from students.

With what is going on in Congress, it is very unlikely that our schools will be receiving additional funding in the near future. Add to this the fact that teachers this year took an average of $513 out of their own pockets for classroom supplies, food for hungry kids in their classrooms, instructional materials and books for their students, and we have a no-win situation for students and teachers. It is up to concerned citizens and parents to make a difference and give teachers well-deserved help.

The National Teachers Assistance Organization gathers donations for professional assistance for teachers. At Donors Choose, public school teachers post classroom project requests, and you can donate to the project that most inspires you. At Start Donating, they match donors with teachers in need of supplies. And at DollarDays, on our Facebook page, we are giving away $5,000 worth of products to help teachers across this great country. Please nominate your favorite teacher for this giveaway!

It takes an entire village to bring quality education to the next generation. We have the teachers and the staff already in place. Painter shows us that teachers truly do care about their students. DeSpiegelaere reminds us that for a school to be successful, it must care about the neighborhood. And Clark teaches us that all of us, whether we are teachers or not, mold our community. As teachers finish this school year and start to prepare for the next, it is up to our legislatures, community leaders, parents and ordinary citizens to support our kids before it is too late.