The Rising Cost of Education - Are Your School's Teachers Worth Their Salaries?
Last year's news headlines about Natalie Munroe brought about a multitude of discussions ranging from whether a teacher has the right to voice their frustrations to whether their frustrations are well-founded and therefore, justifiable. As stated in a previously posted article, I am more interested in my fellow Americans taking action to protect our rights to free speech and privacy where the employer-employee relationship is concerned. However, I've become very aware of the growing discord between parents of school aged children and the academics assigned with teaching them. How could I not become aware when the news is filled with teachers crying that their burdens are too great for the small pay they receive, and parents whining about the failure of those same teachers to turn their precious offspring into the geniuses of tomorrow?
The truth of the matter is that both sides are correct and both sides are dead wrong. What I've seen happening in our education system over the last forty-five years is simply an inevitable result of the cultural changes which have taken place in American society. Our society, as a whole, and as is more often the case than not, failed to look to the future and the implications those changes held. We failed to put together a plan to deal with the gaps and rifts caused by shifting parental responsibilities and needs, in connection with those of the teachers charged with successfully educating our young.
Prior to the 1960's, most families only had one income which was supplied by the man of the house. The little woman was charged with raising the offspring, maintaining the household cleanliness, and keeping order among the many schedules of the individuals living in that household. It was a full time job requiring round-the-clock administration. The time requirements for doing this job haven't changed, there's simply less time permitted due to other demands created by our changing culture.
As someone who began her educational career in the 1960's and then parented school age children in the 80's, 90's and 2000's, I lived the changes which took place on the educational level. From the perspective of a student and then a parent, it was a frustrating ordeal, one which should never have to be experienced by anyone, yet is now being experienced as a daily occurrence by parents and teachers everywhere.
As an elementary school student, I was introduced to a daily routine which began with the teacher taking the time to read a short motivational type story relating to our duty as students to learn and then pass on our discoveries to others. Some of these stories were of a religious bent, while others were simply about the importance of social etiquette and manners. When recesses were called in order to give young children an opportunity to expend pent up energy, the playground was filled with teachers who also took the opportunity to get some fresh air. While I know there were duty rosters listing which teachers were responsible for playground monitoring, I also know that these same teachers didn't limit their personal sense of responsibility to the posted list. I have many fond memories of teachers taking part in our games with us, being involved in our play as well as our academic endeavors, creating a personal bond which lasted beyond the current school year.
When the new school year arrived, my parents were not issued a long list of supplies they were to provide for the purpose of my being given an education. All items were supplied by the school district because my parents paid school taxes, which were formulated to cover every cost included in providing that education. In those days, taxes weren't solely for the purpose of building costs and the salaries of teachers and administrators.
I recall the departure of quite a few very good teachers in the mid-1970's. My fellow students and I arrived for the first day of the new school year, looking forward to taking classes from some of these departed teachers. We were told they had left for higher paying jobs which was the first time we were introduced to the financial problems of many teachers. While our young minds were able to understand the need for employment which would provide a decent livelihood, it didn't lessen the feeling that our heroes had deserted us.
A few years later, after I had graduated, I worked for a company who did income tax preparation for the paying public. The office was in my hometown, therefore, I had several occasions to become intimately involved with some of my past teachers' finances. I remember being appalled at the ridiculously low salaries they were paid. One teacher was only paid a little over $12,000 for a lifetime of dedication. Please keep in mind, this amount was the equivalent of making about $26,500 today.
If I compare the amount of work and dedication I personally observed during the years I was a student, to the years I was a parent to students, I have to say I've seen a serious decline in the standards. $12,000 in 1979 was not much for a person who spent all day teaching, all evening planning for the coming weeks, and preparing for the next day. It wasn't much for someone who had spent thirty-five years doing this work, year after year. It wasn't much for someone who took time to meet with parents in the evening to discuss a child's progress, or who attended all school related events in a show of support to the students participating in the activities.
While it wasn't much for a lifetime of work, and there was definitely a need for society to take action to bring salaries into alignment with the amount of work and dedication required of those professionals, it was not a reason to obliterate all duties necessary beyond the actual hours of a school's operation. Teachers in the 1970's physically spent a full 8 hours per day at the job site, followed by another 2-3 hours of paperwork in their off hours. Given the expected attendance at school related events during non-work hours, it's easy to see how the average teacher spent around 60 hours per week in activities related to earning their meager salaries. Even though teachers only worked about 40 weeks out of the year, the hourly rate would still only be roughly $5.00 per hour. Minimum wage in 1979 was about $3.35 per hour. Yes, there was a definite need to bring balance in pay to the work being performed.
Now, thirty years later when comparing the pay to the amount of work being performed, I am still seeing that lack of balance. This time, though, the element lacking in the measurements is the amount of work being performed for the pay expected, or rather demanded. Public school teacher's and administrator's salaries are considered public information. I did some research into salaries of teachers in various areas of our country. I found that all teacher's salaries are fairly comparable when considering the ratio of salary to cost of living for a given area, though there are a few exceptions.
Because Pennsylvania is my home state, I'll use the numbers from my home school district in my examples. The average starting salary for a new teacher fresh out of college is between $39,000 and $41,000 per year. The average amount of weeks worked out of 52 is about 44, with 36.5 hours per week of scheduled work. These numbers translate into $24.68 - $25.53 per hour. Even if a 60 hour work week is used to calculate the hourly wage, the pay would be $14.77 - $15.53 per hour. Based on the pay rates from 1979 (for a teacher with 25+ years), the equivalent would only be about $11.12 per hour for a 60 hour week. Incidentally, the difference between minimum wageand a teacher's pay was a 49% difference, whereas today, the average starting pay for a teacher is more than double the minimum wage.
I've used a 60 hour week comparison for the sole reason of keeping the comparisons complete, but I don't believe the majority of these teachers spend more than 45 hours doing teaching related work. All one needs do is take a look at the results of their collective performances. Once considered one of the top school districts showing high academic student performance, my district is now ranked at 395 out of 542. Another interesting fact about teachers and their salaries: it seems the states which pay the highest salaries in comparison to the cost of living, are also the states experiencing the highest rate of teachers strikes. Pennsylvania is ranked at #5 in comparison to other states, but according to the Associated Press, it's experienced more than half of all strikes since 2004. It would seem to me that more money certainly does not translate to a better learning experience. Throwing more money at teachers who don't perform isn't going to entice them to do a better job, it simply rewards them for poor performance.
I find it very difficult to feel pity for the “plight” of today's teachers. The amount of work being performed is nowhere near the amount being done by those of thirty years ago. My class room size was between 32 and 36 students per class, with one teacher and no such thing as an aide or assistant. Grading papers at home and planning for the upcoming days and weeks was a given. It was all a part of the job. The only “free” periods expected were during the time the students were in gym class or lunch, with supervisory duties of the lunchroom rotated amongst the teaching staff.
During the 1980's, the general public bought into the idea that teachers should be paid more. That was good considering the number of hours of dedication necessary to being a GOOD teacher. But then we began to agree to other demands, such as smaller class rooms. We allowed ourselves to be convinced that smaller classrooms would create an environment of more individualized teaching. We blindly believed that having fewer pupils would produce better performance from our teachers. In 1997 the average classroom size in this country was 25 students. By 2005 the number had dropped to 15.5, an amount less than half of the average size of 25 years prior.
We caved into demands for more taxpayer funded “free” periods to help curb the amount of take-home work a teacher might have to complete in their off the job personal time. We met demands for more and more aide in the form of teaching assistants. All these ridiculous demands have been met, over and over again, until the cost of publicly educating a student is more than some people earn in the same 44 week span.
Teachers reading this will likely be outraged by some of my remarks, because according to most teachers I've ever heard complaining, they are faced with the monumental task of teaching students who don't want to be taught. They are expected to turn these same students into top performers. They are expected to deal with the ungrateful, demanding parents of these same students. I've heard teachers complain that they are expected to teach their students manners and respect, which according to them, should be done at the home level. WHAT??? I've heard teachers remark about their disgruntlement over being expected to MOTIVATE students, claiming motivation isn't their job. WHAT????
Perhaps these attitudes of self-righteousness are a huge part of the problem. I'll agree that teaching begins at home, but where does anyone get off assuming that their classroom problems are a result of the parents? Perhaps the teacher is the problem, or the environment, or the lack of accountability the teaching staff demonstrates? Children are naturally selfish creatures geared toward relieving what they view to be their needs. It's up to the adults in their lives to model the way, and this includes all adults who are in a position to impact the child's understanding of the world around them.
Parents become parents by choice. We aren't given a handbook on raising a child. We aren't required to take four years of college level instruction before being permitted to conceive. We work our way through all the problems and joys associated with raising a child. Teachers also become teachers by choice. The difference is that teachers DO have an education geared to the job, as well as learning basic psychological facts about children and their maturity levels and coping skills.
We will both make mistakes because it is through mistakes that we learn. The experience of our lessons is what makes us valuable in respect to dealing with future situations of a like nature. It is the information we've learned that we pass on to the children in our care, in hopes that our lessons will help them to make better informed decisions. The reality of this is that some students will learn from our mistakes, while others will need to make them on their own. Maturity level plays a very big hand in how any one student will respond to lessons being taught.
When I hear a teacher say they it's not their job to teach proper behavior and deportment, I want to fire them on the spot. It certainly is a large part of the job. Our children spend more of their waking hours in the company of their teachers than with their parents and families. On average, a child will spend about one hour prior to leaving for school, getting dressed and fed. Most parents don't get home from work until after 5 pm, at which time household duties like cooking dinner and washing clothing takes up their time. The children may spend that same time doing their homework. Then it's time to eat, take showers, and perhaps go over their activities of the day with their parents. These events only happen if there are not extra curricular activities.
Parents can do their very best to instill values in their children, but when those children leave home to attend school, it's up to the teachers to continue building on those foundations. We've all had experiences with a child who behaves a certain way in our care, only to discover their behavior isn't the same in another's company. It's no different just because they are in school. Education officials need to stop assuming that a student's home life is solely responsible for bad behavior or poor performance, and take some responsibility for correcting the problems.
We all know that children learn what they live. Guess what? They live most of their youth in a scholastic setting. Perhaps watching their teachers take personal cell phone calls during classroom time has taught them not to respect the time set aside for learning. Perhaps listening to news reports of teacher strikes by those who demand more and more for less is teaching them to bargain and argue for unearned grades. Perhaps hearing about teachers crying over the amount of take-home work expected by the general public is what teaches them that they shouldn't be required to complete their homework either. After all, they attend school all day for the purpose of learning. Perhaps they too believe after hours should be reserved for their personal use. Perhaps they take their cues from the teachers around them who complain about being required to actually spend every moment teaching without enough “free” paid time. Perhaps they too feel the task of learning all this stuff is too taxing for them and the rewards aren't great enough for what is expected.
We all complain about the sense of entitlement today's kids are exhibiting. Where do you think they learned this behavior? Something else to be considered; this belief didn't just start yesterday. It began many years ago and has escalated to this degree. It is continuing to escalate because every year more and more children become of adult working age and begin to demand more for less.
One of the most infuriating remarks I've heard is that a teacher's job is important, therefore they should be paid more. First off, the matter of importance is one of relativity. If the job isn't performed well, then the importance is irrelevant. Second, does importance justify extortion? Teacher strikes are simply a form of legalized extortion. Publicly funded positions should never be open to work stoppages. We, the taxpayers, fund those positions. It is up to us to determine what we can afford to pay. In my job as a General Manager of a business, if I can't meet the financial demands of an applicant, I don't hire him. If I can't meet the demands for a raise from a salaried employee, I don't give him the raise. And while I may hope he doesn't leave for a better paying job, I understand it is his right. However, if he is an excellent producer with high standards, I will do everything in my power to try to either meet his demands or come to some kind of agreement. I would suggest those who don't think their jobs are financially rewarding enough, find a new job. It's your right. And if you truly love your job otherwise, then start producing results that will convince your employers (the taxpayers) that you are a much needed commodity.
On a collective basis, in my school district, I'm not seeing evidence that the extremely well paid teachers are performing the quality of work for which they are paid. Standard testing on 11thgraders revealed that only 58% were able to read at grade level, down from 66% the previous year. Also revealed was a 45% grade level achievement in math and a 41% achievement in science. Math was down 8%, while science was stagnant. Pennsylvania, as a whole, was only 1-2% better. In fact, Pennsylvania ranks in the 55th percentile on a national basis. Again, I don't believe these performances support the notion that our teachers aren't being paid enough.
I suggest we begin doing exactly what they demand in respect to paying according to all they accomplish. Averaging the scores would be about 45% on level achievement. The average national teacher's wage is about $54,000 taking both newly hired and long term teacher's salaries into account. This figure also includes salaries from areas with very high costs of living. Since the level of achievement is only 45%, perhaps we should only be paying 45% of the national average which would be $24,300 per year. Maybe the incentive of increased pay by percentages of achievement will help to motivate our teachers to perform at a higher level.
I urge every one who reads this to take the time to do a little research (http://php.app.com/edstaff/search.php) on their own school districts and the teaching staffs. It's not only our right to know the costs of our education systems, but it is our duty to monitor and curb unnecessary spending. If you wouldn't pay $50 -100,000 a year for your child's college tuition at a school known for it's failure to produce qualified graduates, then don't do so for their elementary and secondary education.
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