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Opinion

Opinion

Teachers in U.S. deserve more respect

January 13, 2012

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Every year, America spends more than $500 billion on elementary and secondary education, much of that on our teachers. We do this because we know that they are among the country’s essential expenditures.

And yet, most of us know amazingly little about teachers as a group or as individuals. For example, there are 3.6 million teachers in our 133,000 schools and 14,000 school districts. Did you know that 70 percent are female, the median age is 46, and 60 percent earned a master’s degree or higher? Or that two-thirds have more than 10 years in the classroom and they teach, on average, 87 students per day? Or that more than 80 percent of public school teachers are white, with African-Americans and Hispanics each accounting for about 7 percent of the teaching force?

Or that the average salary for a public school teacher is a little more than $55,000, a shamefully low figure, considering the importance of their work, the complexity of teaching, and that, on average, they work more than 50 hours per week?

One thing we do know about teachers is that they are entrusted with our youngsters, to assure that our nation continues as a prosperous and stable force for good.

Unfortunately, last year was not a good year for teachers and countless other Americans. Our once-robust economy was in shambles. Rampant unemployment ravaged many parts of society. The new year is likely to show measured improvement but few in business and industry are willing to predict what will happen if our political system remains in political gridlock and our government continues to eschew compromise.

This financial crunch has put education funding under severe pressure. But, to their credit, school administrators have been scrupulous in trying to protect outstanding teachers, placing them on lists to be rehired when the economy recovers.

Thankfully, in the fall of 2011 there were fewer teacher layoffs than expected. A survey of large urban school districts found that half had no layoffs and the average layoff rate was 2.5 percent, pretty small compared to the 5 percent that many had expected. But this average figure hides unsightly warts: instances where school districts in hard-hit locales such as California and Ohio laid off 10 percent or even 20 percent of teachers.

To many, teaching is still a prized profession, a calling as much as a job. They aren’t in it for the money. Given the nation’s financial situation, most realize that levels of compensation are not likely to change anytime soon and that their futures may be in jeopardy. But young teachers are largely an unspoiled and optimistic lot and they understand that we live in a country with extraordinary freedoms and individual and collective opportunities that few others can even imagine. They know that their jobs safeguard these liberties.

Teachers also understand the pros and cons of their jobs. On the one hand, the United States remains fortunate when compared to the economic challenges of Europe and Japan. On the other hand, according to leading economists, the recession may have ended in June 2009, but that does not mean that many large cities like New York and Los Angeles are home free. Far from it. Teacher layoffs continue to hover over all our schools.

According to leading deans of education, there are many students interested in careers in elementary and secondary education and more in the sciences, mathematics and languages. There is reason for measured optimism, but the deans are quick to point out that teachers cannot be indefinitely disadvantaged when it comes to fair economic treatment.

Teacher retention is too low and it must be addressed in a measured and constructive way. Countries like China and South Korea revere teachers, seeing them as key bricks on the path to a competitive future. Can the United States of America, today the most powerful nation on the face of the earth, afford to do less? We think not.

Gene A. Budig is the former president/chancellor of three major state universities (Illinois State University, West Virginia University, and Kansas University) and past president of Major League Baseball’s American League. Alan Heaps is a vice president at the College Board in New York City.

Comments

Ray Parker 2 years, 3 months ago

The Shenendehowa school district of New York was obliged to kick Planned Parenthood out of its classrooms. A group of parents got fed up with Planned Parenthood’s “health classes” when they learned from their kids that the abortion giant was promoting a skewed view of sex and sexual health. According to the students, they were taught that “abstinence allowed for oral sex”. They were not accurately taught about how sexually transmitted diseases could be transmitted. They were given condom displays in class. Some parents had an additional problem because they were not told in time how to opt their kids out of this program. The parents’ demands to end the farce will keep Planned Parenthood out of their school district, and add to the growing nationwide effort to kick Planned Parenthood out of our schools.

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jafs 2 years, 3 months ago

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FalseHopeNoChange 2 years, 3 months ago

Teachers are laying the foundation for the future of America. Building blocks using the minds of the children. They have been building for generations.

How have they done so far with the country. They have given the country an angry first lady and a president that wasn't vetted.

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pace 2 years, 3 months ago

I know teachers won't get rich, lots of education and dedication. I thank them. I have held a group of kids for a day or two and know it is not easy. If I was a teacher I would especially hate those evening events. I am impressed with how many teachers like those events for the chance to know their kid's families better. It is tough work with a thousand complaints about rules, and wanting special privilege for their kid. Everyone telling you how to do the job. I know there are a lot of ten hour days. It is not only work of dedication, but one of inspiration, imagination and perspiration. A teacher who inspires their kids to do more than expected of them, who teaches learning rather than just fact, who gets the rudiments hammered into those little heads, of grammar, math and history. Those teacher's gifts are generational.
The people who need to denigrate people because of their profession are thoughtless. Each profession has it's own demands and rewards, it's trials and victories. I respect the profession.

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Phoenixman 2 years, 3 months ago

Teachers start out very well, they get paid over $30,000 to start (most districts), they quickly go up in tenure and are vested at a couple of years. They have a generous retirement system that allows a person who starts at 25 yoa to retire 55 yoa. On top of that they have a great medical insurance program in most USDs. They get a break at Christmas of two weeks, they get fall break and spring break, toss in a few days off in the summer (10 weeks), and sick leave. WOW! If it isn't enough then find another profession. Teaching is part time in most professions.

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jafs 2 years, 3 months ago

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jafs 2 years, 3 months ago

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jafs 2 years, 3 months ago

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Liberty_One 2 years, 3 months ago

From a free market capitalist viewpoint, some people should shut up about viewpoints they don't understand.

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common_man 2 years, 3 months ago

I've cleaned kennels, cut lawns, worked concrete, roof tear-off and paint crews while getting through high school and college. I completed 20 years in the Navy doing everything from paralegal type work, funeral duties, ground operations in Iraq, flying F-14 and aggressor aircraft, and earned an MBA along the way from KU.

My first job in "retirement" was washing dishes and driving a delivery vehicle for a local food service organization. Currently, I work as a federal employee making about what I did tearing off roofs as a high-school student in the summer.

I've known many teachers for whom I have a great deal of respect. Those that whine and complain that they are neither respected nor valued enough are not among them.

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jafs 2 years, 3 months ago

I suppose from a free market capitalist standpoint, anybody who makes enough not to starve to death should be immensely grateful to their employer.

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Liberty_One 2 years, 3 months ago

$55k is "shamefully low"? What a creep.

Sure, teachers could use more respect, we all could. But please don't tell me they are underpaid. If they don't like the money, work for someone else. No one is starving on $55k, or even $30k for that matter.

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Eybea Opiner 2 years, 3 months ago

My wife was a teacher, and, I think, a good one. She spent quite a bit of her own money on supplies, but it was stuff she wanted, not needed. Some teachers she worked with were absolutely horrible----saying that they had put in their time and they wouldn't work hard any more. The administration was powerless to do anything about teachers like this. Some teachers, of course, were very good and very dedicated. Most would probably be considered average at best, putting in time doing what's required but not too much more.

A teacher is contracted for roughly 185 days per year. That $55K salary would translate to about $71K for a comparable full time worker who gets 2 weeks paid vacation and 10 paid holidays (240 work days).

Since it is virtually impossible to fire the teacher for anything less than moral turpitude, while a private enterprise employee must perform to standards and expectations at the risk of losing their job, I would say the teacher has a pretty good deal.

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Phoenixman 2 years, 3 months ago

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Lane Signal 2 years, 3 months ago

I think salaries are too low and Teachers deserve more respect, but a big part of the problem in recruiting, retaining and motivating teachers involves the bureaucratic overhead. Teachers have to teach to lowest common denominator, "No Child Left" behind standards. Teaching to standardized tests is essentially a requirement of employment in most public schools. Then, I think, teachers loose some credibility with parents (and children) in having to justify all the standards and bureaucratic hoops. There are many teachers who are willing to endure this tedium because they find other parts of the job fulfilling. Another reason pay suffers for teachers, is that many in the profession are so strongly motivated by other priorities. Especially in Lawrence, I think, many who teach do it as much for the joy of helping kids learn than for monetary rewards.

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its_just_math 2 years, 3 months ago

Hey, unions, lotsa time off or all the othe arguments? I'll tell you what, I respect them just for the fact you'd never see me in my lifetime ever teaching kids. I'm not a "kid person", and am glad I have one in college and the other one soon on the way-----MT nesting here I come! I would definitely take my hat off to anyone who can put up with them. Is there alot about the education system I don't like? Yes. But again, I'll commend anyone who is willing to put their selves in a primary education classroom----I would personally NEVER do it, especially with the way kids are nowadays. I can tell you what it was like in my day, but you all should know if you're over 40 or 50----it is not like back then.

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Agnostick 2 years, 3 months ago

Yep...

http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_h906iWKl6Mg/S7N1p5fXv0I/AAAAAAAAD9Y/TgcfDf2TLac/s1600/florida+cartoon.jpg

I'm not saying that unions are "good" or "bad." I'm not saying that all teachers are like this, and I'm especially not saying that all students are like this.

But some are... and in those cases, how do you allow/adjust for a situation like this?

Is the teacher "doing her job" in this instance? How can you tell?

If the student is speaking honestly about himself... how do you think he got that way?

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hedshrinker 2 years, 3 months ago

According to a recent PBS doc on education I watched, S Korea and Finland achieve their superior educational outcomes for students using diametrically opposing methodology: in Korea, parents are deeply involved, after regular school is over students are enrolled in "enrichment" classes at parent expense that may go into the late pm (and are now officially banned b/c they led to student exhaustion and a high rate of suicide), and the learning style is focused on mass rote memorization. In Finland the classes are much more small group/hands on/creative style and teaching is a highly valued and compensated profession...according to the film ,schools of education have very competitive entrance standards (apparently it's easier for Finns who don't make the cut there to come to the US and get into an Ivy League school!) and a large number of teaching staff have Masters and PhD's. We are in an educational crisis in the US that unfortunately has been highly politicized and polarized, a tragedy b/c personal and societal progress has much to do with access to superior education and much of what determines public school effectiveness is determined by people who know nothing about educational pedagogy.

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Phoenixman 2 years, 3 months ago

Teachers have a tough job. But they have some detractors as well.

According to a draft report commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education, between 6 percent and 10 percent of public school children across the country have been sexually abused or harassed by school employees and teachers.

Second problem: Cheating,

Texas: 700 Schools Flagged for Potential Cheating; State 'Investigated' With Survey (2004-07)

Los Angeles: Charter Founder Orchestrated Cheating at Six Schools (2011)

Atlanta: Teachers Changed Answers in a District 'Run Like the Mob' (2011)

Washington, D.C.: Investigation Ongoing at 'Blue Ribbon' School With Suspicious Erasures (2011)

Teachers unions have become greedy and socialistic resulting in a situation where teachers are rewarded the same if they do well or do poorly. Teachers have been their own worst enemy. Let local school boards run schools without union interference and you'll see good teachers retained and bad teachers sent packing.

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Gandalf 2 years, 3 months ago

I have met some teachers that I greatly respect and some that I think should be run out of town on a rail. Unfortunately most are in the middle of the two extremes.

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rockchalk1977 2 years, 3 months ago

The OECD’s comprehensive world education ranking report places the United States as number 14 when it comes to education, behind Estonia and Poland. South Korea and Finland are ranked number one and two respectively on the world education ranking. When you look at their economies, they are also the ones are weathering the current worldwide financial crises fairly well.

In any profession, "respect" has to be earned. If US teachers want respect and better pay, establish a performance based compensation system. Reward achievement and punish mediocrity. Decertify the worthless greedy unions and fire incompetent teachers. Introduce schools vouchers to increase competition. The US deserves a ranking higher than 14.

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jhawkinsf 2 years, 3 months ago

I was watching one of those round forum shows recently (maybe three weeks ago). One of the guests was the head of the teachers union in New York. It was reported that in the previous decade, only a handful of teachers had been fired because of poor performance, (if memory serves, the number was less than five). In a system as large as New York, it seems unlikely that they would have only five bad teachers. Clearly, the union is protecting their own, to the detriment of the children. Also true however, is that given the level of education needed and the working conditions, teachers are grossly underpaid and severely under-respected. The cooperative imperative between teacher and parent has been lost and replaced with a relationship that is too often adversarial. For that I put 99% of the blame squarely on the parent.
Teachers need better pay and they deserve more respect. But the teachers unions needs to stop protecting bad teachers that wind up only hurting the good ones.

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realisticvoter 2 years, 3 months ago

Very obvious that the loudest whiners on this forum have no idea of what a teacher actually does. If it's such a plush job, why aren't they doing it and further, if pay and benefits so great, why do so many teachers quit after a very short time? Seems like most of those complaining here do not value education and their children don't either, which only makes the dedicated teachers job even harder.

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cthulhu_4_president 2 years, 3 months ago

Teachers vs. Babysitters: An analysis

A common argument used to disparage the educators of our nation is that a person who earns $55,000 (if they're lucky) per year for a glorified babysitting job that only operates 9 months out of the year should not have much to complain about. So let's see what happens if we actually decided to pay teachers like babysitters.

Let's assume the cost of babysitting a child is $5 per hour, per child. The rate is probably actually much higher for a babysitter, but let's say we've found a very kind person.

20 kids in a class* $5 = $100 per hour $100 * 8 hour workday (at least) = $800 per day $800 per day * 180 school days = $144,000 per year

Conclusion: a full-time babysitter charging $5 per child/hour will see pay equal to more than %250 of a teacher who takes home $55,000. Conclusion addendum: If our teachers are going to be called babysitters, we should pay them like one.

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usnsnp 2 years, 3 months ago

Several questions, how many of you are teachers, and if teaching is such a good racket why are you not doing it.

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501gdm2 2 years, 3 months ago

What bothers me about teachers, is they continue to print articles saying how important they are and etc. If you sit down and figure amount earned, in salary, and yes they work long hrs at times but who doesn't but then you figure spring break, teachers work days, holidays, such as xmas, new years, and three months off in summer, and don't foreget about all the sick leave they have and the number of part time teachers the district has on board to cover the sick leave, I really can't feel sorry for them. They just need to do their job and quit moaning about the amount of time they work. Quit teaching and get a real job and see who works the most hours, and oh yea the working conditions.

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FalseHopeNoChange 2 years, 3 months ago

Silly me. I thought one had to earn respect.

Government workers, (which btw, are people too) need to work on their individuality.

"Jonathan LIvingston Seagull" should be mandatory reading.

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TopJayhawk 2 years, 3 months ago

The problem with respect for the educational system is that teachers vis a vis the NEA and other Unions are not honest. They lie, they misrepresent, they say it is for the children,when it is all about them. We throw more and more money at them, but nothing gets better.
They are among the most whiney and entittled of all of our work force.
In fact they make decent money now, but always want more. They will tell you that their summers are spent doing continueing education stuff that they don't get paid for. But so do hospital and medical people, lawyers etc.
So whine on teachers, if you can find a better paying job with as good of working conditions, they would go for it in a minute. And another lie they perpetrate; they do nothing to protect kids from Bullies and never will, because they are afraid, and don't want to be bothered.

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budman 2 years, 3 months ago

an average salary of 55,000 a year with summers, winter and spring breaks off, is that really something to complain about? Yes their job is important but who's job isn't.

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