#LATeacherVoice / / Cameron Beckham: “Which Family First?”

 

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Cameron Beckham is completing his 8th year as a History and STEM educator in Bossier Schools, and is a 2018-2019 Stand for Children LEAD Fellow.

“Am I letting anything fall through the cracks?” I find this question in my mind on what must be an hourly basis. Rapidly approaching the ten-year mark in education, I still wonder if I have more to give or more that I can do to make a difference. Is there a student I can reach out to that could use more of my help? Is there a way I could improve the delivery or content of a lesson I just gave? These questions are not unique to me. Speak to any “family” of teachers within a given school and you will hear similar sentiments.

 

The problem that so many teachers in public education face is this: the answer is always yes. There is always a way to handle a situation differently, teach a lesson more coherently so that it is comprehended and more accessible to more students, or be the light in a student’s darkest times. A career in education is profoundly satisfying on an emotional and intellectual level; professionally, I will never have moments that make me as happy as I have been teaching, mentoring, or coaching. Whether these moments take the form of socratic seminars about economic policies in high school civics or winning an autonomous robotics competition in a middle school STEM class, they are all indelibly etched in my memory. I have been called “Dad” by more students than I will ever be able to count, and for good reason. For a decent number of them, I am one of their closest family members.

Personally, I will always be dissatisfied if I feel like I have not performed a task to my full potential. This is a conflicting emotion given that, as I mentioned, there is always something that could be improved or streamlined. It often leads me to feel that I have let students or peers down by not investing 100% into every task I perform, even if the improvements to be made are only obvious in hindsight.

“The next time that comes up, I’m not leaving anything on the table.”

Where do I draw the line in this thought process, though? While my career in education has provided me with so many professional moments of joy, it has provided me a fair bit of personal anguish. I am a father to three children and husband to a wife that reassured me I would do well in this career. Over the years, I have missed those little moments that make up childhood because of my commitments to my students; I have delayed family outings and, unfortunately, let my own family fall through the cracks so someone else’s children would not. I don’t admit this with any ease; I would, in fact, tell you that it creates a unique conflict internally for me – pride in my career against dedication to my family.

Were I a lawyer at a top firm or a trauma surgeon, everything in the previous paragraph would be standard practice. Despite having a similar amount of education, including multiple fields of certification, graduate degrees, and hundreds of hours of specialized training, I bring home a fraction of the salary a similarly-dedicated professional would make to support a household. The income I do bring home is only acceptable because I spread myself so thinly; in addition to teaching in your standard middle or high school, I coach high school soccer, sponsor multiple clubs, and serve as an Adjunct Instructor for LSU Shreveport’s education program. Each of these additions to my standard responsibilities requires a unique time commitment that pulls me further from my family. High school athletics, for example, are essentially a year-round endeavor when scheduling, strength/conditioning, and fundraising are accounted for, and my work to prepare pre-service teachers at LSU Shreveport continues  throughout the summer months.

So, which family comes first? Why do I, as so many other teachers, have to make that choice at all? The number of educators investing more time and money into their professional growth is only increasing; there are more teachers with a Masters degree, Doctoral degree, or other specialized training than any other time in recent memory. Most importantly, this is all out of a desire to do right by their students. Unfortunately, the standard pay scale for teachers, even in the most generous districts, does not reflect the work put in by the professional or the proven value that good teachers and schools bring to their communities.

Bossier Parish will soon have a chance to lead by example on this issue and show just how much we value our teachers. On May 4th, citizens have the chance to raise educator and support staff pay to levels that match not only the surrounding school districts, but also the performance they have come to value and expect from educational hubs around our parish. This is Bossier Parish’s moment to show other districts and states that are struggling over this issue how to truly value educators and the work they do in society. 

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