The Problem With Teachers

Over at the New York Times, they’ve released a piece that’s chock full of teachers who are all upset that they’ve been criticized. Shocking, right? I mean, who would expect members of the world’s most oversensitive profession to be so thin skinned?

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.

“You feel punched in the stomach,” said Ms. Parker, a high school science teacher in Madison, Wis., where public employees’ two-week occupation of the State Capitol has stalled but not deterred the governor’s plan to try to strip them of bargaining rights.

…Around the country, many teachers see demands to cut their income, benefits and say in how schools are run through collective bargaining as attacks not just on their livelihoods, but on their value to society.

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Even in a country that is of two minds about teachers – Americans glowingly recall the ones who changed their lives, but think the job with its summers off is cushy – education experts say teachers have rarely been the targets of such scorn from politicians and voters.

…“It’s hard to feel good about yourself when your governor and other people are telling you you’re doing a lousy job,” said Steve Derion, 32, who teaches American history in Manahawkin, N.J. “I’m sure there were worse times to be a teacher in our history – I know they had very little rights – but it feels like we’re going back toward that direction.”

There’s this myth this surrounds teachers. It goes like so, “Teachers are selfless, underpaid, public servants whose only desire is to pass on their knowledge to children. Even though they should be paid like rock stars, they take less money than they could earn elsewhere because they love the children SO MUCH!”

Now here’s the thing: In my experience, that “myth” is true — but only for a relatively small subset of teachers. When I look back at my time in school, there were only a few teachers who really stood out. You know, the ones who really busted their behinds to teach. The ones that stayed late to work with students. The ones who spent their free time at school working on prom or running the HI IQ Bowl. Most people have had a few teachers like that and those are the ones they usually think about when they think about teachers.

However, those teachers are the exceptions to the rule. Most of the teachers I had, particularly in high school, were, as you’d expect — average. They weren’t great teachers, but they showed up, did their jobs, and hopefully you learned something during class. Then there were the mediocrities. The teacher who missed 20 days of school every year. The teacher who spit in a kid’s face and didn’t suffer any real punishment for it. The teachers who came across like they wanted to be somewhere else.

So right from the beginning, let’s admit that the image of the selfless teacher who really cares about teaching THE KIDS isn’t true for most teachers. And even those teachers end up going along with the teachers’ union, who could care less if the kids live or die. Look at what’s going on in Wisconsin. You have whole schools being shut down because there are so many teachers calling in sick; so they support the union. These are the same unions that do everything they can to kill merit pay and school choice — and that fight tooth and nail to keep terrible teachers in the classrooms teaching kids.

Then there’s the whole money issue. First off, as long as I’ve been alive, I’ve been hearing teachers grumble and moan that they’re not paid enough. So, here’s a thought: Maybe people who are really money conscious shouldn’t go into teaching in the first place. It’s not as if they don’t know what the pay scale looks like before they get started.

That being said, I know that teachers who’re just starting out are often underpaid. I’ve had friends going to lousy school districts, teaching the kids the other teachers didn’t want to teach, and making $17,000. But why is that when there are probably 5th rate teachers at that very same school getting paid $90,000 just because they’ve been there for a long time? Were it up to me, the outstanding teacher who had been at a school for two years would get paid more than the lousy teacher who had been there for thirty years. That’s how it works in the corporate world and it’s how it should work in our schools, too.

If we actually paid the great teachers what they are worth, then more people would be able to admit the truth: On the whole, teachers are OVERPAID, not underpaid, for the job they do. Teachers work shorter hours than most people and get summers off, yet they make much more than the average person that pays their salary. Granted, they’re better educated than the average person, but even that’s misleading. Teachers go back to school to get paid more, not because they need it for their job. You certainly don’t need a Master’s Degree so you can teach history to a bunch of 5th graders.

What it all comes down to is that, yes, there are some great, selfless teachers out there. But contrary to propaganda you hear from the teachers’ unions, most teachers aren’t underpaid martyrs for the cause of higher education. Teachers aren’t villains and they aren’t saints either. They’re people who hold jobs that pay better, with better benefits and shorter hours, than the jobs held by most of the people that are paying their salaries. At a time when our entire country is going broke and a lot of people don’t have jobs at all, it is hard to get upset that teachers might actually have it a little tougher.

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