Saturday, January 21, 2012

Teaching: "the most overcompensated profession"? Try under-appreciated and disrespected

I spent some time grading papers at Starbucks tonight. Usually, my Starbucks grading sessions are very productive, but that was definitely not the case this evening. A group of women sipping lattes on the couches in the corner were distracting me with their loud conversation about their husbands’ inadequacies. The husband-bashing was enough to distract and annoy me, but then the conversation turned to school and teachers and I became infuriated. The four women discussed their frustrations about daycare options for when school was closed or when students don’t have school because of “teacher workdays.” One woman, the ringleader bitch, if you will, complained about the existence of teacher workdays and in-service days (“why do they even need them?”). She then went on to tell her friends that “new studies show that, when you take everything into consideration, teaching is the most overcompensated profession. I mean, think about it—they get summers off, their day is over by two or three. I should just be an f***ing teacher!” (Oh, please don’t!)

As I tried to concentrate on the in-class writings I was grading, I wondered if any of these women realized what I was doing just two tables over. Off by two or three, huh? Here it is, a Saturday night, and I’m spending my time at Starbucks grading essays. Clearly I’m overcompensated to the extent that I actually have a thriving social life!

I struggled through a couple more essays—not because the writing was poor, but because I kept thinking about these women and their view of educators. These women are the parents of children in our public schools—and this is how they view teachers? Educators deal with enough negative portrayals from a number of sources, but we really need the support of parents!

I decided that I couldn’t just leave without saying something. Unable to focus enough to fairly grade any more papers, I packed up my bag and headed out, stopping by the couches on my way out:
“Excuse me, but I couldn’t help but overhear your comments about teachers earlier.” I made eye contact with each of the four women but mainly focused on the one who had made all the negative comments. As I was speaking this first sentence, she looked at her friends and said, “Oh, God.”
Calm, but assertive, I continued: “I just wanted to say that the study I assume you’re referring to regarding teachers being overcompensated is very flawed. I am definitely not overcompensated, or even compensated for that matter, for the time I spend grading papers at a Starbucks on a Saturday night. And I’m definitely not fully compensated for all the hours I spend working on grading and planning at home in the evenings during the week. I would encourage you to look into the facts and spend a week, or even just a day, with a teacher to see everything we do. We work very hard for your children.”

No response. The ringleader just glared at me. Two of the women avoided eye contact. The fourth woman gave me a small smile and a nod and seemed to mouth something—a “thank you,” maybe, but I’m not quite sure. Then I left and they sat there in silence.

I knew I had to say something to defend our profession. I hope that I made these women think, but I wish I had said more. To think that teachers are overcompensated is absurd. No, “when you take everything into consideration,” teaching is not the “most overcompensated profession.” Rather, teachers are perhaps the most underappreciated, disrespected professionals in our society today. The conversation these four women were having, sadly, supports this notion. “Considering everything” to this woman meant the length of the contract-hour workday and summers off. But most teachers work well beyond the contract-hour workday. And the “summers off” benefit that non-educators like to throw at us is obnoxious. True, we may not be teaching during the summer, but many teachers spend time at conferences, some work with students in summer-enrichment programs and workshops, and many plan to teach new material and review and improve lessons. As an English teacher, I read and plan new works that will become a part of the curriculum the following school year. I also write letters of recommendation in the summer months because the school year is so hectic. I most definitely still work in the summer, just in a different way. Also, this woman’s notion of “considering everything” isn’t taking into consideration the insane pressure that many teachers and schools are under thanks to standardized teaching.

Teachers do not teach because of the amazing compensation and benefits. We teach because we care—about the children, their future, our future, and the subject matter. I teach high-school English because I’m passionate about literature and I love working with teenagers. For me, it’s the best of both worlds! I love what I do, but I surely don’t do it for the money. Teaching is a calling, really. No one goes into teaching for the money. In fact, one of the top reasons teachers leave the profession in the first five years is because of the salary. Someone would be crazy to go into teaching because of the pay! It’s a lot of work for the money that we make. I spend countless hours outside of contract-hours each week, including weekends, grading papers and planning lessons. But I really can’t see myself doing anything else. It’s a lot of work for an inadequate monetary pay-off, but the other rewards—seeing a student grasp a concept they had been struggling with, helping a student overcome a fear of speaking in front of others, seeing a student smile because of the ‘A’ he/she earned on a paper, having a student thank you for listening and understanding—this “compensation” is oh so worth it.


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  2. All too often I hear the same rubbish from neighbors, colleagues, and business partners. Sadly, false perceptions spread within our society much like a spark ignites a forest fire--rapidly spreading out of control. It can be difficult to extinguish the burning flames of misunderstanding and we are, unfortunately, left with the ashes of skewed thoughts. I know our educators invest a great deal of time and energy outside of the contract-permitted school day to ensure our most precious resource--our children--will learn and be successful. Kudos to you for helping teach the woman another perspective--perhaps she will change her point-of-view. Additionally, we are sorry you had to deal with the anguish this caused you. How rude of her to loudly exclaim such views in a public setting.
    Wishing you all the best, Jay & Heather

    1. Thank you for your support! You are most definitely correct--it is hard to correct misunderstandings and skewed perceptions. We need to speak up and do what we can, though. I do hope those women thought about what I had to say.

  3. You are doing a great job, and your students are lucky to have you as such a passionate teacher. Unfortunately, there are teachers out there who are not as committed or dedicated to the profession as you are - and those teachers, unfortunately, have colored the perception for many non-teachers.
    While it is not completely the same, I feel your pain, as "studies" show that stay-at-home moms are more depressed and many view us as lazy and uneducated.
    Thank you for standing up for the amazing teachers in one of the best school counties in the nation!

    1. Thanks, Meredith! I really feel so blessed to work at such a great school. I realize that not everyone has such an opportunity.

      I think some people just have something negative to say about everything, and some folks live on those "studies." It's sad.

      Thanks, again, for your support. I hope that you are doing well! I'm sure you are happy at home with your two little ones, and you are definitely well-educated and have so much to teach your children!

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  5. You are nicer than I would have been, I am sure some F words would have slipped out. I have not been able to find work as a teacher since we moved here due to all the Social Science classes being allotted to the coaches. Because anyone can teach Economics right? And History? I have seen the schools here invent classes in order to be able to hire another coach. I am currently working on my MA in ELL/ESL but have been informed that the DOE is in the process of mainstreaming all the ELL students so separate teachers will not longer be necessary. Any one can teach you to speak English right? Of course.

    1. I'm not quite sure how I managed to stay as composed as I did. I think the "wait time" was key.

      I'm sorry to hear about the frustrations you have been experiencing. Our county has adopted a mandatory finance class, so they're trying to figure out who, exactly, can teach finance/economics.

      There are definitely some crazy things going on in education policy and reform. It's not a perfect system, for sure, but hopefully we can work to find more of a voice and actually be heard.

  6. When I came to the school district from which I retired after 31 years, I had a specialist's masters degree. I made $50 a year too much for my children to receive reduced lunch fees.
    Over the years I have heard all of the nasty comments- "I pay your salary, I don't have a high school diploma and I make more money than you, must be nice to have summers off", ad nauseum. One of my children had a playmate whose father told him that all of his toys were paid for by him because he gave me my paycheck. Now I hear how nice it must be to retire so young.

    Of course your "sisters" in the Starbucks knew you were a teacher. Did you happen to notice if their lattes were served in saucers?

    Like you, I didn't and still don't ignore the insults. Here are some of my replies:

    We have a lot in common, my taxes help pay my salary too,
    I am pleased you make a good living- that's the American
    I was fortunate to find summer school employment and night
    school jobs (only took two summers off- Dad died, I
    had a baby),
    Met with neighbor to point out he did not pay my tuition
    and that I liked his son,
    The retirement snark really gets to me, so... I get to be a teacher again ! I explain how close I was to the government poverty threshold. And now I am receiving my "deferred compensation".

    Thank you, Jennifer, for your fine post. Please don't grade my paper, as I have become a bit relaxed in my dotage.

    1. I really enjoyed reading your comments! Thank you! I love your replies! Thanks for your support.

  7. God Bless YOU. I am a special ed teacher and some say we are not needed for those inflicted with a mental or emotional disorder dont need to be taught. I look at them. and state . you didnt know how to read at two or three until someone taught you. The same applies to the learning disabled and the deserve as much education as you do. Ray

    1. Thank YOU for your work with special-needs children! It is quite sad how some people view education and teachers. It is always encouraging when we receive encouragement and appreciation.

  8. Great post. As a parent of two sons, and three step children raised in Fairfax County - thank you for great work. I, my children, and everyone I know has a story about how a teacher made a difference in their lives.

    We are now empty-nesters and live in Annapolis. Soon, hopefully, to spend winters on our sailboat in the Bahamas. So we are about 25 years ahead of you. Keep up the great work and enjoy where you are and what you do.

    Definitely find time to go sailing. It heightens once senses.

    All the best,
    Eric & Bonnie

    1. Thank you so much for your encouraging words!
      You're living my husband's dream retirement-life! :) We went for our first sail together in Annapolis last summer for our anniversary. (You probably already read the post about it.) We do plan to go sailing more!
      Thanks, again!

  9. Thank you all for your thoughts, comments, and support! I've been surprised with the numerous responses to this blog post (via comments on the post, e-mail, etc). My blog suddenly went from just being an outlet for me with only a couple of readers to having over 1,000 views in one week alone! Wow! I strongly believe in the value of education and the need for us to speak up as educators. I hope that others will share their stories and speak up, too.

    I'm passionate about teaching, literature, positive education reform...and good gluten-free/allergen-free food. :) If you follow my blog, you'll probably see a mix of posts about these topics. Enjoy! And thanks for reading!

  10. KUDOS!! I was pleased to hear that you spoke up, and in a way that was respectful in spite of the temptation to be insulting. As a veteran of 36 years and still in the trenches, I will say that years ago our inservice days were not effective, and research bears that out. "We" now know that to truly be effective we need more days, not less, to hone our craft, and we need to expect those days to model the best of teaching practices. I vote with you, if anyone thinks teachers are overcompensated, PLEASE stay out of the profession. It made me think of a "non-traditional" student teacher I worked with about 15 years ago. As she looked at all that she was taking home at the end of her first week of "manning" the class, she said, "But I quit my job in business and went back to school because I wanted to be home before 4 at night." I chuckled and said, "The only teachers who do that without taking hours of work home are the bad ones. I guess it is decision time for you. Quit and go back to a job, or dig in and become a good teacher. In this district bad teachers don't stay past the first year." I am happy to say she did some soul searching and became a great teacher.