Teaching As Work

I live in a rural area where people seem to think as the voters in Wisconsin apparently think: teaching is not really work. Teachers “work” a short day and have all summer off. This attitude leads them to think teachers are overpaid and angers them when teachers announce that they can’t make ends meet. I taught at the collegiate level for 41 years and things at that level are quite different from the K-12 level where things can get really nasty: I never had to deal directly with angry parents who thought I was doing a lousy job of teaching their children. At the college level we were always dealing with a more select group of students out of high school and I never (seldom?) had to face a room filled with vacant stares. I honestly don’t think I could have stood it. I take my proverbial hat off to all K-12 teachers!

Even at the college level, where I taught 12 hours a week (a fact that has come under considerable scrutiny of late, though at the collegiate level that is considered a heavy load) a couple of independent studies showed that faculty actually spend an average of 62 hours a week on the job. How so? Those four different courses (i.e. 12 hours) take about 24 more hours of preparation (not to mention the years required to get the degree that makes teaching possible in the first place). In addition, there are quizzes and papers to correct, students to advise, office hours  (a university requirement –being available to students where some of the best teaching actually takes place). There are also the dreaded committee meetings and miscellaneous out-of-class duties that always seem to crop up at the last minute. Though my university didn’t require it, I was also very much involved in writing papers and books, directed the honors program, chaired a department,  and happened to coach women’s tennis for fifteen years. But the latter was on top of my academic duties. The thing I remember most about teaching is that I always took the job home with me at the end of the day and on weekends I was busy preparing for the coming week. My wife pretty much raised our two sons on her own, I regret to say.

I only taught briefly at the K-12 level — in a private school for one year and the students were all hand-picked and very bright, so it doesn’t count! Those who teach at the public school K-12 level have many of the responsibilities I mentioned above (including the coaching, or driver’s ed, which many teachers do just to make ends meet) and a longer day in the classroom. In addition they are expected to raise the children, teach them how to behave, discipline them without ever touching them and brace themselves for the flack that invariably comes with reprimanding a child who then goes home and complains to Mom and Dad.

Yes, teachers have the summer off. But many of them, in my experience, have to find other work to supplement their meager salaries unless they are fortunate enough to be married to someone who works year-round. I had several friends who did carpentry work and odd jobs during the summer; others found part-time work at local businesses.

Those who work a 40 hour week and are lucky enough to leave the job behind them when they head home at the end of the day should count their blessings. And they should not resent the fact that those who teach the young complain from time to time (it’s a wonder they don’t scream!). They have their hands full — given the tasks I mentioned above and the inevitable stress that goes along with a room filled with kids who are generally wishing they were somewhere else. Come on, folks. Give ’em a break and loosen up your money belts: they deserve what they earn. And more.

As one of my blog buddies recently noted, other countries have stolen our playbook. Depending on what study you read, America has fallen in the ranks of math and science education to 23rd and 27th in the world. The rankings may vary a little by source, but our competitive position is near the above positioning. The US cannot remain competitive when countries like South Korea, China, India, Singapore are eating our lunch on education. As I mentioned in a comment to this blog, none of these countries eat as much of our lunch as Finland where teaching is one of the most sought-after professions of all because teachers are paid well and are given their heads to teach as they think best.

As long as we deny teachers what they have coming to them, we will fail to attract the best minds to the profession. There are a great many excellent teachers in our schools, but that’s an accident. Teachers at present in this country are saddled with a sluggish, top-heavy bureaucracy and fed on a thin pabulum of educational “theory” focused on the vapid notion of “self-esteem,” and forced to take “methods” courses that teach them nothing. We should address all of these issues while at the same time raising the salaries of the profession and making it more attractive. In a word, we should make it our policy to attract and retain the very best people to a profession that is vital to the continued growth and prosperity of this nation.

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6 thoughts on “Teaching As Work

    • Thanks for the nice comment! I really loved my work (for the most part) and found it very rewarding. It was worth taking the vow of poverty — which goes back to one of your earlier posts, no? 🙂

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      • I think the educational system will never improve. It can’t because the world keeps getting more and more overpopulated, and there’s just not enough money in the world to pay teachers what they really are worth.

        The world wants entertainment, not teachers. Look at sports, American Idol, etc.

        I remember when I was working in the Chemistry Department at Texas A&M University in the 1980s. Texas A&M was able to get Dr. Norman Borlaug, Nobel Prize winner, to join the staff as a Distinguished Professor. His state salary was $125,000. The Texas A&M Foundation contributed $200,000 a year to push it to $325,000 a year, making him at the time the highest paid teacher in the state of Texas.

        A month later A&M hired Jackie Sherrill as its football coach. Previously he coached at Pittsburgh and too them to three consecutive 11-win seasons. Jack’s salary? Over a million dollars a year, making him at the time the highest paid coach in the nation.

        One of the professors in the Chemisty Department, Dr. Bernard Shapiro, a leader in NMR research, commented that something was wrong with the educational system at Texas A&M. No, not just A&M. Everywhere. I commented that as soon as Dr. Borlaug could put 50,000 people in a classroom six times each year, and millions more watch on television, he’d get a million dollars a year, too!

        Nothing has changed in 25 years!

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