Give Teachers a Break!

A few days ago, on my post about year-round school, one individual left a complaint about teachers.

You know I am getting very tired of the school teachers getting everything they want, yes there are some very good teachere [sic] but most of them couldn’t get a job anywhere else so they became teachers.

I’ve heard this gripe time and time again, and I still don’t buy it. The vast majority of the teachers under whom I studied throughout my k-12 years were great teachers with a passion for their vocation, dedicated to inspiring. They put in many extra, unpaid hours to accomplish their goal, and many voluntarily spent their own money on supplies. I can’t claim to have done any substantive research on the subject, but I have a hard time believing that my school was unique. I’m sure that there are schools out there, particularly in poor urban neighborhoods, where the teachers struggle to remain motivated and enthused because of the pressures of their situation. But I have yet to see any evidence that the k-12 teaching profession is staffed with the dregs of society.

This sentiment is a consequence of the commodification of our society. Because teachers are not highly compensated in our public school system, we assume their work is of poor quality. What a shameful insult to those who have dedicated their time to helping educate our children! It is a rather black mark on the record of the vaunted market as well. The service our teachers provide is of far greater value than that of the entertainment stars in Hollywood or the moguls on Wall Street. Yet we begrudge them the comparatively modest raises they ask for their services. Perhaps we should get our priorities in order.

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11 Responses to “Give Teachers a Break!”

  1. Cameron Says:

    “It is a rather black mark on the record of the vaunted market as well.”

    That’s because it isn’t really a market. The salaries are determined by the government.

    Now vouchers, that would have used market forces in teacher salaries. It might have even effected the salaries of government paid teachers. But we’ll probably never know.

    The market forces that are at work as far as teacher salaries are concerned is the fact that nobody is going into teaching anymore. Potential teachers can make better money elsewhere and are following that money, creating a teacher shortage.

    As far as the comment you quote above, I would hardly say that teachers are given everything they want. If that were the case, then the commenter, along with everybody else, would be rushing out to get their teaching certificate.

  2. Derek Staffanson Says:

    Teacher salaries are determined by the government, which ultimately bases the pay on how much they can get people to pay in taxes (ie, how much people are willing to pay). The fact that entertainers and corporate execs can receive six- to nine-digit salaries while teachers can only hope for mid-five digit (if they’re lucky) ultimately reflects poorly on the market.

    Seeing as vouchers would only have subsidized those who can already afford to send their children to private school, and did not provide enough funds to allow the entire population to chose private schools, it wouldn’t have helped either poor families or many teachers. Like most conservative initiatives, that tide would only have lifted all yachts.

    But I was unclear: the black mark on the record of the market comes from the fact that the market and its narrow focus on money leads to these sorts of un-Christian judgments about those who earn little in providing such a valuable service. We need to stop focusing so relentlessly on lucre, as the market teaches us to do, and start valuing humanity.

  3. theorris Says:

    Cameron, I have a question for you: if we let the market prevail, does that mean that poor people are going to be condemned to have the worst teachers? Even with a voucher, a poor person is not going to be able to afford voucher+tuition that the best the market can provide will entail. So where will they go? They will either stick with increasingly underfunded public schools or they will miraculously find a school that will take their child for 3,000 smackers a year.

    Do we really want to make education a commodity again? Do we really want to go back to the educational world as it was prior to the 19th century? Because of “market prevail” ideas at that time, My great great great grandfather had exactly 10 days of school in his life.

  4. Barbara Says:

    I’m with theorris. We do not want to go back to the educational system of the 19th century. Education is a “public” good and markets will not provide it equitably. Hence, government provides it due to the ineffectiveness of markets.

  5. Cameron Says:

    Vouchers did not provide for the end of public education. In fact, according to Derek, they wouldn’t have had much of an impact on public ed at all. The “back to the 19th century”, doomsday arguments proffered by voucher opponents are inaccurate.

    I would have used a voucher, and I’m not rich. Private education is not only for rich people. In fact, as the demand for private schools increased, more would become available. Ricks College, because of overwhelming demand, became BYU-I. The market at work.

    Would vouchers have taken students out of public schools? Yes. Leaving smaller class sizes behind. Which of course we just spent tens of millions of dollars in the last few years trying to accomplish, but couldn’t. Smaller class sizes equal better student performance. Smaller class sizes for minority and low-income schools means even better performance. In many cases, the improvement is double that of other students’.

    Anyway, sorry for the thread jack Derek. It really was unintentional. I agree wholeheartedly with raising teacher salaries. I think they are worth it, and if we are to attract more and better teachers to our schools and our state we will need to pay them better.

  6. Derek Staffanson Says:

    Vouchers wouldn’t likely have taken students from the low-income district schools, therefore not reducing class size or freeing up resources in the areas that need them most.

    But yes, we do need to provide better compensation for our teachers. We also need to respect and honor their contribution even when they are not better compensated, rather than maintaining this market focused perspective that because they are not well paid, they are not really valuable.

  7. Aaron Orgill Says:

    It’s sad that there are actually people who lump teachers into the “those who can’t do, teach” category. I am with Derek; most of my teachers were very dedicated, good people. However, let’s not fall for the line that teachers make next to nothing. Considering that most of them work 3/4 of the year, statistics show that they are no more underpaid nationally than many other professions. Locally… that’s another story. But I don’t think we need to raise the entire profession to “Mr. Holland’s Opus” sainthood status (as you have pointed out many conservatives do with our military).

  8. Cameron Says:

    The school year may last only 3/4 quarters of the year (at least if it’s not year round school), but teachers still have to live the whole year. It’s not like they can go out and get a killer summer job that’ll make up the difference in pay. The job they are likely to get is low paying and sucks. Year round school would make it even more impossible to get a second job to make up the lower pay.

  9. Aaron Orgill Says:

    True, you still have to live, but the rest of the world has to work the whole year, and having the summer off is a pretty big perk. Also, don’t be so quick to dismiss profitable summer ventures. I know a number of teachers who do just that.

  10. Cameron Says:

    True, there are anecdotal evidences of good paying summer jobs. But that’s the exception rather than the rule. Particularly for year round school teachers.

    And the perk of summers off apparently isn’t good enough for American workers, since fewer and fewer are choosing teaching as a career.

  11. theorris Says:

    The “summer off” argument is a bit of smoke and mirrors. Most teachers either work summer contracts (if they can get them and they are hard to come by, especially for new teachers) or find low-paying jobs in retail. Saying teachers have the summer off is stretching it a bit thin. The only teachers I know who don’t burn themselves out in a very short amount of time, are those who are married to someone who pulls in enough income to make it possible for them not to work their fingers to the bone.

    Now before I’m garroted by the “teachers make a lot if you run out the numbers!” set, I’m referring mostly to teachers with under 10 years of experience. Most don’t make ten years because of burn out.

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