Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Teachers: Underworked, Overpaid Babysitters? No, They Aren't!

In the New York Times, there's a story about how teachers are perceiving the right-wing attacks on their profession.
The jabs Erin Parker has heard about her job have stunned her. Oh you pathetic teachers, read the online comments and placards of counterdemonstrators. You are glorified baby sitters who leave work at 3 p.m. You deserve minimum wage.
Sad, isn't it? But it's been part of a ongoing litany of assaults against the profession, as well as other public workers. They're "overpaid," they have it "easy." People gripe about their benefits. They get "summers off," so it's not a real job. All those people are demonstrating is that they really don't have any ideas of what teachers do, and what the job actually entails. My family has a lot of teachers, and while I'm not one, I have been an instructor. There's a lot more to it than people think, and it's not the only time I've seen people's idea of what a job is fail to match up with the job actually is.

Years ago, I had a job that many people considered "the best job in the world!" I know that because a lot of people told me that very thing. What they saw was the surface, the "public face" of the job. Which, if that had been the job, I might have agreed with them on it being the best. The reality, the "behind the scenes?" It wasn't anything like that. It was spending time doing things that were not "fun." Making sure your employees did what they were supposed to be doing, and dealing with all their issues. You had infrastructure issues, supplies, equipment, inventories, financials, dealing with the customer complaints, and the middle-of-the-night emergencies, and a lot of time filling out reports on those. All of which were an unending array of things which were definitely not "fun," but were "part of the job." The "fun" part of the job that people saw, that made them think it was "the best job in the world?" That amounted to about 10% of the actual job.

Which is the same situation with teachers. People see the "obvious" part of the job. They work from September until June, then have the summer off. The schools let out around 3 or 3:30, so they're "off." All they have to do is stand in front of a bunch of kids and talk. It's "not work." If that were all the job was, then yes, they might have a point. But that isn't the whole job. Here's what one teacher wrote to Governor Scott Walker:
The school year, so far, has lasted for 24 weeks. I have, in that time, averaged 78 hours per week either going to school, being at school, or coming home from school. If you remove my commute, of course, I still average 68 hours per week, thus far. That means I have put in 1,632 hours of work time this year, which works out to over 80% of what your average full time worker does in a calendar year. If you include my commute, I’m over 90%. If ikeep going at my current pace, I will work 2,720 hours this school year (or 3,120 hours if you include my commute). That means I work 136% to 156% as much as your average hourly worker.
You have to develop lesson plans. You work with children, each of them with different learning capabilities and ways of learning, and you have to adapt your teaching to them. You have tests and quizzes to develop, and later grade. You have to go to meetings, conduct conferences with parents, and work on various school projects. Your "summers off?" Well, if you're not working a summer job to make ends meet, you're back in school yourself. You see, most states require that teachers acquire a master's degree, and even after that, keep upgrading their skills.

The surprising thing now is that anyone would want to be a teacher. The public obviously doesn't value them, and lord knows that parents are very quick to blame them for all their "little angels" failures. Most people don't consider that, or even what it takes to become a teacher. Yes, you have to go to college, and yes, you have to take specific courses. Then you have to take a certification exam. Once you're in the job, you have to handle a classroom, do all that work, and, oh yes, deal with administrators and parents who will relentlessly criticize everything you do. One out of every three teachers who start leave within 3 years. What salary can you expect? Well, depending on the state, you'll get huge salary between $27,000 to $35,000 a year. After 10 or so years in the field you might be making $50,000. Wow, you're just rolling in cash! But... but... the benefits! Yes, you get health insurance, and a pension, assuming of course you stick around. All for a salary that barely qualifies as "middle class."

Overpaid, underworked? If you've never done it, or have no knowledge of what's involved, then yeah, it's easy to shoot your mouth off. Apparently a lot of people these days fall into that category. It's also easy to predict the future. It will be increasingly difficult to persuade young people to make teaching a career. Given the ever-rising expense of a college education, fewer will choose a profession which has been under attack, has a pay scale which isn't all that great, and offers no security. In a few years, we'll be complaining about a shortage of teachers. It's happened before, but the next time, we may not be able to persuade people that teaching is a viable option.

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