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In Defense of Teachers

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Let’s get this out of the way up front: not everyone can be a teacher.

I know we all like to think we could do someone else’s job, but the truth that is that none of us would be very good at them. Everyone thinks they’re excellent drivers, after all. It’s always everyone else who shouldn’t be behind the wheel. Everyone thinks they can write, too – because they have Great Ideas, and the rest is just typing. Everyone could be a better President or CEO or whatever. The list goes on and on.

The point is, we all tend to think we could do a better job than someone else. The same applies to teachers, because everyone is pretty sure they could teach a classroom full of kids. After all, parents help their own kids with homework, which is basically the same thing, right? And they do it without an answer key!

Yeah, that’s a bunch of nonsense.

To start with, teaching is more of a calling than a profession. Nobody is in it for the paycheck.

But they actually make a lot of money, when you factor in all the time off they get!

Um, no. This is something a lot of people love to say, but it’s just not true. The starting salary for a teacher in Calcasieu Parish is $43,461 – which doesn’t sound half bad, especially when you consider they only work 182 contract days.

However, if you’ve ever known a teacher, you’ll know they don’t only work 182 days. And they don’t only work 40 hours a week, either.

Let’s break it down.

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At $43,461 a year, a starting teacher makes $3,621.75 a month, which works out to $835.79 per week, or $167 a day. That’s about $21 an hour, for 40 hours each week – if they worked 52 weeks a year. But they’re only paid for the days they actually work; it’s just spread out over a full year’s time.

When you do the math to get their actual daily rate, it works out to around $239 a day for 182 days, or about $30 an hour for a total of around $1,200 in a 40 hour work week. Which is really pretty great, and it’s probably why a lot of people focus on this number when they say teachers aren’t underpaid.

However, teachers don’t work only 40 hours a week. Not even close.

Let’s say an English middle school teacher has six classes a day, with 30 kids in each of them. Every time she gives an assignment, that’s 180 papers to grade – and they don’t get to work on that sort of thing during the school day, because they’re too busy teaching.

Even if she only assigns one paper each week and can grade one paper every five minutes, that’s 15 hours of grading right there. If she assigns two papers, that jumps to 30 hours. Now she’s working a 70 hour week – and that’s only factoring in grading two assignments.

Teachers also provide after school tutoring, and stay late for things like bus duty and detention monitoring. Some teachers sponsor extracurricular clubs that meet after school and on weekends. Others chaperone school functions like dances and football games. They ride on buses for out of town games and UIL competitions on nights and weekends and school holidays. They attend staff development and have homework of their own to do in the form of lesson plans and other mundane aspects of paperwork and reporting in the modern classroom.

Teachers can easily work upwards of 70-80 hours or more each and every week – which isn’t factored into their paychecks.

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When we take their daily rate of $238 and divide it by, let’s say 75 hours instead of 40, that $30/hour pay dips down to $16/hour – which is only one dollar higher than what some people think minimum wage should be.

But teachers also spend their own money on classroom supplies, decorations, and things like little rewards for their students – and this isn’t just at the start of school, either. Teachers are expected to keep their classrooms updated throughout the year to reflect each season and grading period. They also work on weekends and over their holidays, and any time they can to take care of all the stuff they have to do that doesn’t involve actual teaching in the classroom.

All things considered, that $16/hour is probably somewhere around $12 or $13 in actual dollars when you factor in all the unpaid overtime.

So, no. Teachers aren’t overpaid. They’re not even adequately paid. They’re understaffed, underpaid, and overworked – so maybe the rest of us should think about that the next time we feel like getting fussy with a teacher because we don’t think she likes our kid, or after she sends home a disciplinary note in their Trapper Keeper. (Do they even still make Trapper Keepers anymore? They totally should.)

Aside from the low pay and long hours, teachers are also expected to wrangle a classroom full of kids who don’t want to be there. Teachers have to capture their attention when they don’t want to give it, make them care about things they aren’t interested in, and try to get them to learn a little something along the way.

That ain’t easy, folks.

Teachers’ hands are tied when it comes to discipline, they’re constantly monitored and assessed and evaluated on everything from how often they sit down each day to how well their students perform on increasingly rigorous standardized tests, and every parent of every child is constantly scrutinizing everything they do.

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Teachers have to teach to the test, but they still have to teach the curriculum. Teachers have to keep order in a classroom entirely populated by raging hormones disguised as students, and they have to make the kids care about learning instead of whoever they’re crushing on that week. Teachers have to discipline, teach, and inspire 30 kids in each of their classes every single day – and they do it all for very little money amidst constant criticism.

“Writing is an occupation in which you have to keep proving your talent to those who have none.” – Jules Renard

I love the above quote, because it’s true. And teaching is a lot like writing, in that regard. Teachers must constantly prove that they’re doing their jobs to everyone who isn’t doing their jobs, whether they be administrators or state officials, parents or random internet commenters. Everyone thinks they could do a better job at teaching than actual teachers, which is just silly.

  • Could you keep an unruly class of 30 kids focused and on-topic?
  • Could you break through a student’s learning barriers to get them to understand the material?
  • Have you studied any educational theories and practices?
  • Do you understand things like childhood development, learning disabilities, types of intelligence, and teaching to every different learning style at the same time?
  • Do you know what teachers can and can’t do in a classroom?
  • Do you have any idea what you’re talking about, really, when it comes right down to it?

Probably not, otherwise you’d be a teacher.

So let’s all leave the “those who can do…” nonsense packed away this year, and recognize how difficult a teacher’s job truly is. We don’t need to add to their workloads by scheduling parent-teacher conferences every time our kids don’t do their homework or fail a test. That’s on our kids – and on us as parents for not paying closer attention and helping them at home. It’s not the teacher’s fault.

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I’m not saying you have to send an apple a day to school or anything, but how about we all just start this school year off right – by, to quote the immortal philosophers Bill S. Preston and Ted Theodore Logan, being excellent to each other.

Failing that, maybe just observe my 6th grader’s Three Rules of Life:

  1. Try not to hurt anybody
  2. Help people when you can
  3. Don’t be a jerk

It’s a pretty wise policy, and we’d all be a lot better off if we followed it. He starts middle school this year, and his teachers already have my full support. I will back them in their decisions, work with them to either discipline or encourage him, and listen when they have something to say. I want him to have a great year, and that starts with respecting his teachers.

With that in mind, let’s start this year off on the right foot: with mutual respect and support for each other.

We all want what’s best for our kids, but teachers want what’s best for all our children.

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