Our Failing Public Schools – Part I, Section 3: Some of the problems teachers face in doing their jobs effectively

Low pay

California politicians often claim that the pay for teachers in this state is among the highest in the nation—a reported average of $64,424 in 2007-2008. Frankly, that amazes me. When I retired from teaching — due to the budget crisis, not from desire — I had a clear teaching credential, eight years of teaching experience plus a bonus year for having been in the military, a master’s degree stipend, and additional educational credits. My last year I made a little over $58,000. A major factor in that figure is a few extra thousand dollars in lieu of medical, catastrophic illness, and other insurance benefits, which obviously cannot come close to me having to pay the actual costs for those out of pocket (declining benefits for teachers is another issue). There are many younger teachers I know making less than $40,000 a year, although they admittedly do not have the same qualifications. I can only assume there must be a lot of teachers who are nearing retirement who skew the average salary figure upwards.

Since I do not know how that “average salary” figure was arrived at, I will assume that, on a straight dollar scale, this is true. On a per pupil basis (i.e., size of classes), our teachers are still paid below the national average: $3,479 in California compared to the national average of $3,811. However, a pure dollar comparison fails to take into consideration the extremely high cost of living throughout California. So, if a teacher simply wants to collect a reasonable pay check, this is fine. However, if they actually want to live in California — say, for example, paying their mortgage — they are in deep trouble. Never mind buying a house; the market is so high that even a modest apartment in most urban areas is exorbitant on the national scale.

Now, a lot of hard-working people throughout this country will say: “$58,000 a year sounds pretty good to me!” I can imagine that’s true. But there are many jobs around that pay at least that well, especially if one can earn overtime, that do not require anything above a high-school diploma. So think about the cost of attending a university for six years, let alone the lost wages one could have earned during that time if one were in another job, especially as a union worker. (Yes, public schools have unions, but they are the most pathetic, weak unions in the world, as I have mentioned.)

However, if I compare the salary with other professions that require a master’s degree (which, after the mandatory two years of post-graduate teacher education program, is a close equivalent, even if some teachers do not finish it), it’s pitiful. Many people who do not know what a teacher really does think they only work seven hours a day for nine and a half months. They have no idea of the countless hours each teacher must spend in staff meetings, supervising extra-curricular activities (required), training sessions, parent or student conferences, phone calls home, and other ancillary activities that are above the countless hours some teachers spend in lesson planning and grading. Having previously been an executive in private industry, I can tell you it’s about the same amount of hours — in fact, maybe more than many mid-level managers ever experience. Yet most professionals start at $50,000 or $60,000 rather than winding up there after ten years of experience.

So, other than personal fulfillment in contributing to our future generations, where is the incentive for young college students to go into teaching? It used to be in job security, medical benefits and a solid retirement. Well, those are all rapidly disappearing. Over the past decade or two a number of districts have reduced or eliminated benefits. More recently, actual layoffs of many qualified teachers (not to mention counselors, librarians, and school medical personnel, which impact the quality of education) have occurred in order to meet drastically reduced school budgets.

Next: Unrealistic curriculum in Teacher Education Programs (TEP)

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4 Responses to “Our Failing Public Schools – Part I, Section 3: Some of the problems teachers face in doing their jobs effectively”

  1. momshieb Says:

    I teach in Massachusetts, and have had many of the same thoughts and reactions. I’ve been in my district for 17 years, but I’m also the mother of a new teacher, so the loss of job security is a huge issue for me, as are the declining benefits.
    Here is a question that I don’t see debated anywhere:
    Given that we now have national standards for curriculum, will soon have national tests for students, and are heading toward national standards for teacher training and evaluation, why are we not providing FEDERAL funding (and I mean funding all of education)? Time to get us off of local property taxes and let the government put its money where its mouth is!
    What do you think?

    • Don Maker Says:

      Momshieb, everything you say is perfectly reasonable given the current situation. However, I take the opposite view: get the government (both federal and state) back OUT of education. I will be posting a blog on this topic later, but basically I think our educational standards started declining when government took the money and control away from local districts. The US is way too big and diverse for the government to even think they could apply a universal standard and dictate how to educate our children.

      • momshieb Says:

        I used to feel exactly the same way, Don. Then I chaired my local School Committee, and found that because of local funding our tiny district had almost 1,000 per student less than the district where I taught, only 30 miles away. That makes no sense. How can small districts in Mississippi compete with rich ones in New York or Massachusetts? You just can’t get the same quality, same support, same materials for that much less money?
        I’d love to get the feds out of our classroom decision making, but that isn’t going to happen any time soon. As long as they are into micromanaging the classroom, they should be willing to provide the money to do what they are telling us to do.
        Looking forward to your next post: I love to have a good discussion with intelligent people!

  2. Don Maker Says:

    To a certain extent, they do. I don’t know what NCLB is up to now, but probably near $100 billion. There’s Title I funding to districts for disadvantaged children; Reading First and its companion program, Early Reading First; Enhancing Education Through Technology Program (EETT) for equipment, professional development and training for educators; and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). However, in order to get a share of those funds, a district must comply completely with the NCLB mandates; the money they receive covers only a portion of what’s demanded, so the district must make it up. In addition, the waste of tax dollars being funneled through the government, state or federal, wastes a huge percentage compared with when districts collected property taxes and allocated them directly. When I get to ADA (Average Daily Attendance), I’ll address some of the issues of government waste – and theft.

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