R.E.S.P.E.C.Teachers

I wanted to carry on a conversation that began at Red’s post Thoughts for Thursday regarding teachers, their pay, and work ethic…

I taught (more like slaved) for four years before having my first child.  My first year was at a very wealthy private high school in New Jersey, my second was at a low income middle school in Colorado Springs, and the third and fourth were at a mixed socioeconomic high school also in CS.  In all three places, I worked my tail off.  As Juris Mater offered in her description of her husband’s lifestyle, my world was a myriad of planning lessons, creating new ways of approaching science, tweaking, honing, re-planning, grading, grading, grading, entering data, assessing data, worrying over failing students. organizing endlessly, not to mention, standing in front of 150 students on a daily basis trying to help them LEARN and understand.  It was my JOY.

My day began at 7am when I would pull into the parking lot, sometimes met by students at my car!  I would proceed to my desk, where I would begin to scramble to get everything together for the day’s lessons.  Mind you, thats PLURAL.  With each job I had 3 classes to prep for.  Not just one lesson to tweak… three.  And most of the time I was creating entirely NEW curriculum.  There were new standards, new assessments, new requirements every year.  To say that a 30-year teaching veteran does not plan, prepare, tweak, etc. is a misunderstanding.  Yes, certain lessons carry over from year to year, but the overall organization task to meet students needs is ongoing and never relaxing.

My day would often spill over into after-school help as I attempted to track down failing students, absent students, students who were just not making the cut…  I would eventually leave school, only to pull into our driveway and continue to grade, plan, prepare.  It was endless and exhausting, yet completely exhilarating when at 11pm at night (while pouring over science reports) I encountered that one student who “got it”, who understood after being confused the day before, who learned.

Are there teachers who are not making the grade?  Absolutely.  Get them out!  There are plenty of valuable incoming professionals who would love the chance to make a difference.  Tenure should be out the window.

I love teaching.  I miss it.  I revere it.  I wish more people shared my perspective.  It seems like many of you gloss over the role of teacher, even after being homeschoolers yourselves!!  That saddens me.  The more respect we have in our society for our educators and the incredible task they undertake, the sooner we realize that they are WORTH every cent they’re paid and more.  That nice summer break they get?  Chop off a week at the beginning and end due to meetings and future planning.  Add in a conference or two during the summer and you’ve chopped off one more.  In the end, the days off barely repay the many, many hours paid throughout the school year.

  • http://www.graceinmyheart.blogspot.com Graceinmyheart

    Love it B-Mama! I taught 1st grade and much of the same planning and prep is required of early elementary teachers as well. My experience has been that most all teachers LOVE their job, their students, and want their classes to succeed. Teachers are trained and have to take graduate classes to renew their licenses. It's a lot of work for little pay and I agree- good teachers are worth every cent plus more!

  • rightsaidred

    B-Mama, I think you were an excellent teacher who cared for her students and worked very hard. I think you were a diamond in the ruff, and I am appalled that the teachers I had in high school made a similar salary to you. A teachers salary should be based on how good they teach, how hard they work, and how often they are doing the things you described in your post. My teachers (at a VERY good public high school), all took their summers completely off, drove nicer cars than my parents, and even owned second homes. They are now living off a penchant that will take my parents (successful owners of a small business) working into their late 70's to achieve. I think our society respects teachers so much that they overpay them, give them tenure after only 3 years of work (who has that much job security after three years in any other profession!), and even fear them. An elementary art teacher makes the same salary at a high school calculus teacher. Totally crazy.I have never met a teacher who didn't spend time explaining to me just how hard their job was, and yet in NJ first year teachers make more than public attorneys, doctors in their 4th year of residency, entrepreneurs, etc. I would do teaching in a second over these other jobs. I'm not saying that the work of teachers isn't valuable (I believe the work of any profession, if done for God's glory is VERY valuable work) just that there work isn't more difficult than many other professions, and yet all they do is complain about their salary and let everyone know how hard their job is. I know attorneys and doctors who RETIRE and become teachers!!!! They do it because they think it is a fun profession and RELAXING.New teachers work harder than those who have been doing it awhile. When you switch schools, curricula, etc, you are going to have to put in more hours. But the middle age teachers I know (who have been at the same job for 5 or 10 years) have the best profession around. They work 9 months out of the year, are very well compensated for their time, have wonderful benefit and pension packages, AND fantastic hours. They work 8-3, have weekends off, holidays during the school year, a 2.5 month summer, all the government holidays (I can't remember the last time my husband didn't have to work on MLK day!), As a homeschooling mother, I know the value in teaching children. I have respect for teachers, but I generally feel they are completely out of touch with the long hours and hard work required in other professions. When I see most of my teachers in our town relaxing at the pool this summer, I immediately think of how hard my attorney husband, doctor friends, and businessman friends are working. What my husband would give for his summer weekDAYS at the pool. He might be willing to make 25% less if he had 1/4 of the year off.

    • B-mama

      I will give you that NJ public school teachers are the best paid of all I've ever heard. We salivated at their salaries from where I was in the private sector… So here's my next question, what do you think public school teachers should be paid if they worked all year? With what profession can we equate them? Do they really get the outcome of x minus .25x?

      • Red

        I can't think of a profession to which they equate perfectly, but I agree with the x minus .25x approach to salary, and let's for argument's sake compare them to attorneys (because I am familiar with legal salaries and teaching salaries in our area). A starting attorney at an average south jersey firm makes 65-70K per year (pretty low in my opinion, but I'm biased as an attorney). They have to actually bill 2000 hours for their job (of course you can't bill for every hour you work, just like in teaching, you bill about 2 hours for every 3 you are in the office). But assuming they bill 2000 hours, that salary works out to about 33-35$ per hour. That's it!Assuming a teacher works around an 6-8 hour day for 9 months out of the year, they would “bill” around 1170-1560 hours per year. Now what should they make an hour? Attorneys have to go to school for 3 additional years (accumulating at least $90,000-$150,000 worth of debt), so by that fact alone they should make something extra per hour. If we pay them the same wage as an attorney per hour, they should get 41K and 54K. If we pay them $5 an hour less (for less school/debt/and training), their salary will now be between 35K and 46K. This salary does NOT include a pension plan (because local law firms don't have anything set aside for retirement). It is a base salary with a very basic healthcare plan. Considering the average starting salary of a Southern NJ elementary school teacher is 50K, with ability to retire and a full pension at around the age of 60, I think they are overpaid.I am not saying that teaching isn't a valuable job, but that the money for the job is actually very good, and one of the smarter ways to make a living.

        • Red

          Of course I'm talking public schools here. Private school teacher are VERY UNDERPAID for their work. Why???? Because they don't have taxpayer dollars backing their every move. You won't find a stronger advocate for how underpaid our Catholic school teachers are! It's a crime. In our diocese their salaries start in the $20,000 range. It's ministry work.

    • Red

      Oh my gosh, look at my first paragraph, “ruff” instead of rough, “penchant” instead of pension, “teaching really good” instead of well! And I'm a product of public school education.

      • Mary Alice

        I'm glad you pointed it out, I was scared to!

    • A Teacher's Wife

      Red, please realize that teachers throughout the country are not paid the same as in your area. We live in the Midwest, and my husband just started his fourth year teaching at a public suburban middle school. His gross salary for the year is just over $38,000. You cannot tell me that he is overpaid. The amount of hours he puts in both at school and at home is overwhelming. The stress, care, and concern he has for his students is much like being a parent: never-ending. He is a six grade teacher, and teaches four different subjects each day. Just as B-Mama pointed out the curriculum is constantly changing, and he is constantly creating new lesson plans for four different subjects, or tailoring things to the specific needs of his students. Yes my husband is considered tenured this year, but that does not mean that his job is secure and that he can “slack off.” All it means is that the district would need to have a reason to fire him. If he is not doing his job “up to snuff”, as Mary Alice said, then he would be fired. If there are budget cuts, he could lose his job. There are a number of reasons he could be fired. So despite the fact that he is tenured, it does not have an affect on his job performance. In spite of the long hours and low pay, my husband loves his job. He went into teaching, because he loves working with students and making a difference. He also coaches two sports at his middle school, referees soccer on the weekends, and works as a camp director during the summer, to provide supplemental income for our family. We are not living a lavish lifestyle (unless you consider the 1998 Toyota Corolla he drives lavish), nor is he spending his summer days by the pool (well he is, only not with our family, but with 60 five to ten year olds). I would also like to point out that the highest salary for teachers in his school district is $68,425. When does a teacher make that much? If you have your doctorate, plus over 28 years of teaching experience. Now comparing that to my dear friend, who just graduated from law school in May and took the bar last month, she starts her job as an associate attorney next week with a firm in town, and she will be making well over $100,000 as a starting salary. Not to mention the $5,000 signing bonus she received. So please tell me how is my husband overpaid?

      • Red

        The average salary for an attorney is also lower in the midwest (as well as for an engineer). It's often all relative. I never said your husband was overpaid, or lazy, or anything else, but that in general the DATA show that teachers make more than other comparable professions, and that they are not underpaid for their work (I say in general). According to the data from the US labor statistics, “Compared with public school teachers, editors and reporters earn 24% less; architects, 11% less; psychologists, 9% less; chemists, 5% less; mechanical engineers, 6% less; and economists, 1% less.”The only ones listed as making more per hour are attorney's, doctors, airline pilots, nuclear engineers, actuaries, and physicists. And I do believe all of those professions require LARGE amounts of school tuition and expenses. So seems like teaching is a very good job for the amount of education and time required.

      • Mary Alice

        I don't know where your friend the attorney works, but around here corporate attorneys are often at their desks after midnight and are on-call via blackberry 24 hours a day. They also have roughly $120,000 in post-collegiate education to work off when they are starting, and their vacations are regularly canceled or interrupted for work.

  • Kathleen

    I agree with Right Said Red. B-Mama and Juris Mater's husband are ideal in their approach to teaching, really striving for excellence, caring for students and putting in extra time to make themselves true professionals. I think they are probably examples of how Christians are leaven in society, raising the standards in all areas of the society. I think many of us have been touched by great teachers, but some of us have also had teachers that taught us with lots of movies, a poor approach to fundamentals, and hardly any accountability. At my public school, (which was touted as one of the best in the State), I spent three weeks in 7th on a cultural experiment, where we spent a week creating a culture, a week digging a hole to bury the artifacts representative of our culture, and a week digging up another groups culture. The cool kid in my group liked Ozzy Osbourne so we had this weird Bat-people culture. My Dad saw me with Barbie wrapped in leaves and bat wings and asked what I was doing. I said, “Homework!” I also spent 6 weeks on a life cycles unit where we watched videos about future societies where lions came out of a TV and ate the parents so the kids could be free from their backwards thinking. (I AM NOT KIDDING!). We also had someone come and talk to us about death and the death rattle and do a pretend picking out of our caskets. I could think of many other very activities that were at best ridiculous wastes of time and at worst morally harmful. That is not great education. I am very pro the concept of school vouchers as a means of raising the bar for all schools and teachers. I think public schools have a monopoly on education and therefore the accountability and motivation for teachers to beat out their competitors is not there. If tax-payers could take their money or at least some of their money to a school that gets results, schools may be able to learn from each other. Teacher Unions have opposed school vouchers. Having worked with both inner city kids in summer tutorials, and at an upper Middle Class area Huntington Learning Center, I am often appalled by what kids aren't learning. I think that is due impart to the fact that curriculums waste a LOT of time on what I believe is politically and morally charged indoctrination. Now, whether that is the fault of individual teachers or perhaps the pressure from school boards and other groups who pressure these teachers to spend more time on these “time-wasters” and not enough on fundamentals is obviously up for debate. But I think the sometimes negative sentiment about teachers being over-paid perhaps comes from a general dissatisfaction with the a flawed Education system. I do commend those teachers who strive for excellence through dedication and hard work.

  • Rosemarysmith411

    I'm with you. My spouse went from teaching into medicine, and medicine (in his specialty) has been much better paid for a lot less work and aggravation. He also, in private practice, has the flexibility to leave during the day for an important event, go on vacation when he chooses, or take personal calls from me. Is there anyone out there with direct experience teaching who believes teachers are overpaid? Red, perhaps after you teach your course this semester you can check back in.

  • Sara

    Not ALL teachers in NJ get paid as well as you describe, Red. My mother, who has a masters in math, gets paid a little over $50,000 after over 10 years of working in the public schools and my sister, who has a masters in special education, gets paid around $30,000 after 5 years . 50K is a decent amount but most college grads i know, who are in various professions, start out making close to that amount and 30K, well that just speaks for itself. However, I realize the issue is much more complicated that just money. I just wanted to throw in a different NJ experience :-)

  • JurisMater

    B-mama, like you, I am hopelessly devoted to all the teachers in my life and think they deserve more than what they get. My husband, my mother, my hard-working private school teachers from Alabama, and now my children's incredible teachers at our little classical Catholic school. I've known very few sub-par teachers; nearly all of those I've known are golden-hearted and self-sacrificing, and even those who aren't Christians have possessed extraordinary natural virtue. I also deeply admire teachers because I am not a natural teacher myself and struggle with the patience and self-forgetfulness required to bring others along in understanding. I think all of our personal experiences have something to do with our thoughts here, because I definitely chaff at sweeping criticisms of teachers, how much they give, and how much compensation they deserve.

  • Lucy

    What on earth do they pay teachers in NJ? Fancy cars and second homes were nowhere to be found among the teachers I had at public school in TN or in the private schools where I have taught in PA and TX. Of course there were a few teachers who had spouses with more lucrative jobs, but even given that, the lifestyle of the teachers I saw was comfortable but certainly not lavish.As a former public school student, former private school teacher, and now a mother to a public school student, I've been very impressed with the dedication and hard work of nearly all of the teachers I've encountered. There are certainly things that are broken with our education system, and there are some teachers out there who are phoning it in (and should be fired – I'm with those of you who are frustrated by the tenured teachers who don't do a good job but yet get to keep their jobs), but most of the educators I've known are dedicated to helping kids learn and work very hard to make that happen.

  • Mama A

    When I taught High School English in the Boston Public Schools…1) I worked about 50 hours a week as a public school teacher, and made about $2800 a month. This translates into about $14 a hour. Minus the money I spent on chalk, paper, tissues, pencils (for the students) and supplies for my classroom. 2) I had a student commit murder on the way home from school, a student bring a gun to school, and a student throw a desk out a second story window. The bathrooms were locked because there was a stabbing the previous year in the bathroom. This meant I had to track down a key whenever I wanted to use the bathroom.3) I also had 40 students in one of my classes, and only 38 desks in my room. This meant that two students shared MY desk during second period. Our school did not have enough desks.4) The heat didn't work in my classroom, and no one ever really fixed it. In January, it was 52 in my room. Everyone kept their coats on and I made Swiss Miss Hot Chocolate in a hot pot for the students.I think looking at a very few wealthy school districts in New Jersey and saying public school teachers are overpaid is a gross generalization. Red specified that she went to a “VERY” good public high school- and she's very fortunate, because many public high schools are NOT good. What made her high school good? I also think that teaching at a home school co-op and teaching in a poor public school are two very very different experiences, and I am not so sure that they are comparable in many ways. Home school parents are usually very invested in their child's education (and this is evidenced by their willingness and commitment to homeschool). I had two parents show up for parent teacher conferences all year- and one of them arrived to school incredibly drunk! I think it's comparing apples to oranges in many ways.

    • Red

      I never compared teaching school as a full time job and teaching a course at a home school co-op. B-Mama brought up the subject wanting to to justify higher salaries for teachers, and I just don't agree. You should go back and read the beginning of the debate if you are interested in knowing how this all got started. In retrospect, I should have realized how defensive teachers are and just kept my mouth shut. As for your horrible school in Boston, it makes my heart break, but I don't see higher salaries as the solution to those problems. Paying you more money would not have prevented the murder or the stabbing, it would not have fixed the heat, or prevented the need to lock the bathrooms. Maybe they should hire a janitor and a police officer instead of giving the teachers raises? These problems you bring up have NOTHING to do with higher teacher salaries, but instead are complaints about general funding for the schools. The problems in our inner cities are not not primarily funding problems (as Catholic schools are able to educate children at much lower costs, it almost seems that the more money we throw at the problem the worse it gets!) The problems are the result of parents who do not care (showing up drunk) and a culture that is anti-education and anti-family. The system is big and difficult to reform and does not reward hard work but groups everyone into some large system and pays them accordingly. The unions and government are both to blame for this, but to say the problems would in be better in any significant way by paying teachers more isn't really addressing the issue. As you stated, if you made $16 an hour you still would have been cold and without desks and a safe space for students. It is a horrible and very sad situation, but a higher salary for you would not have brought more desks in the classroom. My heart goes out to all the brave souls volunteering in these situations, and we should support them with our prayers and our choice to donate to organizations, but really the work is undertaken as a choice to help the less fortunate, and demanding more money doesn't sit well with me, AND isn't really solving the root problems. And I will add that my high school was very “average” in the state–very middle class, not wealthy. Teaching was probably one of the most stable and better paying jobs of the parents in town, it seemed nobody had a parent that was a doctor or an attorney. Comparing inner city schools with suburban schools is comparing apples and oranges, btw.

      • Mama A

        You are correct in saying that teachers are generally a defensive bunch:)I did read the previous post from Thursday before I posted, and I apologize if my rant (and it was rant, although there are some valid points in there) came across as antagonistic. Upon reflection, I think one reason why teachers are generally defensive is simply this: Teaching seems to be a profession that many people think of as overpaid. With the exception of professional sports, I can't think of another one that I hear about as overpaid with such frequency. Anyone? Maybe the CEO's of some companies in the news lately??You are correct in saying that paying me more money wouldn't change the conditions I was teaching in. However, paying me more money would have kept me teaching in the public schools, and kept me trying to help my students. Unfortunately, many quality teachers do leave because of the pay, especially if they are the head of the house: it is hard to be a breadwinner on $14 an hour, especially in the Northeast, and raise a family.

  • Red

    The Engineer–The average starting salary of an engineer in NJ is around $55,000. Engineers work a very typical work day, 8 hour days, with 2 weeks vacation, basic benefits, etc. I think they are a decent comparison to teachers (no extra education required but does help to have a masters etc.) Using the x minus .25x salary model, that puts a fair teachers salary at $41,250. Current pay in my district (very average) is almost 20% above this number.

    • Molly

      Wait, current pay for a starting teacher, or average pay? I have been teaching for 9 years in a wealthy district in NJ and I still make close to what my salary was my first year. There are some teachers in my district who make nearly or over 6 figures – they are outliers. It is ridiculous to think that I make maybe 3,000 more than someone who starts in the fall, but someone with 9 years more than me makes 50,000 more than me. Salaries in NJ are also higher because the cost of living is much higher and we have to live near where we work in order to start at 7 am (at the latest). My two bedroom, one bath house cost almost 400,000. How much would this house cost in the midwest where teachers are paid considerably less? You really can't compare teacher salaries in different states as they are really determined by real estate taxes (as that's how education is funded – a disaster, but another discussion). I pay a fortune in taxes in my town. I would love to stay home with my kids, but to stay in this area, near my family, that is impossible.

      • B-mama

        Molly, you wouldn't happen to be a former colleague of mine, would you?! Just wondering! I worked with a wonderful Molly 9 years ago at The Pingry School during our first year out of college.

  • Red

    This is a very good link: http://www.sequenceinc.com/fraudfiles/2008/07/0…It has data on from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistic on the pay of teachers and the number of hours they work compared to other professions. “Full-time public school teachers work on average 36.5 hours per week during weeks that they are working. By comparison, white-collar workers (excluding sales) work 39.4 hours, and professional specialty and technical workers work 39.0 hours per week. Private school teachers work 38.3 hours per week.”And also of interest–the Detroit Metropolitan area has the highest paid teachers and one of the worst school systems.

    • B-mama

      I would argue that comparing quantifiable hours between professions overlooks a large number of hours devoted outside of the classroom. If we were to approach teaching hours like the “billable hour” in law, I think you'd find there are many more hours to factor in! Take away an hour during the teaching day for administrative tasks, but then add on 2 every night and 5+ every weekend. THEN we're comparing apples to apples. Thanks for being such a good sport in this discussion, Red!

      • Red

        I'm actually not being a good sport in that I'm pretty annoyed that everyone seems to think I am comparing teaching a homeschool co-op course with teaching in a public school. You made that comparison, not me.But back to the numbers. Let's approach teaching just like the billable hour in law. Mr. Red says he spends 3 hours at work for every 2 hours he is able to bill. So if his requirement is 2000 hours, he has to work 3000 hours. That means the average attorney in South Jersey makes only $23 per hour. Now assume a teacher spends 6 hours per day at school (that's the school day length here, I'm giving them credit for lunch even though I'm not extending that courtesy to the attorneys) 2 hours of extra time per day at home, and 1 hour for arriving early and leaving school later than the students. Now let's add in another 1/2 hour per day for that weekend time you talked about (but I have never met a teacher with 5+ years experience that worked that many weekend hours on a regular basis). Those numbers make for a yearly total of 1657 per year. Assuming the same rate of pay as an attorney (which is both silly and unfair because of the extra schooling required for an attorney), that means teachers should make, $38,111. Even less than my previous figures. If they make less per hour because they have less education costs, even by only a dollar or two, their “expected” salary drops down below $35,000 per year.And I believe those labor statistics took into account the number of hours per week worked at home and school (it was how many hours the teachers were reporting they actually worked, so prep time and grading time were figured into the numbers).

  • molly

    I think that an important distinction here is between teachers like B-Mama or Juris Pater and teachers who are tenured and resting on their laurels. I have many friends who teach or have taught–some in suburban schools , some in inner city schools–because they want to make a difference in kids' lives. And to a person, these friends have described their frustration with fellow teachers who do little but know that they are safe because of tenure. I totally agree with B-Mama that we need to axe tenure.I would disagree with the idea that salaries don't need to be raised. In her comments on yesterday's post, Red suggested that once lesson planning is done, a teacher wouldn't need to do as much work as B-Mama describes having done to prepare for class. My most effective teachers (and trying to remember high school is making me feel old…) would mix it up each year, re-doing lesson plans, intentionally choosing different projects, etc., so as to prevent becoming a stale teacher who just does the same thing year after year. I think paying lots, after ending tenure, would allow schools to seek out these kinds of teachers, rather than stale ones. And looking at Mama A's post–it is quite something to ask a teacher to work in the kind of schools that she worked in. I think teachers should be paid more to face the difficulties she faced (and that if we decide that working in these schools is a choice to volunteer for the less fortunate, kids in those schools will largely be left with bad teachers). Raising salaries in bad schools could encourage competition to teach in them, and allow the schools to pick and choose the best. As for the summer's off thing–I do agree with Red that that is an amazing amount of time off. My husband, whose mom was a teacher (in NJ, no less) insists that she worked her tail off so much the rest of the year that she needed that three months and attended conferences, etc. I don't know where I come down on this one. And just to tie a ton of the week's threads together–my mother-in-law was a home ec teacher, and as a result, my husband can cook, clean, balance a checkbook, sew a button, you name it. Bring back home ec!

  • Mississippi Teacher

    I taught in a public school in rural Mississippi for two years (with Teach for America) and made $28,000 a year. I lived, breathed, and dreamed teaching. My students also gained 1.5 grade levels in both reading and math during the 9.5 months I had them in my class. It is easy to critique a career when you have no experience in it. Teaching one class in a homeschool co-op is vastly different than teaching all subjects in a self-contained classroom. There is also no administration to deal with, no state-mandated standards, no tedious paperwork and documentation, and much less classroom management. Parents are involved and class size is reasonable.

    • The Lady

      I commend you for teaching in such a tough situation, but Teach for America has another benefit beside the salary you mentioned. You choose to go work in a lower income area for a two year commitment and with that commitment you do also receive educational vouchers to help pay back student loans or to fund further education. You also do not have to make loan payments during your 2 years. 28,000 dollars seems like a very little amount of money, but the very low cost of living in rural Mississippi does make that salary for a single person very doable.

      • Mississippi Teacher

        Yes, the education award (for all AmeriCorps programs) is a nice bonus. But I did not go into teaching either for the salary or for the education award. I went because I believed God was calling me into this as a ministry opportunity. And yes, I'm a frugal person and I was able to live simply and save money. Again, that is not the point I was trying to make.

    • Red

      I never said the two experiences were the same. If I thought a homeschool co-op was the same as a public school classroom, I would need a serious reality check. Unfortunately for me, B-mama compared the two when she asked if I thought teachers should make more money as a result of my experience.

      • B-mama

        Let's all play fair and be nice to Red. She was food for thought for me as she talked about readying to teach an english homeschool co-op class. She and I have debated this teaching pay topic before, so I was merely asking her if her experience was making her feel differently on the subject.

  • The Lady

    B-mama said she wished more people revered teachers. I think we as a country give lots of love via our tax dollars to teachers and schools. Politicians want nothing more than to increase funding for Education. The latest Jobs Bill included millions of dollars to provide more pay for public school teachers, not one cent went to private school teachers. I don't know how some of the former/current teachers feel about the teachers unions, but they have consistently fought against Charter schools, merit based pay, school of choice or scholarships for underprivileged students to find better education. There has been talk of New Jersey teachers. In 2008, NJ's teacher's union blocked a tax-credit for low-income students to escape failing public schools even though 74% of NJ's residents were for it and it would have saved the state over 700 million dollars. Teachers Unions have serious lobbying capabilities when it comes to politics and fighting for funding. While I am with you all about how wonderful the vocation to teach is, I don't think we should play dumb to some of the serious implications of a point blank, “Teachers work hard, we should give them more money.” Giving some teachers more money maybe a good idea, but teacher unions would have you believe that pay raises are the only solution to failing schools. I wish we could have another discussion about school reform and policies such as merit pay and school of choice. I think debating about whether teachers work hard or care becomes very subjective based on experiences. I think that could be a very fruitful, if not equally hot topic!

    • B-mama

      Lady, you raise some good issues here. While merit pay would be oh-so-tricky to establish and award, I do think it would be highly effective at creating some incentives among teachers. Vouchers could also add an interesting twist, offering students a choice in their education. Offering a poor student the opportunity to study at a better school across the city though may not solve the problem (and in many cities the poor student might refuse to change school due to cultural pressures.)When it comes down to it, I think many schools are broken due to our society being broken. We can throw more money at the problems in schools, but we can all agree that our society is pretty messed up, which trickles down to children and ultimately, schools. If you don't have parent support, extracurriculars, etc. outside the classroom, it is really difficult to achieve within the school setting.Teachers get so defensive because I believe many are doing a good job and altruistically (without large pay), getting blamed for our lackluster American student performance, and then dealing with our Federal government mandates with very few resources at their fingertips. The system is broken, our society is broken, teachers unions are NOT the answer (I was never a part of one!), perhaps greater choice is??

  • Rosemarysmith411

    This thread seems disrespectful to the many hardworking teachers I know (the effort to exclude present company as “exceptions” doesn't help much) and I find it distasteful to advocate for any group of people to be paid less, particularly a group working a job that I believe is exceptionally important. These comments suggest that somehow attorney pay in NJ is divinely ordained and correct, a kind of lodestar from which we can determine everyone else's just compensation. I guess what also bothers me is that teachers, as we know, are predominantly female. Jobs in which women dominate have traditionally paid poorly (secretaries, nurses, etc.). I don't see any kind of uprising or movement of people out there arguing that we should slash the pay of cops or firefighters. Obviously they do important work too, but somehow their pay and pensions seem “fair,” even if they work unusual schedules or go on administrative desk duty. Could this idea that teachers are massively overpaid have, at its root, some sense that as women they aren't (as) entitled to a good salary? Teaching isn't quite as family friendly as one might think, but it's family-friendlier than a lot of jobs. If it is too tempting an option because it is very well paid, is there a worry that women will continue to do it rather than staying home with their children?

    • Red

      Rosemary you bring up a lot of interesting points–especially the male/female comparison. I'll get to that in a second, but first let me say that the money for teachers comes directly from my husband's paycheck. We have a civic responsibility to make sure that money is being spent wisely. Salaries for our government workers (teachers, police, librarians, municipal workers, etc.) should be economically justified and fair. In our area, I believe that teacher salaries are too high, and the result is VERY burdensome taxes for a large number of very hard working families.And as to your second point, I also think police officers are overpaid. You can hire private security guards at literally 1/2 the cost, and a private market would not support the salaries and pensions of the police department in our area. The fire company is mostly volunteer, so I don't have an opinion there. The fact is, these jobs we are talking about are government jobs. The private sector does not pay that much for the type of work performed by police officers. Unions and taxes keep their salaries artificially inflated, and the tax burden is so onerous on everyone else paying into the system. The reason women were traditionally teachers is because it has never been a “lucrative” job that could support a family.

      • Keeping the Faith

        “The reason women were traditionally teachers is because it has never been a “lucrative” job that could support a family.”You are completely right on this, Red! What an incredibly sad, but true, point!

      • Rosemarysmith411

        I agree with you about civic responsibility, and I am reassured that you are not singling out teachers and believe police officers are also overpaid. Since you asked, below, my solution for school reform would be to weaken protections for seasoned but poor teachers: i.e., get rid of the tenure system, require more frequent/rigorous evaluation. In practice you'd probably have to raise salaries to get the union to agree to those concessions. But making it easier to get rid of subpar teachers and going to a system where hiring and advancement were based on merit (rather than lockstep increases) would ultimately create a more market-based system in which availability of teachers (at whatever level of quality New Jerseyans demand) would determine the price. I'm not sure if it's accurate to say women became teachers because it wasn't lucrative; rather, barred from pursuing more lucrative options, they took what they could get. That said, my grandfather was a teacher and supported his family of five on that salary. They weren't well off, but it's hard to know by today's standards how comfortable their life was. The pension ensured a fairly cushy retirement, but I don't think most school districts offer defined benefit plans anymore (at least not around here).

  • Keeping The Faith

    OUCH! I don't have time to write an essay here about my thoughts on the topic, but no hardworking individual wants to hear that others think they're overpaid — it makes them feel incredibly unappreciated. Like B-Mama, I also taught for 4 years before having children. This whole conversation just makes me SAD!!I am lucky enough that once I go back to teaching, I won't have to worry about supporting my family as the sole breadwinner on that kind of salary. At times, though, I do worry about what I would do if something happened to my husband and I had to support my family — pay for daycare, groceries, save for college, car payment, house payment, etc. — on my former salary. If teachers were paid any less, I'm not sure that any college graduate would willingly choose such a profession. Then where would we be?

  • Red

    All of the teachers have commented that the conversation makes them sad, upset, feel unappreciated, etc. Lots of feelings here, but not any data. Can those supporting higher teacher salaries show some data that teachers are underpaid compared to comparable private sector positions? Higher student achievement with higher salaries (controlling for other factors of course)?

  • http://saathoffs.wordpress.com/ Precise Woman

    I think “support a family” is a most important point. My husband taught elementary school at a public school in Chicago for the last three years. He made about $52,000, that's with a master's degree. We recently moved to be close to family and he took a different urban elementary job with a bit of pay cut, probably proportionate to the cost of living. I stay home with our son.While the salary is fine for us now, will it be with several more children? (Yes, his salary will increase, but not by leaps and bounds. And no, I don't think children are expensive, but this one bedroom apartment won't work forever.)The majority of my husband's co-workers are single women and the majority of new teachers in rough urban areas leave before teaching for 5 years. In the school he was at teachers were never guaranteed a prep period and they had to eat lunch with their students. There isn't time to use the bathroom. There is no way a mother could work there and successfully nurse a baby. I think everyone agrees that the “diamond in the rough” teachers should be retained and that many teachers (not all of them!) work hard and do good work. I also think most readers here agree that having the option for one parent to stay home is vital for the health of families.Committed long term teachers are necessary to change failing schools, but no one will stay if their paycheck can't support a family.

    • Mary Alice

      Precise Woman, there is a lot that your husband can do over time to supplement his income. As one friend of mine says, everybody hustles. As other posters have commented, he is going to have to work in the summer, after school and on weekends to make ends meet — but hey, so does my husband at his office job. If your husband feels called to his job and fulfilled by it, you will both find a way to make it work. Most teachers I know also have a spouse who works, and some of the dads stay home over the summer while mom works part time year round, which is a very cool family dynamic.

  • Mary Alice

    I find the argument that you have to have been a teacher to have a sense of what is fair pay for a teacher preposterous. Of course no one is going to think that their own profession is over-paid. We can all look at statistical data, speak with teachers, and make an informed judgment especially because, as Red points out, it is our tax money that pays the salary, benefits and pension of the public school teachers.Schools are very clearly failing, and while I think it is fair to say that teachers are defensive when they are blamed for this, if they are not to blame then the teachers unions have to take on a large share of the blame, as do the public school administrators. I also think it is interesting to note that teachers are defensive about being told that they are overpaid, perhaps I live in a very liberal community, but I have never heard this argument discussed before.I do agree that teaching is a high stress job and that teachers need a break of some sort during part of the year, it makes us all less likely to encounter burned out teachers, though there are still plenty out there.The public school model does not work. 40 students in a classroom is not productive, regardless of how much the teacher is paid. Putting elementary school children at a desk for 20 hours a week is not the best way to teach, nor are watered down textbooks and constantly changing test standards set at raising achievement. Our President's goal is to send more Americans to college. I would prefer that we focus on providing a high school education which prepares the majority of Americans to hold some sort of profession. Fewer jobs would require a college degree if a public school education was really worth something, and on the job training would be much more valuable for many less intellectual people.All Americans need to put down the bratwurst, turn off the TV and take some accountability for the future of our children, who are likely to grow up dumber and unhealthier, and thereby worse off than their parents' generation for the first time in American history. We are falling behind other countries in almost all marks of quality in education because we are not trying, perhaps in large part because we think that it is the government's job to educate our children. This makes a teachers job much harder, but paying them more is just a stop gap measure.There, I said it.

  • Molly

    I think teachers are so defensive about these discussions because it's hurtful. I'm sure lawyers despise lawyer jokes. Not all lawyers are ambulance-chasing scumbags. Not all teachers are phoning it in between vacation days. It's terribly unfair to paint all teachers with the same brush. That is why teachers (good teachers) become defensive.Is public education working in this country? It's hit or miss. I know that I received an excellent education in my NJ district (where I now teach). I was appalled by the writing skills of some of my fellow students at the private liberal arts college I attended. I learned those skills in high school and many of my fellow students had not – despite attending public schools in other wealthy NJ districts. So money does not always equal a better education. There are districts in NJ that have so much money they have built planetariums, but still their kids fail state testing. Do you know what the main difference is? Parental support for education. My district's budget was slashed as we lost virtually all state aid, but our taxpayers voted for the amended budget and kept teacher salaries. That's because the families in my district support education in general and their children's learning specifically. Of course even if parents are supporting their kids, sadly there are still some terrible teachers out there. I would argue that there are also awful doctors, lawyers, engineers, etc. Unfortunately tenure can protect some of those awful teachers – I share an office with one of them. It's incredibly frustrating. As a teacher I think the tenure rules need to be changed. The reason for tenure is because, unlike other professions, we both serve and EVALUATE our clientele. Our clientele whose parents pay our salaries. If there was no tenure, there are parents who would argue that a teacher should be fired just because their child didn't get the A. Trust me, here in the competitive northeast there would be lots of such parents. Tenure protects good teachers from crazy parents, but unfortunately also protects terrible teachers. That needs to be fixed. Tying teacher salaries to teacher effectiveness is also tricky. Like any job, the better you are, the more work you are going to have. Unlike most jobs, that more work does not come with more pay. In eduction that means that good teachers get the harder classes to teach or the harder students to reach. Trying to evaluate the effectiveness of someone teaching AP biology to 100 kids a day versus someone teaching special education general science to 24 kids a day versus someone teaching physical education to 250 kids a day is impossible.I think there are many things to be discussed when it comes to making public education better, but please stop disparaging teachers. As someone who has a public school education and who now works in public schools I can assure you that there are more good teachers out there than bad. Let's do more to let them do their jobs effectively.

    • Red

      you said, “but please stop disparaging teachers.” Who is disparaging teachers? How is is disparaging to say that teachers are paid more than other comparable professions, and work less hours. If we were calling them a bunch of lazy bums, I would understand. I think our biggest insult is that they are defensive about their salaries and want more money when it is isn't justified. How I wish that were the worst thing said about lawyers. Seriously, I'm all for lawyer jokes because I think the underlying sterotypes are largely true (in my experience it seems most lawyers are not very nice people to be around). Teachers are great people, but they are paid more than other people who are working just as hard. That's my main point.

  • Red

    My rebuttal to B-Mama–http://www.manhattan-institute.org/html/cr_50.htmIt's exactly on point and puts all my previous comments to shame. Here's a summary–When considering teacher pay, policymakers should be aware that public school teachers, on average, are paid 36% more per-hour than the average white-collar worker and 11% more than the average professional specialty and technical worker. They should be aware that the higher relative pay for public school teachers exists in almost every metro area for which data are available. Finally, they should be aware that paying public school teachers more does not appear to be associated with higher student achievement.

    • B-mama

      Article well taken… yet I still calculate things differently on a personal level. I dislike the numbers because they are averages. If you compare the exceptional teacher salary to the exceptional white-collar worker, I predict a great discrepancy favoring the salary of the white-collar worker.Also, I think teachers feel “sad” because they feel they are doing a very noble profession for the good of children and not feeling appreciated by society. Though as I thought through things tonight (while vacuuming), I was reminded that many jobs are altruistic and thankless (monetarily). In fact, it seems that the some of the most noble of professions–social worker, hospice caretaker, nursing home aide–are paid so poorly, so I guess we as teachers should just swallow our pride and do our jobs.Heck, I'm not even in the workforce anymore!! :)

  • Francine

    I have to say I completely agree with Red, I taught public school in the suburbs of Philadelphia for 6 years and while the starting salary is not high at the beginning what the older teachers were making was incredible. 80000-90000, it was kind of wierd to be sitting with my collegues who had the same workload as me knowing that they were making 2 times what I was. I think the problem is not only what teachers are paid but the pension system which is ridiculous, that is why teachers who should have left long ago are still around, in our district they get 2.5 times the number of years they worked so many teachers stayed for 35 years so the could et 87.5 percent of their ending salary for the rest of their life, and when the max salary is 90000, that means roughly 60-70000 for the next 30 years because many retire at 55, it is crazy. I could really go on for hours abou public schools, there are tons of good teachers but the whole system has a lot of falls and the teachers union is entirely too powerful. I have seen Christie in NJ address some of these issues and I have to say he hits the nail on the head, everytime I see him I say I want to move to NJ!

  • Mary Alice

    Read this, and I'll make a deal with you: if all teachers would fight for this sort of education, I would be all for paying them more, this is essentially why I home school, because I support the philosophy of education explained here by…a teaching professor! I would probably need to pay $30,000 a year per child for my kids to attend a school with this sort of philosophy, which makes my salary as a home school mom roughly $180,000, after taxes. Not too shabby for someone with no advanced degree who often goes to work in her pajamas.http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/02/opinion/02eng

  • Kat

    I was on vacation last week and didn't open up the computer…Wow, there were lots of interesting discussions taking place while I was gone! I won't pretend to know what the appropriate salary for a teacher would be, so I won't touch that subject. However, I have often wondered if we would have more male teachers if the salaries were comparable to those offered by other professions. I would love to see more male teachers – lots of boys out there could use a positive male role model in their lives!

  • Another teacher's wife

    I know I'm very late to this discussion, but it has been fascinating to read. I'm a former Catholic school teacher, and my husband teaches public school and also runs a private tutoring business after school hours. It's interesting to note how much the private sector values a teacher's certification–parents pay from $40/ hour for a new teacher and up to $70/ hour for experienced teachers to tutor their children one-on-one (even in this economy). Right now the pension is the main financial reason for my husband to stay in the schools; he also just enjoys working with kids whose parents can't afford a private tutor. I hear your point, Red, that teachers seem overpaid considering the amount of hours school is in session, but unless there are a lot of perks to the teaching profession, many excellent teachers just won't stay. In response to Precise Woman, the dads we know who successfully support families as teachers are all entrepreneurial types like my husband who are self-employed in the evenings/weekends/spring breaks/summer–we know a photographer, professional singer, and computer technician. My husband has found it important to do work outside of school hours that is relatively emotionally neutral to make up for the inevitable depletion during school hours. Good luck to your family as you work it all out!

  • JMB

    Wow, out with a bad back and look what I missed! We had a show down with our teacher's union in our town (NJ), and they agreed to a salary freeze and fund 1.5% of their health care cost (for entire family). Now I live in a wealthy NJ district with excellent schools. All four of my children have attended public school. We have been very impressed with the teachers, the schools are friendly, well run and the parents are involved with their childrens' education.But, the fact is, our municipality is bleeding to death from the burden of the schools. Our property taxes just hit $20K per year and we do not live in a mansion. This is not sustainable. Many of our neighbors and friends have lost jobs in the private sector (Wall Street, Pharmaceuticals, Accounting firms), or have in our case, taking salary cuts (my husband owns his own company). It seems reasonable to me that the teacher's union should accept some sort of concession. Who deserves a raise every year? Who doesn't have to pay anything for health insurance for the entire family? Why, in our town, do part time classroom aides get full pension and health care benefits when THEY ARE NOT CERTIFIED TEACHERS? I have no problem with teachers having a pension, but when every part time administrative employee in the school district receives the same benefits as teachers then you see that something is not right. That's why we are upset. Don't even get me started on superintendents. Ours get paid 50K more per year than Gov. Chris Christie.

    • Mom

      Sounds like a pretty messed up situation. Here in Texas, they slash education funding left and right with nary a peep from the teacher's unions and they sure don't pay for family health insurance. In our district they just eliminated 1/3 of special education positions! I'm hoping my autistic son still has a good teacher when we go back next week.

      • KT

        I'm jumping in a little late here but I wanted to make a comment about the discussion. I don't have any data to back anything up, just my own personal experience. My husband is an elementary drama teacher (which as was mentioned earlier, probably shouldn't be making as much as a classroom teacher) and he makes a very good salary here in Texas. That being said, our benefits are horrific. They just increased the cost and lowered our care. The cost was raised so high that we were forced to take my daughter off our plan and buy a private one for her. There is no built in “cushy retirement plan” anymore; we have to contribute to that, and, guess what? We can't afford it. Because of the benefits package. I work part time during the year, dragging my daughter across town with me to work and then full time during the summers. Yes, my husband's salary is good compared to the other jobs he could be doing with a Theater degree (acting) but it is not the best. He works hard, just like everyone in any job should be. Just as I get mad when my working friends say “oh you have it so easy staying home” my husband gets mad when people say “oh you have it so easy with summers off.” Work is all relative. I don't presume to work harder than a working woman just because I have kids and I resent when people assume I watch TV and play on facebook all day. Red is entitled to her opinion, this is after all her blog! You just can't compare jobs, I think. You'll never have a level playing field.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X