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Friday, April 1, 2011

Trashing Teachers: Are They Paid Too Much?

Trashing public school teachers seems to be a favorite spectator sport these days. 

The salaries and benefits of public school teachers have been examined with a fine tooth comb by countless people, including people who make hundreds of times what the average public school teacher makes as well as those who can barely spell or construct a coherent sentence.  

Some homeschoolers, egged on by the likes of Michele Bachmann, have made it clear that they feel that public school teachers are overpaid.  They all feel that they are doing a much better job teaching their own kids than any public school teacher might, even if that teacher has a Master's degree and decades of experience.

Young teachers have more energy?

Other critics seem to think that the energy of a 22 year old teacher, a recent college graduate, will make up for the experience of an older teacher who has been in the classroom for decades.  So get young kids in the schools, let them teach for a few years, and put them out to pasture when they hit 30.  Is that the idea? 

Here is an example of the kind of criticism that teachers are now dealing with on a daily basis, found in a reply to an article for the Huffington Post.  Dean Baker, the Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, talks about the deficit:  The Deficit Hawks Target Nurses and Firefighters.

Dean talks about the upward redistribution of wealth in this country and the "deficit hawks" who are out to fix the deficit... on the backs of the middle class.

He writes in part:
But deficit hawks don't get paid to go after rich people or the health care industry. Deficit hawks get paid to go after the benefits of middle-income people. This is why we were treated to a Washington Post column by finance industry executive Robert Pozen telling liberals that they should support his plan for raising the retirement age and cutting Social Security benefits for higher-income earners.
When Pozen talks about cutting benefits for higher-income earners he is not thinking of people like Peter Peterson or Robert Rubin. He has his gun sights on people earning $40,000 to $80,000 a year. In other words, Pozen wants to cut benefits for workers like schoolteachers, firefighters and nurses.
 These are workers that definitely enjoy somewhat higher pay and a higher standard of living than most of the workforce, but only in Washington deficit hawks' circles are these people living lavish lifestyles that need to be cut back. These workers are quite explicitly the target of the Washington deficit hawk gang.
 The deficit hawk crew will even shed some crocodile tears for the poor who earn near the minimum wage and live near the poverty level. They would raise their benefits if not for those greedy plumbers and mechanics who insist on getting the Social Security benefits that they paid for.
In the next few weeks we will be treated to an endless parade of budget experts who will be yapping about "entitlements" and insisting that middle-income workers are living too lavishly. "
Definitely a great article and well worth the read.
Teachers Unions have reduced the quality of teachers?
Here comes a commenter, member "Lightfoot Letters", who adds another voice to the complaints about teachers and their unions:
"As for the teachers unions....­...
In the early 1900's, most educationa­l leaders, as well as the rank and file of teachers argued that the unionizati­on of teachers was prompted by selfish devotion to self interest. The affiliatio­n with the A.F. and L. was the prostituti­on of the well-being of all children. The main assertion was NO WORTHY TEACHER would ever feel justified in going ON STRIKE.
What they feared has become the reality. I believe that history shows, the teachers prior to the 1970's were better educated, dedicated and produced a far superior citizen thru the public education system than since the 1970's. Example: The teachers unions, say nothing do nothing, regarding the very poor history books and class discipline­, both serious educationa­l issues throughout the US...but spend millions on for pure political purpose and cause."
Well, Mr. or Ms. Lightfoot Letters, you're kidding, aren't you? 

A realistic view of the profession "way back when".

Teachers back in the early days of the 20th century were often very dedicated, but many were often cruel and many resorted to physical punishment to keep large classes of students in line. (Both my father and mother mentioned teachers they had or they knew of who were quick to use the switch and whom they considered "cruel" decades later.)  Also, teachers didn't have to compete with t.v's, text messaging, video games, and Facebook for the attention of their students. Parents could usually be counted on to punish the child if the kid acted up in class, for better or worse, and this punishment might have been physical.

Few kids finished high school back then, so education was restricted to what the kids needed to manage in a factory or on the farm: Basic reading, writing, and arithmetic­.

Teachers, like nuns, were supposed to be wedded to their kids. Teachers were paid next to nothing, usually didn't need a college degree, just a two year degree, and often could not marry. In fact, in some places a teacher could be fired just for having a beau. Almost all teachers had to leave teaching when they were pregnant. It wasn't until the 60's that teachers could seriously think about returning to school when they had young children at home, and often those were only the teachers who were widowed. 

My sense is that most of the old-time dedicated teachers would go running from today's classrooms of unruly, t.v-and- video-game­-addled kids whom they aren't allow to paddle.

To demean today's teachers due to some kind of dream of yesteryear shows a complete ignorance of conditions for today's teachers.

Is a teacher selfish for joining a union?

Is it selfish for a teacher or a nurse or a fireman to want middle class pay for work that requires a high level of training and experience and a great deal of stamina and devotion?  But it is not selfish for a CEO to want millions or a hedge fund manager to make billions?  Oh, that's right.  Those fat cats earned their money; they didn't steal it out of the taxpayers' pockets.

You know, you just can't even reply to some of these right wing 
comments.  It is as if some of them live in a completely different reality.

Who do you call when you have a leaky pipe?

Here's a great Op Ed piece written by an Edward Johnson, an experienced teacher, for the Chicago Sun-Times:

Experience Makes Teachers Better; We're Worth the Cost
"When I have a leaky pipe in my home, I call my plumber. I wouldn’t dream of telling him how to do his job, nor would I be able to do what he does. ... That is why I am both amazed and angered over the fact that everyone these days seems to think they know my job better than I do.
I have been a public school teacher in Illinois for the last 36 years, but now everyone from Bill Gates to Rahm Emanuel, from state and federal politicians to the pundits on cable news stations, seems to think they know how to teach. Having $40 billion or $50 billion does not mean you know how to engage, entertain, inspire, motivate and educate a classroom of 25 10- and 11-year-olds for 6½ hours each day. ...
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan wouldn’t last a week in my classroom. ..
 I love what I do, and I have gotten pretty good at it over the years, thanks in part to the fact that I have tenure.
You see, tenure doesn’t just protect those bad teachers we always hear about; it also protects a multitude of good teachers. It protects them against the ire of the local bank president whose son got a D on his report card and whose brother-in-law is on the school board.
It protects them against budget cuts when it would be very easy to get rid of the more expensive and experienced staff members. It gives them time to acquire the knowledge and wisdom they need to become master teachers."
It's really not fair that we are putting teachers in the position of defending themselves and their salaries.  When I first taught 30+ years ago, teachers were lucky if they made $7,000 a year.  I left teaching for a job in private industry that paid me $10,500 as a trainee; yep, 50% more to move to the private sector.    

I've seen teachers' salaries and benefits go up over these decades, and, as private wages have stagnated, teachers' pay now seems reasonable, sometimes overly generous.

But teachers are fortunate to be able to earn a middle class salary, buy a home, send their kids to college, and retire in dignity when everybody around them is being laid off, seeing their wages drop, and worrying about how they will live when they retire.

And because they have been able to maintain a semblance of a "middle class" life, teachers and the unions that have provided that middle class life are now pilloried.  

What are we going to do about this country, everybody?      

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