01 March 2005

Will Work for Pay

Teachers are invariably described as being "underpaid." I hear all sorts of ideas about merit pay, raising pay and/or benefits to attract more people to the profession, voters who pass initiatives to give educators cost-of-living-adjustments, and strikes for better pay. But I hadn't seen this until now.

A group of teachers in California is refusing to work outside their contractual hours. School events have had to be cancelled, assignments are going unmarked, and other business is not being completed. The teachers have not had a contract nor a pay raise in two years. In the meantime, they are also looking at a cut to their benefits.

I think this is an interesting way to make a statement. Schools stay open, but all of the things that teachers do "gratis" outside of the school day fall by the wayside---which makes an impact on parents, the community, administration, and of course, the kids. I'm sure that the teachers in the Berkeley district do not want to negatively effect kids. Their point is that teachers are people, too. We are professionals who are expected to work miracles with these kids and must make do with less and less.

As usual, I don't have much in the way of answers. My own experience includes working for a very poor school district in NM. I had few benefits and my take home pay (10 years ago) was sometimes $500/month. When I moved to Washington, I more than doubled my salary and gained many benefits (such as dental coverage) that I hadn't had before. I remember how things used to be and that keeps me realistic.

Would I like more money for what I do? Heck, yeah. Who wouldn't want a bigger paycheck? But I can also look around and see that I have a roof over my head, food on the table, and clothes on my back. I have a car that's 5 years old and I can afford a holiday now and then...not to mention the occasional treat when I'm out shopping. I have insurance that covered almost all of my recent surgery and associated treatment. There are thousands of people in this country who don't have those things.

Somehow, I think what teachers really want is more respect. The idea of being compensated akin to other professionals with the same level of training gets equated to respect in many minds. We are asked to work miracles each day with kids, all the while the expectations upon us increase and the resource pool dwindles. No wonder we feel pooped on.

The Berkeley teachers are certainly making a point about this. Will they get more money? I don't believe that it's likely...at least not in the immediate future. I think the more interesting question is "Will they get more respect?"


Anonymous said...

Well, speaking as an average taxpayer (but the son of two teachers) the problem with the teaching profession right now is mostly accountability. Good teachers are worth a lot, but the way things are structured right now, it's a crapshoot. Some good, some really bad and no way to sort them out.

I was talking with a young woman going to community college the other day and see was really mad at her high school. Every course she took at the community college assumed that she had learned a lot more than she had in high school. She just had some really bad teachers and didn't find out until it was too late. She told me about a history teacher who spent all of her time talking about the husband she was divorcing, rather than history. When my acquaintance complained that she wasn't there to hear about the soon-to-be-ex husband, she ended up suspended for a day.

I hear more and more stories like this. What we out here in the public can't comprehend is why we keep spending more and more money on education, but keep getting poorer and poorer results. It seems to me that the blame rests squarely on two things: teachers who aren't accountable and parents who aren't inculcating their kids sufficiently with the idea that learning and education is important. It seems to me that most of the schools that do well manage to tackle both of these problems equally.

The Science Goddess said...

I believe that you are right.

One of the biggest roadblocks to dealing with bad teachers is The Union. The Union will do anything to protect a bad teacher, as long as that person hasn't been sexually inappropriate (and even then, there are exceptions) and/or done something very illegal (minor infractions are okay). So, teachers who are just there to collect a paycheck will stay and not have a care in the world.

I like the current accountability measures---but they will have no teeth until The Union gets on board. Don't hold your breath.