So, plenty of people will tell you teachers are underpaid. And the Wall Street Journal, which is riding high on the internet love for Wall Street by going by WSJ these days, would like you to believe otherwise. The New York Post has similar ideas but for different reasons.
Their reasoning? Lots of teachers have degrees in “education” which are easier to get than degrees in other fields. (This is in part because legislatures and boards kept upping the bar on people who’d been in the field for years or offering petty “bonuses” to get a degree, bonuses that never really offset the cost of the degree. And, of course, universities are profit centered so they offer what they can get cash for. Part of the reason they’re so easy, by the way, is because they’ve been rehashing the same basic research since around 1965 but because there are too many hoops to jump through to get new research done — and the money’s in textbooks and testing anyway — the status quo is cutting edge.) Their other main reason is that teachers, on average, apparently score lower on standardized tests than private sector employees. Their numbers are that teachers come out around the 40th percentile.
Now, sure they have a caveat about teachers, and they single out math and science, who might have degrees in other subjects or higher scores. It’s a throwaway thought, though, and it even comes across that way in the article.
Before I get into the rest of my rant, let me just say that I don’t have an education degree, something that gets me looked down upon in education. I have a BS in business (and spent nearly a decade working in them) so when people tell me education should be run like a business, I know what I’m talking about when I call them a doofus or worse. I have an MS in a branch of sociology. I have no recollection of my SAT score other than the first time I took it, I fell asleep during the math section because I’d had to get up at 4 and drive two hours to the test. I do know the last time took the GRE, I scored in the 97th percentile on the verbal section, the 75th percentile on the quantitative, and the 84th percentile on the analytical writing section. I was a little disappointed in the math and writing scores. I’d totally take it again if I had an extra $160 or so lying around. My LSAT scores were a little more dismal as I was only in the 74th percentile there. I knew it when I was done with the thing, too.
I’m not throwing that stuff out there to brag, but to illustrate a point. When you talk about an average percentile, you’re putting your statistics in a blender to begin with. You’re also leaving the “I suck at math” people with the idea that all teachers are dumb. Some of us pull the average up and my reading coach pulls it back down.
But, see, I didn’t get into education because I wanted the easy way out of a “real job.” I left one of those so-called real jobs to teach. I was more curious than anything because of my sociology research and it was more secure than the other industry I was in at the time.
And don’t think I’m not frustrated with the people around me who make more, know less, and couldn’t get out of a wet paper sack if offered monetary and food-based motivations. Don’t think I’m also not irate that they’re the ones who get the cushy assignments and promotions because they’re the best at playing games and knowing all the right catch-phrases. Then again, isn’t that how all workplaces work? The lady who has to count out the days of the week on her fingers to figure out if it’s Tuesday yet gets the corner office where she won’t be doing much because that way she can’t screw anything up while she’s screwing the head of sales. And the odd little intern who’s memorized all the SKUs and recoded the database from scratch gets laid off because she rarely made eye contact and refused to buy designer shoes. See, education is run like a business.
And maybe, like business, the people who aren’t so bright are drawn to easy degrees and jobs that garner little respect and that’s caused all those numbers to fall over the years. If a person can get a job as a biologist, his chances are probably better at actually getting to do biology and getting payment and recognition than if he teaches it. (And I don’t just mean attaboys at work. I mean he doesn’t get that look of pity from people at social gatherings when he mentions what he does for a living and he’s also less likely to be attacked repeatedly in the media and by halfwits on Facebook for being in a scapegoat profession.)
The NYP meanwhile, goes back to the tried and true tactic of assuming teachers should only get paid for the time they’re actually in front of a classroom teaching. Not for the time spent planning elaborate lessons; or calling parents to explain why Johnny refused to participate in the elaborate lesson; or researching ways to get Johnny to finally learn phonetic blends or division or the parts of a plant cell. This is a little like saying a lawyer should only bill his or her client for the time he or she was actually in a courtroom. (And yeah, there are lawyers who don’t litigate and there are teachers who don’t work directly with a classroom full of kids. Pay attention.) Sure all that trial prep was time away from family and friends and playing golf or reading or whale watching, but hey, the client didn’t see it happen so it must not have.
When I worked in advertising, we didn’t push one of those little chess clocks whenever we were working direction on an ad and then stop it when we were waiting for information from a buyer or waiting for the printer or sitting in a pointless meeting. Why would teachers be different?
Or maybe we’re just having all the wrong conversations. Maybe instead of arguing over whether teachers get paid too much, we should start worrying about if everyone else is getting paid enough. (And by everyone, I don’t mean the CEOs living off capital gains and interest.) Instead of blasting teachers’ unions (some of which are admittedly corrupt but at no greater rate than any other sizable organization), maybe the copy-editors and IT gurus and accountants and nurses need to start forming their own unions, to start arguing for a piece of those pies that keep getting eaten by the top. Maybe instead of worrying about whether teachers are working enough of each twenty-four hour period, we should start turning our Crackberries and iPhones off while we’re eating dinner with the grandkids, stop answering banal work emails at midnight, stop tossing and turning over some widget proposal. Because America seemed to run better back when it knew when to go the hell home already.