I'm a runner, and before every race I write students' names on my jersey. "It's so I can take them with me," I tell them. "Because you keep me going."
As I attended President Obama's State of the Union address Tuesday night, I was not alone. I represented all of the teachers and support staff from across the country who are struggling with too few resources and too little support. This invitation was an honor, but my dedication to education is not exceptional or unique. Because, for all teachers, it is our students that keep us going.
That commitment to quality public schools is even more important during these tough and uncertain economic times. My school district, Chester Upland School District in Pennsylvania, has long had financial troubles. More than 70 percent of our students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches. That's more than double the state average. Now, the district is in outright financial crisis.
The situation is so bad that in early January we were told that there wouldn't be enough money to pay us. We were all incredibly anxious and upset. I'm a third generation teacher, and to be told I might not be able to continue teaching my students was horrifying. We all have families to take care of, mortgages and bills to pay.
But our union leaders brought us together, and 204 teachers and 64 support staff decided unequivocally to keep working as long we were able to make ends meet. Our students had no contingency plan. They needed to be educated, so we intended to be on the job.
On Monday, Pennsylvania lawmakers announced an agreement with the governor that will make sure we will continue to receive our paychecks. However, for our school district and many others, the problem is far from solved.
Public schools and teachers need the basic resources necessary to effectively do their jobs. Our students deserve the best this country has to offer, and we all have a shared responsibility to make sure they receive it. However, too many politicians are balancing the budgets on the backs of students.
President Obama recognizes that addressing the crisis of education funding goes hand-in-hand with addressing the jobs crisis. We must provide high quality education equitably, to all students, if we are to fulfill our promise to their futures. We need more politicians to realize that quality public education is the way to economic recovery. Now more than ever we need to put the political bickering aside for the sake of our students and the nation.
My school district could be any school district. It could be yours. It is hard to acknowledge that unsettling reality without feeling pessimistic.
But I hope the response of my community can serve as an example. Parents and community members held candlelight vigils and rallied around our schools. Every day, teachers and support staff came to work prepared to teach. Every day, the students came ready to learn.
Addressing the problems facing our public schools will take hard work from all of us --- lawmakers, parents, and teachers. And we owe it to our students to keep going.