On my soapbox

I'm married to a certified K-8 teacher (who doesn't work in a classroom anymore, but did for two years), and have a number of other educators in my family. As part of my job, I have also been presenting astronomy workshops for teachers, and I have gotten to know a number of teachers personally through this work. All of the teachers that I have met and know personally are very good people that I respect. Even though I'm not a K-12 teacher myself, I get incensed when I hear or read or see people attacking teachers. I don't see why anyone would want to go into the profession of teaching anymore -- in most states it is in most people's economic self interest to keep teacher salaries as low as possible. If you think teachers deserve higher pay, well then you are essentially saying you want to pay more property taxes, and who wants to do that? In fact, several years ago, someone I worked with (and respect greatly) was telling many of us how happy he was to tell his elected officials that he opposed their budget that included additional property taxes. I pointed out that in essence he was advocating that my wife receive no cost of living salary increase. At that time, teachers in her school received an increase of $50 between their first year and second year of teaching.

There are many political issues right now that raise my blood pressure, but the anti-teacher thing really grates on me. So I found it refreshing to read in one of my favorite football columns (yes, football) the following:

"The media now stereotype public schoolteachers as muttonheads who oppose high standards and are more concerned with union politics and political correctness than teaching the basics and classics. (In my experience, teachers spend most of their time on basic subjects and classic texts.) The annoyingly large subset of "helicopter parents" now constantly second-guesses teachers. Meanwhile salaries of doctors, lawyers and other professionals keep accelerating toward the asteroid belt, while teachers are expected to work for love rather than money." (TMQ)

I would say that in general, I only agree with the political comments TMQ sneaks into his NFL columns about 50% of the time, but this time I 100% agree.

One last point in this rant -- I was told by a teacher attending one of my trainings in order to get his hours that in PA teachers are required by law to have more hours of professional development than MDs. Maybe we should all keep that in mind next time we are deciding they aren't worth a small percentage increase in our taxes.


Blogger Mike said...

I'm not disagreeing with you on some points. But the fact is -- 1) we are spending astonishing amount of money on public education, twice per student what goes into private schools; If the money isn't going to teacher pay, where *is* it going? 2) starting teacher salary is comparable, in most places, to what a postdoc makes; 3) the contention that teachers spend more hours in training is garbage. Docs spend four years in med school -- unpaid. Then internship and residency at very low pay. They typically emerge into work at age 30 with massive student debt; 4) the problem is not necessarily teachers, per se. The problem is the horrifying relationship teachers' unions have with politicians and a system that makes it impossible to fire teachers. You of all people know how pyramidal knowledge is -- and that one bad teacher can spoil the work of ten good ones.

You (and TMQ) are making a common Democratic propaganda point --- mistaking criticism of the institution for criticism of its workers. The problem is not the teachers. The problem is a public education system that sees itself as an employment agency, not as a service.

4:02 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

Here's my biggest problem -- the Republican / Limbaughian point of view is not criticizing the institution, it is criticizing the teachers. Read what TMQ said, "The media now stereotype public schoolteachers as muttonheads who oppose high standards and are more concerned with union politics and political correctness than teaching the basics and classics". People feel absolutely free to claim that every teacher is an idiot not deserving of a fair salary. You just did it again advancing this idea that teachers are well paid -- look at what else TMQ said -- "teachers are expected to work for love rather than money". Why is it bad that *some* districts pay teachers on the order of a postdoc salary? They are skilled professionals, should they be making minimum wage? Besides, I think you are being generous saying "most places" -- when we left C'Ville the starting salary for teachers in the surrounding counties was of order $28k and the yearly advancements were miniscule. Did you get a $50 annual raise between your first year and second year? I know I got about 5%, but then my salary wasn't voted on by the community.

And you also need to re-read what I said about teachers vs. MDs -- I would never claim that teachers receive more training than MDs. The person who quoted me this fact (which I admit not having verified) pointed out that in PA teachers are required by law to perform more hours of training *after* they get their degrees than MDs. I don't know how many hours MDs must do to renew their medical license, but I do know how many hours teachers are required to put in to maintain their certification, and it is a lot. I'm not complaining about this, because I think all of us need to continue to study after college in order to stay current, but at the same time you need to realize the burdens we are placing on teachers because of the prevailing myths about their competence that we are not putting on other professionals like MDs.

Feel free to continue to spout the party line about our so-called failing educational system. I really hope that some day teachers start writing more blogs where they decide they have free rein to talk about our incompetent astronomers, bankers, middle managers, and talk radio hosts. I also hope that some day they get to hold referenda and town hall style meetings where they get to talk about postdoc salaries and how inflated they are and how they are comparable to what a McDonalds manager makes, so why should these postdocs complain?

In the meantime I'll continue to actually, you know, work with teachers and try to help them learn to be better teachers.

2:28 PM  
Blogger Mike said...

So if the public education system is so swell, why is there such relentless opposition (and brutally unethical tactics) to school choice -- simply allowing parents to change which public school their kids go to? Why do our fine schools rank dead last in the civilized world in everything? Why do private schools outperform them -- why does homeschooling outperform them -- with significantly less money?

In PA specifically, Phillip Howard has documented that it is impossible to even give a public school teacher a bad evaluation because of the endless legal challenges that can be made by the union. And the reason teachers get such small raises is partly because the system is structure on seniority, not performance.

And how come no one questions the nefarious influence that special interests like Big Oil and Big Business have on our government, but somehow Big Education is supposed to be lofty and selfless?

Again, the problem is not the teachers. The problem is a system that is fundamentally unaccountable to anyone. If private schools performed so badly, they would be out of business. But public schools use their poor performance to justify more funding. Only a fraction of the money in education is actually going to, you know, education.

Do you want me to agree that parents are a problem? I do. They're the ones demanding security guards and metal detectors at a time when our schools are safer than ever. And they're the ones who think standardized testing is a cure-all -- because having everone adequate is more important than having anyone excellent.

But think about Walter Williams' point -- poor people can get decent food, clothing, cars, televisions and housing. It's not middle class standard, but it is adequate. But they can't get a good education. If everything else were equal to their education, they'd be driving broken down cars to get rotten food to store in their apartments with holes in the roof. What is the difference between education and everything else? Education is provided by the public sector.

8:04 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

My point is a much more simple one -- I never started out meaning to get into anything about the merits of public vs. private vs. homeschooling, the unions, or anything else.

My point is this -- there is no need for the relentless criticism of rank and file teachers.

10:25 PM  
Blogger Mike said...

"there is no need for the relentless criticism of rank and file teachers"

on that, at least, we agree.

2:32 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home