Monday, October 17, 2005

Conventional Wisdom and Teaching

My last teaching post seemed to really bug some people, "fasteddie" more than most. In his comments I heard a great deal of conventional wisdom about teaching. Conventional wisdom that is often distorted by school board members with agenda or those bent of "tax relief" on the backs of educators. To the "fasteddies" of the world, I seem to have forgotten a few things that were important:

- I find it interesting that you do not even mention TWELVE ADDITIONAL WEEKS OF VACATION.

- $38,559 for a bachelors and $43,359 for a masters. AND 14 weeks of vacation and 10 holidays. - 12 weeks more vacation than the management trainee.

First, no teacher gets 12 weeks, let alone14 weeks, vacation. It's 10 weeks. No teacher gets all of June, July and August off ever unless you live in a district that ends in May and starts in September. Then teachers start before students and are there after they leave.

But regardless, what do I do with that 10 weeks of vacation? To keep my certificate I have to take more graduate classes. On my vacation. This summer I carried 5-semester hours. On my own dime and on my vacation. Then there is that curriculum project. You know, for when I don't feel like pulling lessons out of my butt like all lazy teachers do. There went another couple weeks meeting at school with other teachers on their vacations just like me. Then there was that software class I took to keep up to date on the software I teach. Took that class while I was on vacation. Then there was the end of school clean up. Did I do that at the end of school? You must be kidding me with all those meetings. Took care of that on my vacation. Then I had to set up my lab, get my copies made, organized and updated my files. I had plenty of time to do that on the last week of my vacation.

My last job I had in corporate America before I became a teacher I had 4 weeks vacation, 2 personal days, and 8 paid holidays. Sure I have more vacation now. It also took me 7 years to earn what I did before I became a teacher.

But wait, I forgot all those juicy pay raises I get:
- I really don't hear that. I do know that Naperville 203 teachers threatened to strike when offered a 5.99% pay raise and settled for a 6.2% pay raise. They average $65,000, so they were willing to fuck around with the community over what amounted to $130 each per year. - about $0.72 per teaching day.

Yes, the greedy teacher argument. We just want to milk the tax payers with those 6% a year raises. Do you homework, would you. Where do you think that number came from? The teachers association? School boards alway name the raise including the pay differential for additional experience. It makes the teachers look bad, gets the community on the side of the school board, and attempts to leverage media and public opinion against teachers during and after bargaining. You might want to also ask why your school board was willing to fuck aroud with the community over less money they I'd bet they are paying their Superintendent before you blame those greedy teachers.

Teacher pay is based on experience and degree. If you hire a more experienced person you pay more in teaching and in business. Every teacher gains experience every year, and is paid more for that experience. I make more than a starting teacher because I have 10 years experience and a Masters degree. If you figure in the raise for experience a teacher gets to this 6% figure, you'll see the actual raise to the district salary schedule is barely at inflation, if that. If it is more than this, than the district salary schedule was way off surrounding districts and had to be raised significantly to be competitive - just like in business.

- Management trainees try to live in DuPage county too - and they are not likely to get a guaranteed 6% raise every year and get NO tenure protection so their jobs can't be outsourced.

Sure, no management trainee is every guaranteed a 6% raise. If they are as driven as most teachers, work 50-60 hours a week, they might get a promotion. No raise in their current job classification, just a brand new job with a brand new bigger salary. What do you promote a teacher to? There is no career ladder, hence teachers are paid based on experience and degree. And then let's not forget those performance bonuses, holiday bonuses, and gifts from clients that teachers never get. Getting a box of chocolate from a student for Christmas is nice, but I liked the $500 bonus checks and sky box tickets to basketball games I used to get better.

Oh, and let's not forget tenure. Lord knows, once I achieve tenure I can never be fired and have a job for life. Unless there is a reduction in force (a nice way to say "lay offs") or my program is cancelled or enrollment drops or class sizes increase or we decide that every kid should have 4 years of Math which means they can't take their elective classes anymore, eliminating elective teachers.

And what happens to that management trainee who gets canned? Unemployment checks come in the mail which cost unscrupulous employers discouraging them from from random pink slipping people. Teachers are contractual workers. They are not eligible for unemployment assistance and can be dismissed just because the department chair doesn't like the way you dress.

But seriously, tenure is a guarantee of continued contractual status. What that means in English, is that a bank will give me a mortgage because I will most likely be employed for more than just this school year, providing I'm not a terrible teacher or violate any number of board policies. If I'm a terrible teacher, chances are I'm not going to last 4 years in any district, tenure or not. The reason tenure appears to be for life, is that once a teacher proves they can cut it in the classroom without going postal on some 13-year old little brat who just told them to "fuck off", on top of endless grading, meetings and paperwork, generally means they can handle just about anything in the classroom, are very competent, and will continue to be so.

Do some teachers suck? Absolutely. But some lawyers, doctors, accountants, architects and any other number of professions all have members who are less than adequate in their fields who merrily go along in those professions. When you figure out a way to rid the world of all crappy lawyers who practice law, then maybe we can apply that model to teaching. Until then, take delight in knowing that a crappy teacher's life is a living hell and they make less than your crappy doctor and crappy lawyer. Probably less than your crappy plumber too.

Isn't the new education graduate just as wet behind the ears?? Doesn't the management trainee have a Bachelors degree also?

This is a common misconception. Beginning teachers are very well trained. They are just not as capable as a seasoned teacher, and often completely overwhelmed. Management trainees, or most professionals, do not go through as many observation hours preparing for their fields of employment as teachers. Most professionals do not have to spend 12-16 weeks undergoing full time training in a real environment like teachers do when they student teach. Obvious exceptions to this are doctors, but who would consider paying teachers on par with doctors, right?

Nursing is another story. I'd agree they are underpaid as well, and share some of the exact same problems that the teaching profession has regarding pay. That's why there is a shortage of both teachers and nurses. You've got to want to be one, or else you just burn out and leave the profession.
Please don't expect anyone to cry for the teachers in Dupage County.

You illustrate my point, hence my time on this diary. Everyone went to school, so everyone thinks they know what it's like to be a teacher. Guess what? Conventional wisdom is often wrong, especially relating to teaching. I don't show up at 8am and leave at 2:55pm. I don't get summers off. Hell, I often don't even get weekends off. I work harder as a teacher than I did at any job I had prior to being a teacher. I love the classroom. But the BS associated with being a teacher - from idiotic laws like NCLB to endless pointless meetings to parents who don't want to parent to ignorant attitudes like you've expressed - make teaching difficult for even the most dedicated.

This is the crux of my whole diary, and every diary on teaching I write. There is this prevalent attitude that teaching is easy, and teachers are overpaid. Expect no sympathy from us! Raise our taxes to pay you blood sucking teachers! Sure, fine. Be that way. But why did you move into the neighborhood you did? Did it have good schools? Where do you want to send your kids? The school that hires the cheap help? The school that pays the lowest in the area and can't attract math, science and technology teachers? What kind of teacher do you want in your classroom? A highly qualified teacher with advanced degrees in education or curriculum development or one that was the cheapest for the district to hire?

Everyone understands paying $250/hour for a lawyer. Everyone is willing to pay through the nose for health care. No one questions the pay of engineers, architects or accountants. But teachers? Why should we pay them on par with other professionals?

I don't expect anyone to cry for teachers. I expect them to put their actions where their words are. If you want highly qualified teachers in your child's classroom, then stop complaining about how easy teaching is and how over paid teachers are. If you demand excellence in education for your public schools, start compensating those who do the educating accordingly. If you want you child to enjoy art, music and electives that enrich and give direction to their college choices and their lives, then stop complaining about paying for them.

If you think it's so easy to be a teacher, go earn your degree and be a teacher - if you can hack it. If you can you're doing better than 50% of those who enter teaching and leave less than five years later because teaching turned out to be not so easy for them.