Professional Value


Teachers in a number of states have staged walkouts, and others are striking at the state capitol.  They’re asking for increases in pay, increases in funding so that their students can have books printed more recently than 1950 that have all the pages in them, chairs that aren’t broken, tables that don’t require a book be placed under one or more legs, and basic supplies that are needed to do their jobs.  Opinion pieces have shown up online and in local papers both in support of teachers and chastising them for being greedy.

I got to thinking yesterday after I read one piece in our local paper that was less than supportive of teachers as a whole, but was incredibly angry that teachers are asking for anything at all.  What is it that we value as a society when it comes to education?  How do we show that we value a particular profession?

Teachers in multiple states are among the lowest paid of any profession in those states.  I’ve seen several reports of what full-time teacher’s monthly paychecks look like, and it’s dismal.  One was roughly $700.  Another $1100.  Some teachers have more than one additional job to help support themselves and their family and are humiliated when they run into their students and families while working those other jobs. Not because there’s any shame in those jobs, but rather the shame exists in having to do work beyond teaching just to make ends meet.

Despite what certain networks and writers would like you to believe, teaching isn’t a profession people choose for the money or for the long vacations.  People choose to teach because they enjoy being a part of the learning process for children.  There’s an understanding going in that while on paper there are a number of long breaks, summer vacation, “work” days, and hours from 8-3 every day, that’s not the reality.  And people choose to teach anyway because knowing that a child will go on to do something amazing with their life and take with them a tiny part of you is pretty wonderful.

There’s no other profession that requires you to write detailed plans for the person replacing you when you get sick or need to be at a training.

No other profession requires you use your monthly pay to purchase your own books, materials, supplies, furniture, and pay for your own professional development and license to keep current so you can keep your job.

I can’t think of any other profession that requires you to use your time off to take courses so that you can improve your practice.

Very few other professions require that you continue to work before and after your contracted hours every day without compensation beyond pictures drawn on note cards and sweet notes from children stuffed in among the work you brought home.

And I don’t know of any other profession that is as publicly derided as teaching.  No other profession is under constant threat of having their jobs taken by people with no specialized education…because people think any idiot can teach.

I worked in a number of industries prior to coming to teaching and I never had to buy my own pens, legal pads, and printer paper.  I never had to pay for tests or training I was required to take to keep my job.  I never had to design plans for someone to do my job when I had to be out for a training or when I felt lousy.  Now and then I had to work late, but more often than not it was by choice or for a special event, and there was extra pay for that time.  I was often complained at when I told people where I worked–people don’t like management companies, how much glasses cost, how much office machines cost or how moronic techs seem, and they hate insurance companies on principle.  But it was never at ME personally…  When I say I’m a teacher, I’m attacked as a human being for the profession I chose and told I’m an idiot who is ruining our nation’s children and our nation by association.  That hurts.

When I left the insurance industry, I was making what I make now…after 12 years of teaching.  I took a $30K a year pay cut to become a teacher.  And I’m just now, after 12 years, making close to what I did as an insurance producer.

Teachers in Oklahoma, Kentucky, Arizona, and now local to me are walking out and being publicly shamed for “abandoning” their students.  They’re being shamed for asking for a living wage and supplies to be able to do their job while legislators are in session. They’re being told they’re easily replaced, that anyone out there could do their job better.  They’re being humiliated on national television by people who don’t understand child development, education, or even what kids need to know and be able to do.  They’re being told by old white men who are working as hard as they can to destroy all that we’ve done to improve the world that they need to go back to teaching like we are preparing factory workers for a lifetime of work in the mill because to them, that’s what education is for.

So what do we value?  Do we value people who are willing to give of their early mornings and evenings to do the things that need doing?  Do we value those who find innovative ways to reach children and challenge those who crave opportunities to learn about topics in ways that go beyond the surface? Do we value those who give their whole heart and soul to kids during what parents have said is the BEST part of their child’s day?

If we value those things, why is it so difficult to pay those who choose to do this work a reasonable salary?  Why is it so hard to provide them the materials and supplies and training they need to continue to do their job and improve in their practice?  Why is it that we can come up with $35 BILLION dollars to provide armed guards and guns for teachers after another school shooting, but can’t seem to find any money to provide school psychologists and counselors to support kids for every building full-time?  Why is it so impossible to keep our mouths shut when we know nothing of what the work of a teacher actually entails?

The average teacher in my county (with several years experience and a master’s degree) makes about $44,000 a year.  The opinion writer in our local paper indicated that the only thing teachers clearly require is additional financial education to ensure they live within their means…asking for more pay is just being greedy.

When you think about 1 bedroom apartment (if you can find one) costing $1500 a month in this area, the average student loan payment (because almost all of us have them) being more than that, and take-home pay for a teacher making $44,000 a year after taxes, health insurance, and other benefits are taken out is somewhere near $2700 a month, how again is it possible that a single teacher can live on so little?  There isn’t any financial education that can help get blood out of a stone.

So I ask again.  What do we value? Do we value education enough to pay a salary that a teacher can live on so that extra jobs aren’t required to survive?  Do we value education enough to pay for supplies and materials and training to ensure that the children who are entrusted to our educators have what they need to learn and grow to be able to be the innovators that tomorrow will require them to be?  Do we value our educators enough to expect that they receive the same benefits we are ok with everyone else having–time to be with our families, salary to live a life that is beyond “survival,” and a profession that’s respected by the public because it’s important…

It’s important.


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