Tuesday, February 22, 2011

"Are you sick of higly-paid teachers?"

We've all seen this in one form or another, whether it be the current derivation (recently most frequently found here -- requires a facebook account to view), or some other form of the same argument through chain e-mails or other forms over the years.

It needs to stop.

It's whiny and pedantic. It's making a terrible argument as a joke to get people to think and talk -- and it is getting people thinking and talking. The problem is it's getting teachers and their friends saying things like "this is the boost I needed today," or "yeah, we are underpaid," somehow basing this off of the numbers presented in the note, and having those who really are sick of highly-paid teachers say things like this:

"If king for a day, I would eliminate “Education” degrees - one of the most irrelevant degrees today. I want a teacher with a major in a real subject matter (science, math, English, etc) and not a degree in “how to teach”. I've read articles that entrants into “education” colleges are in the lowest 25% percentile - so the kids are being taught by the lowest intelligent grads."

"If I were czar, I would require **all** teachers to take and pass Calculus I for engineers and science majors. They would sit in the same classes, shoulder to shoulder, with the geeks.
Do teachers need Calculus to teach? No, of course not, but it would assure that they had a high enough IQ to be entrusted with a classroom of children. It would help prevent having math phobics teaching classes and passing their bias on to their students. And...Maybe having taken and passed Calculus the teachers would reject the nutty methods that are being used today to teach math.
Also...I would require all teachers to take and pass, once every three years, the GED for high school drop outs. If they can’t pass the GED then they shouldn’t be anywhere near kids as a teacher.
It is my guess that large numbers of government teachers would fail the GED, even if given a month or two to prepare. They would likely fail the math portion."

This is the reality. This is how some real people honestly view teachers and education (for more negative comments, check out Free Republic). These comments are based in falsehood, but they're real comments brought forth by this note. That brings me to my main point: this note is damaging to the teaching profession.

It's damaging because it unfairly compares the profession of teaching to the job of babysitting. Teachers know this is tongue-in-cheek, but the connection is still there. Nobody really thinks teachers are glorified babysitters, but here we are, making that argument, jokingly or not. The fact is, teachers are the brunt of a lot of criticism these days. Some of it deserved, and a lot of it not. We don't need to force our way into more undeserved criticism. We need to build up the profession.

Instead of arguing about pay in this manner (any job could do that, and it would show that all jobs are grossly underpaid), how about we proclaim the things we do as teachers? How about we talk about the training we all receive -- most of it while we are in the profession? How about we talk about the time we truly put in (one post at Free Republic mentioned requiring teachers to work 10 hours a day -- anybody else laugh at this being an underestimate?)? How about we stop making comparisons to the business world (since we're not in the business world), and start making professional comparisons? By this, I mean go ahead and compare us to lawyers and doctors and other professions. We, like them, are professionals, and have high standards. If a doctor screws up, there's a mighty lawsuit on his/her hands. If we screw up, we should also be held accountable. If this is the reality (which I purport that it is), we need to stop running from this.

Of course, the other reality, that we need to make known, is that there is currently no fair way to judge a teacher. There's no objective method that works. If a doctor were judged by the patients he/she has who don't survive after treatment, every doctor would be fired. Some just can't be saved, no matter how hard he/she tries. This is understood. The same is true of teaching, yet that is not understood. I don't know a single teacher who gives up on any student, just like I don't know a single doctor who gives up on any patient. But they don't all make it. That's the reality.

The other part of this reality is that teachers are only a piece of the puzzle that makes up a student's education. There are teachers, support staff, administrators -- these are all the paid positions. There are also parents and friends, who are probably more valuable to the individual student than all the paid positions. There is no formula, no equation that accounts for all of this and ends up with a grade for a teacher. There probably never will be.

And there shouldn't be. Teaching is a profession, not a job. We want that respect. We feel we've earned it. We need to act like it, even when the rest of the world doesn't treat us that way. That's what will make it a profession.


  1. Something I'd like to note: this is in no way meant to speak about the situation in Wisconsin right now (and I hope nobody takes it that way). This is meant to call teachers to build up the profession, and not a commentary on teachers having their bargaining rights taken away. I just want to make sure that is clear, as that is likely what inspired the note I take offense with here.

  2. I'm a senior in high school and hold a close relationship to many school authorities. Over the years, I've heard many jokes on how teachers are underpaid. At North Farmington High School, the current beloved principal is retiring so finding a replacement has been a huge project. There are 2 committees that select the new principal: a screening committee and an interview committee. Each committee consists of 20 people, one of which is a student. I was selected as the student to represent the student body for the Screening committee. This involved reading and scoring 39 resumes and applications. Each resume states the applicant's job and annual income. The incomes ranged from $75,000 - $130,000. How can $75,000 be considered underpaid, especially when you get nearly 3 months vacation. My mother is an electrical engineer; she designs fire alarm systems for Tyco, Int. Including her bonus at the end of the year, she makes about $80,000. My high school AP U.S. History teacher makes about $90,000 annually. Many teachers eventually plan on becoming an administrator. My high school principal makes $115,000 annually. My history teacher constantly says "teachers can not complain about not making bank. They just have a lot to do during the time that they work."
    You said you "don't know a single teacher who gives up on any student." A Navy veteran, English teacher at our school openly states that most of the time, she "teaches the kids as little as needed just so they will pass the class and move on." That is not the right mindset to be in when educating America's future.
    Because it takes a village to raise a child, there's no one factor that influences a child's education. But there are small things that affect a child's mindset on life, like a bad 3rd grade teacher who makes a child cry because she couldn't finish her test or a middle-school assistant principal who banned flip-flops due to the increasing amount of foot-fetishes.
    With all the bad, the good are usually ignored. After 12 years in the current school system, I can count the number of positive influences with just the fingers of one hand. Those people have earned my respect. Those people should hold their heads higher, and other school authorities should look at them as inspirations. Because once there are teachers that can honestly say they try their best and hardest themselves, rather than just preaching to students, then we can live in a society where teachers are respected. This happens in countries like India and China. Make it happen here.

  3. I really enjoyed reading from both Brian, and Shilpa. Having been removed from the education system for awhile I have very little to say that would hold weight here, but I definitely wouldn't classify myself with either of you.

    I have no problem in the slightest with teachers making good money. The figures Shilpa mentioned are all great, those teachers have been doing their work for many years to get to that point, and kudos.

    I DO completely agree that the post comparing teachers to babysitters and breaking down salaries that way was bogus. I was really tempted to argue on the post, but it would only make everybody that much more upset.

    The primary reasons I would not put myself in Brian's camp is that
    A) I don't think lawyers and doctors are decent comparisons with teachers (although I would be interested in hearing your side).
    and B) it is a terrible problem that teachers are hugely passing on their bias to students. The teachers I can remember all had a notion, and whether relevant to the material or not, we learned it. I can't begin to come up with the solution myself in this moment, but it is still a problem.

    at any rate, good post!

  4. @Shilpa - first off, funding for schools per student isn't equal across the state of Michigan ergo salaries are not the same. Being in North Farmington you are in one of the most affluent areas of the state and indeed the entire country so yes, the salaries are higher and the teachers no where near underpaid - in fact, I would agree with you that they are overpaid and part of the problem with the system. However, let me give you a glimpse into the little heaven that exists a little farther south and west of you (yes it does exist no matter what your parents tell you).

    The districts in which my wife and I work are very small and almost completely forgotten about. Our per student funding levels (locked in by proposal A long before you were born and I was allowed to vote) are two of the the lowest in the state. With both of our salaries added together we do not crest 50,000 dollars. Now to someone of your age this may sound like a lot of money - and it certainly is enough to eek out an existance, but when you factor in the massive student loan debt we incurred as a result of our education (mommy and daddy couldn't pay for us) we are barely making it.

    Why do we do it then? Well, it's simple, we feel it is our duty to give the kids in these poor forgotten areas - far away from the television cameras that capture the plight of the urban schools - a fighting chance and to challenge them to something better than the generational poverty that looms around them. For this we are blamed for the failures of a system that will not work, and made the scapegoat for parents who will not raise their children. We are easy targets, sure we get three months off, but most of us would gladly work all year (it would help meap scores immensely). Sure, we get benfits - still not as nice as my dad's and he's an auto-worker (i'm sure they're all fat cats too right?), but most jobs do and we do pay for them out of our own pockets like many other businesses have their employees do.

    Bottom line, for what we do, for what we have had to do, and for what is asked of us daily by students, parents, the state, and society at large yes we are not paid well. However, none of us got into this to get rich. We just want to paid so that we can have a half-way decent living and pass on oppertunities for our children. If you ever want to visit Reading or Camden, please stop by and get a dose of reality.

  5. Other thoughts:

    When I took classes in my subject area I was in those classes with the top students in that field, right along side them working on the same issues - and getting higher grades I might add. The old addage that those who can't do, teach is straight off the stable floor. While yes there are bad teachers that are submoronic at best and I know I can find at least three lawyers that are in the same boat. Every profession has idiots, but is the entire profession judged by the actions of it's lowest achieveing members? I should think not. However, educators are often lumped into that group.

    The other problem is that teaching is lacking one of the things that truely makes a profession. A governing body that is made up of people in that profession. One of the largest issues is that any idiot who is lucky enough or rich enough to be elected has the right to tell us what to do. They all went to school right? Well, then they must know everything. That's like watching a basketball game and then thinking you can play like Kobe. However, having politicians (both at the state and local levels - I'm looking at you school boards)actually think like this about education. They don't know the subject matter as well as we do, they don't know the best methods for teaching like we do, but still they have the right to determine what success and failure are. All of this leads to the discussions that are going on right now in Lansing with regards to standards and funding. One group says - with no real knowledge - this is what students must demonstrate they now and if they don't know it, then the teachers have failed. The other group says that this is how much money it will take to get to those goals. Neither group knows a thing about what goes on in the classroom or what students are really capable of. So, if we want education to work, we need governance by a body made up of - and only of - excellent educators that know what needs to be done to work the situation.

    The Business model for education is about as dumb as trying to bake a cake out of car parts. When a business gets a product that won't work they either melt it down or they send it back for refurbishing. If education is to be made a business are we ready to hold kids back for the subsequent amount of years until they completely understand the material, and or kill them and instruct their parents to start over again? I should think not. However, this business model - and it's expectations - is how it is being proposed that teachers be evaluated - again by people who know as much about the subject matter and teaching methods - as my cat knows about astro-physics. Success and failure are different student to student. Hello, the kids are different it only makes sense that their abilities and aspirations would also be different. We need to end this one-size fits all edcuation system we have and we need to stop considering both schools and individual teachers as failure simply because some students do not fit some made up standard of success.

  6. So OK, teachers get to decide what determines success and failure and we acknowledge that that will mean different things to different students. How do we make it work. Step one, you have to buy the neccesary materials and keep the neccesary people in the profession to make sure that education works. This all comes down to dollars and cents. Right now, the attitude is that we want the car to go farther with less gas in it. Where I teach many teachers can no longer use their text books because they are so far out of date, and the school's technology is limited so the ability to get more information to students is also limited. More funding is needed; not so I can go to Tahiti for spring break, or so the science teacher can get a Ferrari, but so that students can get the materials and the personel they need to recieve a quality education that benefits them and allows them to succeed based on what their individual strengths, weaknesses, and aspirations are.

    Will any of this happen? Probably not, but it's nice to dream and the internet is a great place to do it. Szekely - out.

  7. It's really that I read this post today. A colleague and I were driving from Flint to Grand Rapids to a conference and were discussing this very topic. It's amazing how teachers are perceived by those who are not involved in the realm of education. It's amazing how what are salaries are is preceived as "too much", but professional athletes are not over paid for what they do. Those involved in professional sports are revered and paid millions and millions of dollars for "working" one to three days a week. Teachers are in the classrooms attempting to educate tomorrows leaders making SIGNIFICANTLY less than those who play on Sunday afternoons, and we are the ones overpaid. I would love for some of these individuals with this thought process to spend a week in our shoes. To see what it is really like. To buys supplies with your own money and know that there is no way that you will ever get reimbursed for those purchases. But, it's something that we all do....for the benefit of our kids.

  8. Wow, what a touchy subject. I love all the posts. I happen to agree with all of you. We all come from different areas and have different opinions. That's what is so great about life. I teach to help students. I think that is why the majority of teacher's are in the profession. It's not for the money by any means, and I honestly would not like to work at North Farmington High School, or any other large school because there are no connections made between students and teachers, as previously stated. Teacher's are definitely underpaid for the hours that they put in. I would love for anyone who disagrees to come spend a day in the life of a teacher, and then tell me that teacher's make too much money when we get summers and holidays off. I didn't realize, myself, how much work it really was until I had to do it all alone. Student teaching doesn't do it justice. It is really hard to say what will happen with the future of public education.