Back to School

photo courtesy of activityvillage.co.uk

My wife, Merrilyn, is a teacher for Seattle Public Schools, teaching 3-5 grade children with autism. To state that I admire her greatly is a gross understatement. In her fourth year of teaching, she has already earned a reputation of excellence and compassion. It is wonderful to see her connect with her passion: at-risk children.

Yesterday was supposed to be a paid prep day. However, Washington State, in order to close a deficit gap, made  an across-the-board 1.9% pay cut for all educators in 2011/12. The Seattle district chose to handle this via 1.5 days of furlough. The teachers will be less prepared for the start of the school year, unless they ignore the admonition to do absolutely no work on the furlough days.

Why is it that education always gets the axe whenever government budgets hit a shortfall? I could go on for pages about how backward this is. I don’t understand why we have a culture of teacher bashing in this country. During the Wisconsin fiasco in February I remember the talking heads decrying how selfish it was for teachers to be unwilling to “make sacrifices” and how easy they had it because of their short work days and summers off.

Last year my wife worked at least one day most weekends and until 6 or 7 PM most weekdays. She calculated that her hourly rate averaged out to about $8/hour. If that wasn’t enough, she had to pay for a lot of her curriculum and other resources out of her own pocket. I think teachers make enough sacrifices.

We were at Jazz Alley the other night and sat next to a music teacher from Canada. He suggested that we move to Canada as the teachers are better paid there. This appears to be true in other countries like Germany, Korea, Japan, Switzerland, among others. In fact, among developed nations, relative to GDP, US teacher pay ranks in the bottom third. The educational climate in the US makes it difficult to attract and retain talented teachers. As a result, there is a constant shortage of qualified math and science instructors. This quote from futureofchildren.org:

A teacher’s decision to enter or remain in teaching depends not only on his or her initial salary but also on the expected growth in that salary over time. A key question is what a potential teacher could expect to earn over his or her lifetime as a teacher compared with other occupations.

Public school teachers are generally maligned in this country as being greedy and incompetent. However, ask any teacher which factor impacts student learning more than any other, and they will say that it is the student’s home environment. Test a student on a day when there is utter chaos in the home and they will not test well. With a divorce rate of 50% or the need for both parents to hold multiple jobs to make ends meet, children don’t get the support they need to do well in school.

I could go on and on, but I will wrap it up by saying this: Our teachers deserve our support, not our blame.

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8 Comments

Filed under Life, Whatever

8 responses to “Back to School

  1. Stephen Wood

    Thank you for your thoughtful and accurate post. My wife taught first grade for thirty three years. The last several years of her career she taught an inclusion class with special needs children. She loved her work and served so well. I understand your felt need to defend teachers who sacrifice and then are accused so carelessly.

  2. Well said! I will never understand how people could think teaching is an easy job. Our educators deserve our support and respect!

  3. You are right about teacher’s salaries in the US. And given the current economy, it’s not going get better for a while. But it’s not just the salaries and long hours, it’s also the increasing demands on teachers. This includes increasing student/teacher ratios, new policies to follow, school system bureaucracy, shifting local politics, more kids with special needs, safety concerns, and apathetic or missing parents. Like all professions, there are great, average, and burned-out teachers. As a parent, if you are lucky enough to have your child in a great teacher’s class, you should cultivate a relationship with that teacher. The good teachers can advocate for and help motivate your child all the way through school.

  4. Karen Renfroe-Gielgens

    Good truth telling Kelly, I just wish more voting Americans would hear you.

  5. Wow teacher bashing!! All we want is the best for these kids. We want to inspire. Isn’t that why we become a teacher?

    Eric Bloom
    http://www.whybecomeateacher.com

  6. … sigh … and we were lamenting “cost-cutting” politicians who have reduced school weeks to four days in some states (that’s genius! guarantee we’ll get more scientists & engineers that way). of course, teachers deserve more pay and more respect. so do day care workers and those who care for our elders. it says something about us, as a society, that we don’t value the work of those who help the most vulnerable. social services for elders and people with disabilities also get cut first.

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