When we talk about the flaws in our education system, it’s easy to point fingers at the obvious targets: standardised tests, rigid curricula, and the relentless pressure placed on students and kids. 

But another group gets almost equally caught in the crossfire, often overlooked yet crucial to the whole endeavour—teachers. 

For all the shortcomings of the education system, we forget that educators sit on the front lines every day, striving to inspire and educate, but are sadly also victims of the very system they serve. This misdirected trepidation comes at a cost.

Imagine stepping into a classroom every morning, bursting with the desire to make a difference, only to be hampered by bureaucratic red tape and an overwhelming workload. Most teachers enter the profession with a passion for nurturing young minds. Still, that passion is often stifled by a system that values test scores over creativity and compliance over critical thinking. It’s enough to hamstring even the most optimistic educator. 

In discussing the nature of our schooling system, we need to recognise the enormous value teachers bring to the table. Not just as dispensers of knowledge but mentors, guides, and sometimes the only positive adult role models in a child’s life. The impact they provide, like any adult a child interacts with on such a frequent scale, should go without saying. It’s a thankless job wrought with so much emotional responsibility, aside from intellectual. In saying that, and acknowledging the issues of the mainstream schooling system, it’s easy to slip into the increasing reduction of their roles to simple cogs in a machine; measured (by extension) by the performance of their students on standardised tests rather than the quality of the relationships they build or the lives they impact.

Culturally, teachers are frequently seen through a skewed lens, often portrayed as either selfless martyrs or ineffective placeholders. This dichotomy fails to capture the complexity and dedication of the profession. In its current form, the system places enormous pressure on educators to conform to a one-size-fits-all teaching model: it demands that they produce quantifiable results, at the expense of genuine learning and intellectual curiosity. Of course, this pressure trickles down to the learners, to little surprise given how palpable this climate of stress and anxiety can be in an environment like this. We speak of how children are like sponges–forgetting that this doesn’t just mean words and information but how climate can, too, make an impression. This is why we speak with so much emphasis on the setting, culture, and environment of a learning space, going beyond what is directly expressed but felt

The issue of teacher compensation is one such glaring symptom of a broader cultural undervaluing of educators which sets them up for failure in some ways. Despite the role they play in shaping the children in their care, teachers are often paid far less than professionals in other fields with similar levels of education and responsibility. This financial strain forces many to take on second jobs or leave the profession altogether, further exacerbating teacher shortages and impacting the quality of education.

This would indeed speak to the tacit disrespect and lack of appreciation for teachers, compounding the problem, as they continue to be frequently underpaid, overworked, and underappreciated. Disregarding the well-being and professional expertise of teachers leads to burnout, high turnover rates, and ultimately, a less effective education system. This disrespect isn’t just harmful, it’s counterproductive–for all involved.

So as much critical analysis there is to be had toward the system, without acknowledging the plight of teachers, it is shortsighted. They aren’t the architects of the flawed policies that govern education; they are, in many ways, its casualties. They operate within constraints that limit their ability to innovate and adapt to the diverse needs of their students. By failing to support and respect them, we undermine the very foundation of our children’s education that we feel so strongly about. The bottom line is this: disrespecting teachers will get us nowhere. They are as much victims of the system as the students they teach. 

The narrative needs to shift: towards recognising educators as skilled professionals who deserve respect, adequate compensation, and the autonomy to do their jobs effectively. And not through empty flowers and words either, but tangibly. Or risk perpetuating a cycle of disengagement and dissatisfaction that ultimately harms students. We need to recognise their value and address the systemic issues that constrain them.

Start by giving them the autonomy to tailor their teaching to the unique needs of their students and recognise and reward their efforts while we’re at it, but not just in terms of student performance. Consider the countless ways they contribute to their communities and the holistic development of their students. We all know this, but haven’t quite closed the gap between intention and action in investing in our educators to then invest in our kids. This comes part and parcel in building a system that honours the humanity of both teachers and students–the parallels are closer than we realise. We at Imagine If know that learning is a shared journey, marked by mutual respect and trust, and a genuine passion for discovery made possible by the participation of quality educators who can be co-conspirators alongside their learners. 

Fair compensation, professional development opportunities, and a supportive work environment that prioritizes their well-being is, we daresay, the bare minimum. Cultural appreciation also means listening to their insights and involving them in the decision-making processes that affect their work. We should treat them as the allies we want them to be. We owe it to what we proclaim to be the future of our nation, communities, etc: the children.