For the Narcissist Lover in You…

If you can read this, thank a teacher. If you can’t, same thing.

This will have nothing to do with writing and it will probably make a load of people nail-spittin’ mad.  Just remember: for a short time, I was a teacher.  I’ve taught at every level from pre-school to college.  Also, let me point out that what I am about to say, LOADS of people think.  That doesn’t make it right, but it does make it something that any self-respecting teacher would benefit from considering.

You know those bumper stickers that talk about the relative budgets of schools and the military?  They go something like this:  “Someday our schools will have enough money and the air force will hold bake sells to buy new bombers”.  Sweet and poignant, innit?  Problem is, as of 2005, the United States is tied with Switzerland for spending more money per student on education than any other country on earth.  In terms of educational outcome, however, we rank 18th of the 36 industrialized nations.  Thus, anyone with a second grade math education (all right, a sixth grade math education, considering what we’re talking about) can see that more money does not equal better education.

Ironically, news outlets recently revealed that the Navy Seal team that successfully eliminated the world’s most wanted terrorist have annual salaries equal to or below the average American teacher.  Fortunately, the Seals work year ’round and don’t storm the White House demanding collective bargaining rights against American tax payers.

A dear friend of mine who is a teacher (and if she reads this, I hope she knows that I love her despite what follows) recently submitted two news articles for consideration.  The first one argued that merit pay for the best-performing teachers was “a red herring. A waste”, insisting that teachers do not get into the profession to make money but to change the world, and are therefore not motivated by financial bonuses.  “There are good teachers and there are bad teachers in every district,” the author says, “Pay doesn’t really make a difference in a profession where people aren’t motivated by money because they never expected to get rich in the first place.”

The second article, submitted a week or so later, lamented “The High Cost of Low Teacher Salaries“, stating that “68 percent [of top tier college students] would consider teaching if salaries started at $65,000 and rose to a minimum of $150,000.”  The author dismissed the question of how to pay for these budget-busting salaries by asking how we paid for other grand expenses, like the Interstate Highway system and the moon landing: “We had the vision and we had the will and we found a way.”  Well then, that was easy!

Am I the only one that thinks those two articles absolutely contradict each other?  Somehow, merit pay is a waste because teachers don’t teach for money AND paying huge six-figure salaries will bring in more teachers.  I guess the point is that more money only motivates teachers if it isn’t in the least related to anything so trivial as job performance.  Getting paid more for actually doing a better job?  That’s for non-union jugheads.  Besides, what IS a good teacher?  How can you quantify that?  Why the very idea is insulting.

Except it isn’t.  Sure teachers have wildly complicated jobs, dealing with dozens and hundreds of unique student situations, all of which put a potential strain on their ability to learn and mature.  I remember it well.  I remember that being a teacher also meant being a psychologist, a sociologist, a mentor, a social worker, and even sometimes a prison warden.  In an environment where parent involvement is often completely non-existent, teaching means compensating in ways that far exceed the curriculum.  But this is not unlike any other career that requires resourcefulness, mental flexibility, and constant passion.  My career (computer animation) requires these things in spades.  In fact, it is this very requirement that makes it so very easy to spot those who excel.  Good teachers are good precisely because they exhibit these traits.  Not all teachers do.  It’s as easy to judge a good teacher as it is to judge a good artist: just look at what they produce.

But here’s the thing that really irritates a lot of us who aren’t (or aren’t any more) teachers:  it’s the tacit demand of respect, regardless of actual job performance.  It’s the self-righteous insistence by a vocal minority of teachers that educators can never be questioned, that their results can never be evaluated, and that they should always be paid more– more!– across the board and regardless of outcome (while still being granted the noble honor of teaching for purely altruistic reasons).

To my teacher friends:  it is insulting to many of us that your unions demand we pay you more while you whine to us that you have two whole weeks to go before your months of summer vacation.  Most of us don’t get to take summer vacations at all.

It is infuriating to many of us that you call merit pay for better performing teachers a “waste” while we all live with the simple reality that doing better work means the difference between thriving and simply staying employed.

It strikes many of us as the height of arrogance to march vocally for collective bargaining rights against us taxpayers, many of whom are glad just to have jobs at all and who already struggle under the crushing weight of taxes.  It is hard for us not to hear, in your shrill demands, an attitude of “who cares about the financial consequences to the rest of you and your children?  Who cares if state budgets are breaking like a million camels’ backs!? I WANT MINE!  I DESERVE MINE!  GIMME!”

I know you don’t like hearing it.  I am willing to acknowledge that most teachers don’t think that way at all.  I would wager that most teachers are hard-working, dedicated, passionate people who just want the best for their students and their families.  But thanks to an extremely vocal minority– those who stampede state capitals with signs and surly attitudes, those who distribute fake doctor’s excuses to explain their absences and who drag their students along with them like propaganda tools– this is the perception your occupation is gradually being defined by in the eyes of a growing number of people.

The thing is, traditionally, people do respect teachers.  Traditionally, people do recognize the value of supporting schools, both financially and in less tangible ways.  But people also get pretty annoyed when respect is shrilly demanded from them as if it was a birthright.  They get angry when money is confiscated from them over and over for a seemingly failing system, and are still vilified for not paying enough.  And they get downright pissed off when they are told that no teacher can be held responsible for performance, when the rest of us live with that elementary reality every day.

So, to all of you good teachers– the vast majority of you who strive diligently, who love your work and your students, who respect the taxpayers who struggle to support their schools– it behooves you to speak a little louder against your labor leaders.  Tell them to tone it down, before the reputation of the educational community is completely destroyed in the eyes of a financially over-stressed population.  Tell your fellow teachers to stop treating students as pawns in a game of Risk.  Spread the idea that we are all in this current financial crisis together, and that creating an us-and-them mentality is not only counter-productive but downright destructive.  Encourage the rewarding of excellence and the active weeding out of bad teachers.  They exist, and you totally know who they are.  Stop protecting them.  Stop letting the unions protect them.

In short, do what’s right.  We’re all in this together.  We can’t afford not to.

And to the vocal minority of you educators and teacher’s union rabble rousers– the ones who made a monumental mess of the Wisconsin capital, who drug impressionable students out to marches as if they were human shields, who demand what you think you’ve got coming regardless of the cost to the rest of us, who make it virtually impossible to remove bad teachers and suction up tax money like it was a bottomless piggy bank while insulting those who actually pay those taxes– I have two words, two words that perhaps only speak for myself, but I seriously doubt it.  Those two words are:

Back. Off.

And you thought I’d end on a funny note, didn’t you?

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7 responses

  1. Andrei

    I’m currently studying for a math major and I’m planning to become a teacher in my country. This is the best article I’ve read lately regarding this problem, mainly because it applies all over the world nowadays. Thank you!

    May 10, 2011 at 4:55 pm

  2. Deborah

    Bravo!

    May 10, 2011 at 5:48 pm

  3. Leon

    Speaking as a current (but soon to be moving on) teacher… bravo as well!

    May 10, 2011 at 6:39 pm

  4. Hester Prynne

    I couldn’t agree with you more, Geo. Personally, as a taxpayer, I’d opt for getting to keep all my property taxes that go toward public schools and using it to pay for a private school (of my choice) education for my children. Right now, I pay for my child (at a private school) and all the others at the public school. A significant portion of those families contribute nothing towards the education of their children because they pay no taxes whatsoever. Doesn’t seem quite right. I’m not a proponant of public schools..neither were my parents nor theirs before them. I think it had something to do with emigrating from a Hilter controlled Germany….

    May 10, 2011 at 6:51 pm

  5. Dawn Ours

    Standing Ovation !!!!!!!!!!
    Well Said.

    May 10, 2011 at 9:30 pm

  6. David Michael Lee

    Excellent!!!!!

    May 10, 2011 at 10:58 pm

  7. Jake

    Agreed. Find out who is going to these rallies and then see which teachers quit/are removed when pay for performance goes in. I bet they’ll be the same.

    May 11, 2011 at 1:18 pm

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