Sunday, March 13, 2011

I am a Teacher...

“Let us think of education as the means of developing our greatest abilities, because in each of us there is a private hope and dream which, fulfilled, can be translated into benefit for everyone and greater strength for our nation.”
John F. Kennedy
The last few weeks, there have been various opinions batted around about teachers. They are overpaid, they are undereducated, they are underachieving, they are failing the children. Really? I want to take the opportunity to clear up some myths about teaching.

Myth #1: Teachers only work 9 months a year.

This is a myth. We work 12 months a year. We never stop working. By the way, the school year now lasts 10 months. I have exactly 8 weeks off for the summer. During this time, I am usually preparing for the next year. Redoing old tests, improving my PowerPoints, making new PowerPoints, improving curriculum, evaluating my performance from the year before, and doing research for the next year. I'm required to take at least 6 hours of college credit every 5 years, that I must pay for myself. Some districts offer some relief for those hours, but most teachers pay for it out of pocket. I usually spend my summers taking these classes, so they won't interfere with my teaching schedule. Plus, my students have summer reading which I myself must read. 4 different novels.

Myth #2: Teachers work part time days.

My day begins at 5:00 a.m. There have been days I have arrived at work before 7, just to have a moment to collect my thoughts. Kids start coming to my classroom as early as 7:15 a.m. There are teachers at my school some mornings before 6 a.m. in order to play catch-up. My contract day is 7:30-3:30. Those are the hours I am paid. We get one usually 55 minute planning period, and our lunch break is usually 25 minutes often spent on duty watching the kids. I have had parent conferences before 7:30 or after 3:30. We also have faculty meetings that often last past 3:30. At one school, we had faculty meetings at 6 a.m., for those who had busy afternoon schedules. We have PTA meetings, cheerleader, football, basketball, track, etc. practices, that often see many teachers leaving campus well after 6 p.m. or later.

Myth #3: Teachers get paid vacations.

No, we don't. This is an illusion. Some districts, including mine, divide our salary over a 12 month period. So, it appears we get paid for the summer. We are really getting the remainder of our salary during the summer. Some teachers only get paid during the 9-10 months and either have to draw unemployment or get a summer job. The only time we are paid before Thanksgiving break is if the last day of the month fall during Thanksgiving break. We are paid before Christmas break, and we don't get paid again until the last day in January. How would you like to go 6 weeks between paydays? I moved and had a car accident this year during Christmas break. I had to borrow money from my family just to buy lunch and get my car fixed which by the way,: is now 8 years old. We don't get paid for days off which includes, weekends, Spring Break, Easter Break, etc.

Myth #4: Teachers are overpaid.

Let's compare teachers to other professions. This is the average salary for these professions in the United States.
Garbage man: $30,000
Fast Food Manager: $45,000
Plumber: $47,000
Truck Driver: $52,000
Teacher (BA degree): $56,000
Respiratory Therapist (AA degree): $59,000
Security Guard: $60,000
Most of these jobs do not even require a Bachelor's degree, which nearly every teaching job requires. Here is a breakdown of teacher salary's by grade level. Check out this chart of teacher salaries by state. My salary, I'm a parochial school teacher. I make a little over 26K a year. Thank God, I live in Mississippi, because I would qualify for welfare in some states.

#Myth 5: Schools provide teachers with all the supplies they need.

Yes and no. Most schools have an allotted amount that they can give each teacher for supplies. Here is a link to a teacher catalog. If you are given $500 as a new teacher, how far will it go? That's if you are given anything at all. Some schools ask for a list. They provide you with what they can afford. We are fortunate that we get many donations. But, Kleenex, germ-x, pens and extra paper, I have to ask for the kid to bring or pay for myself. I also paid for or made myself some of the materials and decoration in my classroom. The government allows us a $250 write off on our taxes, even though one year, I spent more than $400 dollars of my own money.

Then, there is merit pay. Parents and politicians (including President Obama) want to see teacher's pay based on merit, in other words, how well the students perform on standardized tests. Let's take a 6th grade class, who for the most part have 1 teacher. Let's say that teacher has 25 students. It's the day of the standardized test of choice by the school, state, or district.
Mary fell asleep during the 1st part of the test because she didn't get to bed until late because of soccer, ballet, and piano practice before dinner and homework. Johnny didn't sleep at all because his parents were arguing all night. Davy has ADD, a bee just flew into the room, and the teacher can't keep him on task as she does during a regular test, because you have to follow the instructions given with the test. Marvin doesn't like English, so he decides to just mark AC-DC on the test. Norman has been promoted because he is too old to be in the 4th grade he has failed 3 times, and he has no idea what he is doing. Janie has anxiety disorder and freezes up during the test because she is having a panic attack. Over 1/5 of the class fails the test because of elements out of the teacher's control. What do you do? Better yet, just the teachers could the test [there have been a number of teachers, schools, and districts who have just flat out cheated to keep up with No Child Left Behind], which will mean our students can pass a test, but can they pass real life?

Those are realities we face every day. Wiping tears, wiping noses, and that's just in high school. Teachers are coaches, counselors, nurses, referees, chauffeurs (some have to be able to drive school buses), and that's when we are not actually teaching what they pay us to do. I didn't become a teacher to be rich. I became a teacher to make a difference. This is why I give my mornings, afternoons, some weekends, and some of my vacations to be there when my students need me. Even so, we have to live. We are just asking for fairness and a little respect. I love what I do. To me, it is not a job, it is what I was meant to do. It has been my dream since the 4th grade, and I've made it come true. What I don't understand is why some politicians and commentators feel the need to kick teachers. After all, would you be where you are without one?

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have three sets of lesson plans, a novel and an epic poem to read, and 25 research papers to grade before Spring Break ends.

Until next time, "Modern cynics and skeptics... see no harm in paying those to whom they entrust the minds of their children a smaller wage than is paid to those to whom they entrust the care of their plumbing."~John F. Kennedy

1 comment:

  1. This is a great post! I knew some of the things you mentioned, but had no idea of a lot of it. I think teachers are so disrespected these days from politicians to parents. It's a thankless job and is only for those who were truly seeking a calling. I have a friend who teaches at a local high School and I've heard all of the horror stories about every day school life for her. Teachers are underpaid and undervalued. However, I do think on the flip side that there are some teachers out there who just aren't qualified because they approach the position as a job instead of something they were born to do. But, I'll await that opinion from you on another post as far as non-qualified teachers go.

    Again, excellent job! You really opened my eyes to a lot I didn't know and I will gladly share this with my friends on Twitter and FB.