Wednesday, April 13, 2005

The Vilification of Teachers

I'm a designer/blogger by night and a teacher by day. I worked for a decade in the corporate world prior to being a teacher, and often question whether I made the right choice to take a pay cut an enter teaching. I love design. But I love the classroom too. Based on students' response to my efforts, although there's always room for improvement, I think I'm a good teacher. I know I've made a difference in some of my student's lives, and as a teacher, this gives me the greatest satisfaction. For example, one of my students from my first year teaching is now student teaching in my school. Besides making me feel old, it makes me feel good that I was a big enough influence on him that he is considering joining the teaching profession.

But I'm troubled. Not because my students wear clothes I find objectionable or because I don't get their music anymore. That just means I'm getting older. What troubles me is the vilification of teachers. To name just a few: We are "out to get" our students. We are lazy. We are entrenched. We are ridged. We are freeloaders. We are overpaid. We only work 8a.m. to 3p.m. We only work nine months a year. The teachers' unions don't care about kids. Did I miss any stereotypes? And in case you missed it, these are all overwhelmingly untrue.

So I get home and read in the local paper a story about the referendum that was just voted down. What do I see on the front page? Teachers should open up their contract and give up their raises. Never mind that the teachers have given over $1.5 million in concessions when they negotiated this contract. Hey it was a huge raise: 1% on top of inflation. But that one percent is just too much for some people (from the Glen Ellyn News, V103 No.2 E9):

"If teachers were to forego that raise, it would be enough to rehire the 40 teachers (dismissed last month) and would go a long way toward engendering good will in the community and silencing the critics of the referendum," Glen Ellyn resident Kathy Olsen said. "Reopening the teachers' contract may be unprecedented, but so is the financial crisis this district is in."

There you have it straight from the community: The district is in crisis and it's all those over paid teachers' fault. Yet why do people move to this community? Ask any realtor and they'll tell you school districts attract buyers. What makes up the majority of the school district? The teaching staff.

Whenever a school district does well, it has nothing to do with the teachers. Whenever a school district does poorly, it's the teachers' fault. When a school district has plenty of funds, it builds up reserves, builds buildings, and pays superintendents outrageous piles of money. When a school district has to dip into those savings, it's time to cut teachers, and cut teacher benefits. When a school district goes into genuine deficit, its the teachers' fault and time to cut teachers' jobs, their pay, their benefits, and ask them to teach more classes with more students. And don't get me started on those coaches. They should work an extra 10-15 hours a week after working their full time job for free. After all, that stuff is just extra curricular.

If people think teaching is such an easy job, then by all means, they should go to school, get their BA in Education, pass that 8-hour test in general studies and their field of study, get that easy teaching job for maybe $38K a year, then work 70 hours a week all year, only to have to take and pay for more graduate classes during their summer "vacation". During the school year they'll never get a break during the day, learn to control their bowels like an animal, eat lunch in 10 minutes flat, take abuse from administrators, parents and 14-year old kids, then eventually get their Masters degree and earn $10K less than their friends and every other professional that has their masters degree but doesn't teach. If they do all this and keep teaching for more than five years they'll be stronger than the 50% of their peers who leave teaching by this stage of their careers because teaching is just that easy.

I'm tired of being treated like the hired help and blamed for all the ills of public education in this country. It's time we start realizing that teachers are heroes too. While we might not save people's lives the way police and fire fighters might, we influence the lives of millions for the better everyday. It's time to communities acknowledged this rather than demanding more pay cuts.