When we are asked about the importance of a child’s development, most anyone will say that next to teaching kids about ethics, honesty, and responsibility, teaching them the Three R’s is tops.

Over the years, however, America has largely given lip service to quality education: We complain about spoiled, overpaid athletes but still attend games and buy team merchandise. We say we value the work that teachers are doing but can’t seem to find an hour each month to attend a PTA meeting. Parent-teacher conferences are a chore and a nuisance.

We say we support teachers and quality education but nearly everyone who doesn’t have a kid in K-12 has no clue about what is going on in the classroom. Those that do have kids in school are only marginally more informed.

There are exceptions, of course, but they are few and far between.

We are hypocrites.

Up in Los Angeles, teachers are preparing to strike. The media is positioning their fight as one over money issues – salary, the cost of health care, pension contributions, etc., but they fail to see what is really causing teachers to move far outside their comfort zone and do something so drastic.

The real issue in Los Angeles, as it is here in Newport-Mesa and as it is all across the country is one of respect.

Teachers see lip service being paid to the advancement of smaller class size. They see administrative salaries increasing with no accountability and no benchmarking to accurately determine whether these bureaucrats are doing any meaningful work. They see purposeful and deliberate manipulations of their contract negotiations in order to water down the effectiveness of a union.

And they see us supporting those skyrocketing professional athlete and entertainment salaries while we wonder why America’s educational status is declining.

Teachers are not asking Americans to stop going to Rams, Lakers, or Angels games, or to stop going to the movies. They only want us to try to prioritize our values so that what we do equals what we say.

Teachers want us to understand that they know that the profession will not make them wealthy. They know that if they stick around for awhile, they can have a nice life, but for an increasing number, that carrot is too far out on the stick: According to the California Teachers Assn., almost 20 percent of new teachers quit the profession in the first three years.

In the U.S., teachers are leaving the profession twice as fast as teachers in other countries, including highly-coveted teaching environments such as Finland and Canada. One of the top reasons they are leaving is due to the failure of principals to support them. That’s not me talking, that is the result of a recent report from the Learning Policy Institute.

Respect is local. It starts with a principal who conveys to teachers the message that he or she has their backs. Too many teachers in the N-MUSD cannot say that about their principals.

The local approach includes parents, who need to provide more support, both in and out of the classroom. My late wife and I had issues with teacher conduct from time to time – very few, and only one that was so outrageous that we had solid grounds for a lawsuit, which we did not file. But we never – never, never, never – disparaged a teacher or the schools in front of our kids. To do so would undermine their authority and credibility. To do so would show a lack of respect.

Respect is a simple concept, yet it is being ignored by school districts across the country. The lack of respect for teachers and the teaching process has led to the LAUSD strike next month.

School districts are only too happy to allow the media to advance the ancient conservative message that the big, bad, unions are to blame for every budget shortfall in existence today, but fail to mention that no union can award its members a higher pay scale, a larger pension, or better healthcare. That final decision is made by administrators and politicians.

If those decisions are wrong, blame weak leadership, not the teachers are struggling to justify staying in their profession despite their longer hours, worsening working conditions (remember this year’s summer heat fiasco?), increased performance pressure, and most of all, embarrassingly low community support.

Oh, and here’s another thing about teacher respect: It’s free.

Steve Smith