Teachers in U.S. deserve more respect

January 13, 2012


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.


budman 3 years, 10 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.

Ragingbear 3 years, 10 months ago

First of all, "average" salaries are misleading. This lumps salaries of places like L.A. in with areas like Kansas. You need to look at the "median" salary of a teacher to get a proper feel of what they make.

Furthermore, there are other expenses and issues they have to deal with. First and foremost is that the school funding cuts underscore the availability of materials in class, resulting in them needing to purchase many materials themselves. In most cases, teachers need to be at the school by 7am by the latest. They usually don't get off until 5:00-5:30. They are also expected to attend a variety of school functions and go to schools for training and administrative task when many students usually have the day off (professional days).

Ask any teacher what it means to have these so-called "breaks" that you mention. They will tell you how most of the time, breaks outside of Summer consist of them catching up on paperwork, attending meetings, finalizing grades and reports and lots of clerical work that most people take for granted. As for Summer, most have to find a second job or at least work Summer School in order to make ends meet as the schools typically only give a small stipend, if anything at all during these months.

Furthermore, I would like to see you work for 10 hours a day in a room with 35 snot-nosed, spoiled, ungrateful, conniving and drama-laden kids with helicopter parents hovering over you constantly questioning your motives and methods and waiting for you to mess up in any way. Only to discover that if you go out partying or drinking or anything even slightly "immoral" that you will never hear the end of it. THEN you can tell me that teachers make too much.

Oh. And teaching is a union thing. So mandatory meetings, being bound by union mandated contracts, and fees. Don't forget union fees. Gotta have those.

bevy 3 years, 10 months ago

You've obviously never been a teacher, or you're just a troll.

Peter Macfarlane 3 years, 10 months ago


What data do you have to support this outrageous claim?

Ragingbear 3 years, 10 months ago

School starts at 7:30 and goes to 3:30. Teachers are usually there no later than 7:00 but usually at 6:30, getting ready for the day.

During this time the teachers get no breaks, as even lunch requires them to supervise children. Then, once the kids leave they are required to sit there until 5:00-6:00 grading papers, cleaning classrooms and preparing for the next day. Then there are always the phone calls from parents, or other staff members for something or other. 10 hours a day is usually an understatement.

TopJayhawk 3 years, 10 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.

gudpoynt 3 years, 10 months ago

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Peter Macfarlane 3 years, 10 months ago

No, the problem, as you so blithely put it is that Americans, as a whole, do not value the contributions that teachers make to our prosperity. We would rather pay to watch and enjoy sporting events (players salaries and pay-per-view events included) than pay teachers what they are really worth. Recent events indicate to me that we value those in sports more than we do teachers. Just look at all the Penn State alumni fuss and fury about the firing of Joe Paterno, a football coach. Do you think there would be any such action on the part of the alumni if a faculty member from that institution of higher learning were fired for the same reasons as Paterno? There would not be a peep!

Look again at our values as a society. You don't have look very close to see how screwed up we really are.

501gdm2 3 years, 10 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.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 3 years, 10 months ago

Let me guess-- you've never been a teacher, and probably have zero real knowledge of what they do (or don't do.)

tolawdjk 3 years, 10 months ago

Judging by that sentence structure, I concur.

Peter Macfarlane 3 years, 10 months ago

By your post, I can tell you must have been an A student in Language Arts and English during your middle- and high-school years. I love the run-on sentence you wrote. Obviously, what you learned in school didn't stick. It is also obvious you have not recognized the value of the education your teachers gave you and that it is precisely the gift of education that probably has allowed you to advance in life.

I pity you.

usnsnp 3 years, 10 months ago

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

cthulhu_4_president 3 years, 10 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.

cthulhu_4_president 3 years, 10 months ago

All things being equal I guess my comment could be seen as funny, at least compared to yours, since mine at least had a point.

Would you care to come off the high horse and have a discussion? Is my math off somewhere? I understand if you can't be bothered with trivialities like actually engaging people with whom you disagree.

imastinker 3 years, 10 months ago

What is it you want a discussion of? My daycare is $25/day for 9 hours. That's less than $3/hr per kid. Out of that my daycare provider has expenses to pay for like food and some transportation. She is limited to six kids. She has no benefits. She pays self employment taxes. She gets no paid days off. If she's sick she makes no money. She works all summer.

The only similarity in your example is that they both spend the day with kids.

Katara 3 years, 10 months ago

There is a difference between a babysitter & a daycare provider.

Babysitters aren't expected to teach children anything. They are mostly there to entertain children while the parents are out. Babysitters are usually paid $5/hr on up for a minimal amount of work.

Daycare providers are expected to provide the same level of care and loving that a parent provides but at a "reasonable" cost (usually $100-125/week) and have a limit on the amounts of kids they can watch on a given day.

xyz 3 years, 10 months ago

20 kids in a class?? Those days are long gone. A range of 28 to 34 kids per teacher is closer to reality.

realisticvoter 3 years, 10 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.

1southernjayhawk 3 years, 10 months ago

Most, if not all, of the posters on this forum have a pretty good idea of what a teacher does having been in school for, hopefully, a decade or more and having had many teachers, both good and not so good.

I value my education greatly. It seems to me that societies set the value, i.e. salaries, conditions, terms, benefits, of teachers. Societies have a lot of input. And, as a group, I can't think of many others that complain more and more publicly about their value than teachers perhaps except for other union groups.

realisticvoter 3 years, 10 months ago

Sorry, but sitting in classrooms for 12 or more years does not tell you everything involved in a teachers duties and responsibilities. Further your view of what a teacher does or does not do is very much affected by your parents and other family members views. If they don't value education, then you probably won't either. So, having said that, I doubt that most of the complainers here really know what teachers do either. By the way, I have never taught and have no family members who have, nor currently do teach

jhawkinsf 3 years, 10 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.

jafs 3 years, 10 months ago

The problem is that it's hard to determine what teachers are ultimately responsible for, given the other factors that are involved.

jhawkinsf 3 years, 10 months ago

I really hate it when someone tells me to leave my common sense at home. If you have a school system with tens of thousands of teachers and someone tells me they are all good teachers, then I know I'm being lied to. If someone else tells me that all the teachers are bad, again, I know I'm being lied to. The point is, that as far as I know, no one is telling me that all teachers are bad. If the tell me the teachers are underworked and overpaid, then I will politely disagree with them because that is a simple matter of opinion. They are entitled to their opinion and I'm entitled to mine. If someone is telling me that there are no bad teachers, as the union apparently is saying through their actions in defending all accusations against teachers, then I know I'm being lied to. It is no longer a matter of opinion. We may disagree on the mechanism of determining who is a bad teacher and how we can go about removing those bad teachers. But if anyone, union or management, persist on telling me something that common sense tells me is a lie, then I lose respect for the person or entity that perpetuates that lie.

jafs 3 years, 10 months ago

I told you no such thing.

I said that it's hard to figure out a way to measure teacher performance well, and accurately, because student performance depends on much more than their teachers.

I'm very much in favor of holding teachers to some reasonable standards.

But how do we determine their responsibility accurately, and not hold them accountable for factors outside of their control, like parents, socioeconomic status, etc.?

jhawkinsf 3 years, 10 months ago

I didn't mean you said it. I meant that it's been implied when someone else says something so unbelievable as to insult my common sense and says it with a straight face, expecting me to believe it. It wasn't a comment directed at you personally. But if teachers are going to expect to be treated as professionals, then they need to behave like professionals. When they employ hired guns in the form of a union that defends good and bad alike, they lose credibility.
I'm not really in a position to determine a good doctor, lawyer or teacher from a bad doctor, lawyer or teacher. But they are. If they don't do that, then shame on them.

jafs 3 years, 10 months ago

So you'd like for the unions to determine that?

Most people that advocate for holding teachers to standards aren't interested in the unions doing that, I would think.

And, whoever does it, the question remains of how to do it accurately and well.

By the way, if you're not in a position to judge good doctors, lawyers, etc. how do you choose one for yourself?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 3 years, 10 months ago

"I really hate it when someone tells me to leave my common sense at home."

The problem is that you don't seem to know the difference (or, at least, you don't exhibit that you do) between "common sense" and your preconceived notions and prejudices.

jafs 3 years, 10 months ago

Yes it does.

And, yet, the other countries you mention don't get higher rankings by doing the things you advocate.

Perhaps you should look at what they do, and then suggest similar actions on our part.

Finland, for example, according to numerous posts on here, has approximately 98% unionized teachers.

deec 3 years, 10 months ago

Students in voucher schools perform at the same level, or worse, than students in public schools. Wisconsin has been using children for guinea pigs in a few cities for a few years, and the voucher school kids on average did worse on standardized tests. Vouchers do allow religious organizations and for-profit corporations to grab a chunk of public funds, which is why there is so much propaganda from the right to encourage them. http://dpi.wi.gov/eis/pdf/dpinr2011_30.pdf

gudpoynt 3 years, 10 months ago

Finland has a strong teacher's union with which the government works closely. Furthermore, teachers are revered by the populace, receive expert training, and are paid very well.

deec 3 years, 10 months ago

I'm not defending cheating, but at least in the Atlanta case, the teachers were cheating at the behest of the superintendent so the schools could meet standardized goals. It had nothing to do with unions. It had everything to do with employees being intimidated by their bosses into going along. "The report accuses top district officials of wrongdoing that could lead to criminal charges in some cases." http://www.ajc.com/news/investigation-into-aps-cheating-1001375.html

hedshrinker 3 years, 10 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.

jafs 3 years, 10 months ago

Does your wife agree?

And, did you quit your job and immediately sign up to be a teacher?

Katara 3 years, 10 months ago

Your link does not work.

Further, you need to enroll in remedial math class if you believe that average & median are the same thing.



jafs 3 years, 10 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.

common_man 3 years, 10 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.

jafs 3 years, 10 months ago

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jafs 3 years, 10 months ago

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jafs 3 years, 10 months ago

Hi :-)

Libertarianism is a tough sell - it's too radical for most people.

But yes, he isn't doing his cause much good by lashing out and insulting people.

That line says so much - I have to remember it.

jafs 3 years, 10 months ago

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jafs 3 years, 10 months ago

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jafs 3 years, 10 months ago

If you don't mean what you say, you should say it differently.

jafs 3 years, 10 months ago

And are you a teacher?

If not, why not, if it's such a great deal?

You do realize that the KPERS system is most likely going to be eliminated and replaced with a 401K-type program, don't you?

Elaine Elliott 3 years, 10 months ago

I don't know what teacher is retiring at 55. Starting pay for a teacher in the state of Kansas is 27K and that's after 4 years of college, 5 if you attend KU. Missouri just passed a law saying that starting teaching pay has to be 25k. With a master's degree in Lawrence you make less than 40k. Teaching is rewarding in other ways, I don't need to be rich, I don't plan on being rich and I know I'm not going to be able to retire at 55. I'm not asking for your adoration but don't belittle a profession when you have no accurate information.

pace 3 years, 10 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.

pace 3 years, 10 months ago

He just repeats the latest from Fox, no content all hate. I always think alcohol has a bit to do with such posts, but my friends say that is a negative view of drunks.

jafs 3 years, 10 months ago

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