04/20/2012 03:40 pm ET | Updated Jun 20, 2012

Earning RESPECT for Education

by Trey Ferguson

Last week I prefaced my adventure to Washington, D.C. by discussing the importance of education and explaining that the mission of this trip was to talk with members of the Department of Education on the prospective RESPECT program. At the end of our discussion, we were asked to describe the experience in one word, reflecting back on the discussion and my first exploration of our nation's capital. I could only think of one word to capture my emotions: empowered.

The RESPECT program is an initiative crafted by the U.S. Department of Education. It outlines the challenges our educational system and the federal government's vision for how to radically transform it.

When I introduce myself as a proud education major, people's instant reactions are either a roll of the eyes or "Bless your heart," which every Southerner knows translates to "You're an idiot." From these encounters with ignorance and countless conversations with current and retired educators, it's not hard to see teaching is barely seen as the distinguished profession it truly is. The driving goal of the RESPECT program is to alter this kind of thinking toward the teaching profession.

RESPECT provides states with block grants to improve education. Our discussion's goal was to dissect this document and explain how we would change it. The beauty of this was the representatives from the RESPECT team were more than willing to accept our suggestions and take note of them for further improvements to the document.

While the program itself is an ideal that will only come to fruition if the current administration remains through this election year, its intentions are good. The real issue for us is how our state government will choose to enforce these ideals. The style of the meeting was the true accomplishment.

A federal department is actually reaching out to the people their programs are going to affect -- what a novel idea. By doing this, the Department of Education is getting invaluable feedback from those involved in the future implementation of the plan.

However, this is only the education side of the issue. Those who aren't educators must realize the demands of the average teacher and how it feels to be viewed so negatively. I am not going to go into the typical argument about the extra hours of grading and preparing lesson plans, which is only met with "give fewer assignments."

Imagine now you're at your job in 10 years. You're no longer an unpaid intern, but a team leader of a major project for one of your company's largest clients. But when you're trying to tell others about this project you've worked so hard on, they shrug it off as if they could have done it in half a day's work. How does this make you feel?

Now, put yourself in my future shoes. At the rate we're going I will go through the same scenarios with your future children only to be viewed by society as a glorified babysitter. I will respect your position, if you respect mine; respect is one of the most valuable lessons your kindergarten teacher should've taught you.

I encourage all of you to think twice before you judge a teacher, or anyone else for that matter, solely based on their pay grade. By respecting one another in our professions, we may all experience what it is like to feel empowered.