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In Defense of Teachers

by Darwin on July 15, 2010

Well, I was reading a blog from my buddy Evan over at MTJM.  I like Evan and I like his blog and we often agree.  But after he went on a rant about teachers (Why Teachers Anger Me), and in reading some of the comments, it was evident to me that there are a lot of misconceptions about teachers out there.  In the spirit of disclosure, I’m not a teacher.  But my wife used to teach, which was a complete awakening for me.  I used to believe many of the same things people commonly say about teachers, but upon learning more about teachers through my wife’s occupation, and now, being a parent of school-age children, I have a different perspective.  So, some of Evan’s complaints (in red) and then my perspective:

“Tenure

Who else can’t get fired in America?”

Well, we have multiple friends that are teachers that lost their jobs in New Jersey for next year.  State budget cuts.  I agree the notion of tenure is somewhat nonsensical and should really apply more to college professors who need to “express themselves” without fear of reprisal from the college administrators and that routine primary school teachers should be teaching instead of espousing on 9/11 conspiracy theories, but this isn’t just a “tenure” thing.  This is a UNION thing, which applies to many professions, not just teachers.  So, why single out teachers and not the millions of public sector workers living off the public teet?  And even the non-union bureaucrats supervising them in your state and municipal ranks?  More on that later.

“Guaranteed Raises

Economy sucks? Who cares….I am a teach and am guaranteed a raise?”

Again, this is true with all unions, especially the public sector unions.  In fact, many unions would sooner see their own laid off rather than accept free-market wages.  This isn’t a teacher thing, this is a union thing.

Pensions

How many of my readers have a State backed defined benefit pension?

Public Sector Unions again.  In many cities teachers need to work 30 years to get reach max pension, whereas police and firemen can work 20 years.  What?  They start at 21, work til 41, collect a full pension and work as security, contractors or whatever from 41 on while collecting a full pension on the side?  Oh, and did I mention that they jack up their “pay” in the final years by working overtime and waving flags at construction sites so that the calculation for the pension based on final 5 years worked is jacked up (see outrageous examples). I do agree that ALL public sector employee pensions should be ceased for new hires.  States and municipalities just can’t afford it.  But the teachers don’t even have the most lavish pensions.

The Hours

They count down June like it is the second coming of Christ.   Well you know who doesn’t get off all summer? Me, and everyone else with a normal job.

I think this is one of the biggest misconceptions about teachers.  Take my wife for example.  In her district, the teachers had to work after the kids were done with school and return before Labor Day when the kids return.  What’s coined as “all summer” is really about 7 weeks.  Now, teachers get NO VACATION DAYS.  I’m at about 5 weeks total vacation/floating holiday at work and I’m a typical white collar industry guy.  So, my wife would get 2 more weeks off than me.  That sounds  lot different than “the whole summer off”.  Now, add to that that in order to maintain her certification, she was constantly taking additional courses and earning credits – on OUR DIME, just to stay certified.  That’s just the days off.  Now, how about work day?  My wife had lesson plans, emails/calls with parents, dealing with individual kid issues, after-school activities, and then there’s the grading.  I’m amazed by people that think a teacher works 8-3.  It’s more like 7-4, drive home, then do 2 more hours of work a night at home.  The grading the preparation for the next day seems never-ending.  Even in an affluent area, there are all kinds of kids on “IEPs” that require special attention and mentoring/monitoring.  The parents expect constant feedback and replies to their incessant emails.  On top of that, my wife was constantly paying for supplies out of her own pocket.  Granted, my wife was a very dedicated teacher in a very affluent district that only hired the best.  And maybe she’s not representative of all teachers – we know there are crappy ones out there.  But I think she’s more representative of the norm than the exception.  People just don’t know it.

Perceived Stress

You can’t get fired, you are off for 1/3 the year, and some of you are ‘teaching’ 5 and 6 year olds, and yet you are stressed?!

End Rant.

How would you feel if some kid was acting up in class and having a backbone, you addressed it?  Well, little Johnny goes home and tells mommy and daddy that the teacher has it out for him and you’re “mean”.  Well, next thing you know, spineless principal hauls you into his office with the parents frowning at you and demands an explanation and doesn’t back you up.  You’re a new teacher so you’re worried about losing your job because you don’t have tenure yet.  The principal finds it easier to appease parents than his teachers (while they’re screaming “WE PAY YOUR SALARY – YOU WORK FOR ME! SO LISTEN UP AND GET WITH THE PROGRAM!”), so he doesn’t back you up.  You have to basically suck it up and not tell that they’re total a*&holes and that their kid is a future serial killer.  You have to make amends and move on.  Until you face little Johnny in class the next day and he knows he owns you.  He’s a punk again.  What do you do?  While you may find it difficult to relate, that is stressful!

My Take:

What pisses people off about teachers shouldn’t be “the teachers the people”, it should be unionization.  Most teachers my wife worked with weren’t all into the whole union thing, my wife actually used to laugh at some of the silly rules and things some of the older teachers complained about.  But as a teacher, a portion of your paycheck is forced to go to union dues.  Those dues in turn go into Democratic coffers.  Democrats in turn, continue to vote in favor of more union-friendly rules and legislation.  Teachers Union leaders then see these benefits and continue to root for the Dems and the cycle continues.  In a free market without a union, none of this happens (well, OK, business folks usually vote Republican because they’re more business-friendly).  The whole system’s pretty perverse.  But the individual teachers have nothing to do with this and frankly, most of them want nothing to do with it.  But why are these jabs aimed at teachers?  This is a UNION issue.  Police unions. Firemen, government workers, their unions are all the same – negotiate with a gun at the table (Look at the Oakland Police after layoffs now saying they won’t respond to certain crimes like burglary, etc – they could have just accepted some wage/pension concessions).

If ranting about teachers, let’s rant about other professions

Police and Firemen

Of course, within the comment stream, people are lavishing police and firemen with praise because far be it from anyone to criticize them.  Yes, their jobs are dangerous, but heck, being a fisherman is more dangerous.  Being a logger is more dangerousRepairing power lines if more dangerous.  Being a trash collector is more dangerous.  These are the facts folks, in terms of fatalities per worker (source), but none of these professions make what police and firemen make, nor do they have the same guaranteed raises, pensions and other benefits that private workers don’t. I have nothing against cops, firemen or anyone else for doing the job they do.  I’m just stating the facts and asking why certain groups are protected from criticism for the exact same issues.

Lawyers

Let’s not stop there though. Evan’s a lawyer.  Why do we need so many lawyers and why does the US have the highest lawyers per capita on Earth?  We have by far more lawyers per person than any other country.  And our lawyers get paid a hell of a lot.  Why?  It’s a cartel.  Who are our lawmakers that make it so difficult to get anything done without a lawyer?  Our “lawmakers” are primarily ex-lawyers themselves! And when they leave office, they practice law again.  So, it’s the inmates running the asylum!  Guess who is on the TOP 10 list of ALL-TIME donors to politicians for Political Action Committees?  Lawyers! Right up there with the Teacher’s Union by the way (source).  They’ve renamed themselves from the Trial Lawyers Association to the “American Association for Justice” in a conniving manner to mask their true colors.  But I know who they are and now you do too.  They give overwhelmingly to the Democratic party and oops! Guess what was left out of the most massive expansion of government in the history of this country in Health Care Reform?  TORT REFORM!!! Why?  Because there would be fewer frivolous lawsuits and less money to line the pockets of lawyers – which is funneled to the Dems to fund the next election cycle.

Now, this isn’t to be mean and knock other professions.  It would be just as easy to trash my job or any other.  I’ve had relatives who were cops killed in the line of duty in Newark and my best friend’s a lawyer.  So, I know them as people and I know about their sacrifices.  But I’m sharing facts and asking why it’s taboo to criticize some professions and it’s a national pastime to criticize others (admittedly, lawyers do take their share of knocks).

But, the point here wasn’t to trash everyone’s job, but rather educate folks on what it takes to be a good teacher, why the system’s broken and why it has very little to do with individual teachers, but rather, the insidious role unions and the government play in poisoning virtually every profession they touch.

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Evan July 15, 2010 at 11:31 pm

You might be right, it may have been an attack on unions. The post came up after an argument with 5 teacher friends on a Saturday night, so that is where it was directed.

I really do respect teachers, I just believe they don’t know how they operate outside the economy sometimes. Great thought out reply!

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Financial Samurai July 16, 2010 at 12:25 am

I defend teachers! They need to make triple what they make now. $30-60K is ridiculously low for what they contribute to society!

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Investor Junkie July 16, 2010 at 9:50 am

Sam are you saying teachers make $30-60k in CA? Doubtful. On Long Island that’s the entry salary of a teacher. I know many teachers around here make over 100k.

He’s a NYT article that discusses Long Island.

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/05/15/nyregion/15liteach.html

Keep in mind this is from 2005 and only covers their salary.

Is this any different in CA?

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Budgeting in the Fun Stuff July 16, 2010 at 2:18 pm

As I said at Evan’s site, my husband is a teacher in Texas. The starting salaries here vary based on the district between ($34,000-$45,000) and increase by $400-800 a year if the budget allows it.

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Rachel Lawrence November 26, 2010 at 12:35 pm

CA Teachers typically start out at 32k depending on the area (38k in LA and SF). The average salary of a teacher with tenure in California ranges 54k to 66k. Unfortunately, assistant principles make about 80k, principles 100k, etc. Not to mention, budget cuts are so terrible that many teachers are out of a job. It is unfortunate, but true.

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Darwin July 16, 2010 at 9:58 am

These are very high cost of living areas. For context, what do the city sanitation workers, firemen and police make in the same cities? More money with lower qualifications. And fewer years to full pension.

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Heather July 19, 2010 at 1:53 pm

Just for the record, non-tenured teachers are routinely fired. And teachers with tenure CAN be fired, it just takes a long time and a long paper trail. So it’s not impossible, but most admin don’t want to take the time to do it. What I have seen (I’m entering my 10th year teaching — 4 in NJ and 6 in AZ) is that when districts want to get rid of tenured teachers, they change their teaching assignments to something miserable so the person will leave.

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Investor Junkie July 19, 2010 at 2:14 pm

“change their teaching assignments to something miserable so the person will leave.”

What a silly way to “fire” someone. I would love to see some teachers (this applies to other hard to fire jobs) work in right to work states and most other jobs.

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Heather July 19, 2010 at 2:40 pm

I agree that it’s silly, but it’s often more time-efficient.

I would love to see some people who talk about how easy teaching is (especially elementary) be a teacher.

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jim July 23, 2010 at 6:06 pm

According to BLS, nation wide teachers made $47-51k average in 2008. Entry level wages for teachers were about $33k. So yes $30-60k is pretty accurate.
Elementary education was #2 on a list of worst paid degrees.

New York and CA teachers are the highest paid in the country which should be no surprise since those are high cost of living states with high average income levels.

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Greg January 10, 2011 at 10:07 am

I can’t take anyone seriously who can’t get simple facts straight. Vacation days for starters. The average public school teacher works 180 days a year. 52 weeks in a year 2 for weekends=104. Let’s assume 7 full holidays. So we are at 291 days. There are 365 days in the year. 74 days off year is not 7 weeks. You forgot thanksgiving break, christmas break, mid winter break, spring break etc…
Lawyers, most are not public employees so this is like apples and oranges. Also, the average attorney makes slightly more than a teacher now and does not get a pension (yes some make much more but they are few and far between and took the risk to earn it).
Hours, Pension, tenure etc… I could go on and on but there is not enough time. Start with getting the simple facts correct

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bob glob March 15, 2011 at 2:56 am

Teachers don’t get weekends off, really. They spend weekends grading papers. Do you think papers grade themselves, you dolt?

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