Saturday, July 11, 2015

If only WalMart can sell teachers!

A few years ago, I explained to my father that I don't get the summers off.  "We get paid only for nine months by our contract" I told him.  I gave him an idea of how much I earn, which pretty much depressed him; until then, his understanding was that college teachers in America get paid really well.  I then had to add that most of us who get into teaching are like me--we are not in it for the money.  If earnings are all we were interested in, we would have gone into other professions and we certainly have the smarts for that.

I have always been puzzled at how poorly societies pay teachers.  Back in the old country, there is a verse in the Upanishad, in which is included the directive to treat teachers like god: "acharya devo bhava."  But, of course, it is all talk and no shit!  In the industrial township where I spent all my formative years, I once went inside the home of one of the teachers.  I was shocked at how poor the conditions were.  My old Sanskrit teacher did not even have to say anything about his poor existence--it was clear that the man and his family could not afford to have even one paisa lying on the floor at home.  A few years ago, an old school mate passed along a request for financial help from the teacher who slapped me silly.  I felt bad for the guy--even though he was in a pickle largely as a result of his own follies.  I sent money to a friend and asked him to give it to the slapper, but without including my name.

Ask people with kids and they will loudly proclaim that their children are the most precious things in their lives.   If that were truly the case, and if one put the money where the mouth is, then teachers, who play perhaps as equal a role as the parents do in shaping the kids' lives, will get paid a lot and get treated well.  Yet, almost always the same parents complain about teachers' salaries.  They almost hate paying for the schooling of their own kids.  Most parents seem all too keen to nickel and dime, as we say in this country, and want to get teachers for the lowest possible price, er, salary.

As I have pointed out in many posts, I couldn't care about earning more than what I get paid now.  My daughter has remarked in the years past, quite a few times, that my decisions have always been about searching for lower paying jobs!  My personal decisions aside, I have enormous sympathies for teachers working in kindergarten through high school, who have stressful working lives dealing with kids while not getting paid a whole lot.  So much so that many school teachers take up summer jobs like painting homes and working on farms.
Because of the low starting salary, teaching is considered a poorly paid profession compared to other careers involving similar background and education requirements, such as registered nurses or accountants. Arne Duncan, the U.S. education secretary, has said that public-school teachers are “desperately underpaid,” and has advocated for doubling their starting pay.
“Most teachers do need the extra money and they do work in the summer,” says Richard Ingersoll, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s graduate education school whose research focuses on the teaching force; he cites data suggesting the majority of them even get actual summer jobs. According to Ingersoll, the average teacher’s earnings (including any money earned through summer work) are still lower than that of other professionals even when accounting for time off. And several studies have shown that low salaries are a top reason teachers leave the profession.
The nickel and dime approach and the disrespecting of teachers are having their effects.  In Arizona and Kansas, for example, teachers are fleeing from the profession and from the states too!

If children are their most precious things ever in their lives, would parents want financially and emotionally stressed out teachers molding the kids' minds?  Am not kidding about the stress:
 Indeed, burnout is a widespread concern in the teaching industry, and a common reason why teachers leave the classroom.
Without the summer months of furlough--remember it is not a break but a furlough--it will be extremely difficult for most teachers to recharge themselves for another academic year.

I tell ya, most parents have no idea how lucky they are that it is not the flashing dollar signs that motivates many (most?) teachers who choose to be in the profession.  


3 comments:

Ramesh said...

The way society values different professions has long been a disturbing area for me. Teachers are the most obvious instance of a highly valued professional grossly underpaid. If you see the relative salaries of teachers in the developing world as compared to other professions, it is even more shocking than in your country. Primary school teachers in India barely cross the minimum wage.

In the Indian context, it is interesting to see how the economics of the education system works. By far the biggest cost is that of real estate - since the government does not have a policy of providing cheaper land to schools, everything is at the commercial rate. The price of real estate in Indian cities is now at first world levels whereas everything else is at third world prices. Next to real estate is the cost of transporting students to school. Cost of textbooks is low and investment in educational aids, even computers, is minimal. Cost of teachers is the lowest. And yet, school fees are rising and are often complained against by parents. Its a completely warped economics.

Anne in Salem said...

Teachers are indeed underpaid. The only way to increase teacher salaries is to raise taxes. Unfortunately, this puts the money in the hands of the administrators and the bureaucrats who will continue wasting so much. If we cut half the administration, we could pay teachers far more handsomely and perhaps even teach the children more.

Sriram Khé said...

Yes, teachers in India are in a far, far, worse state than are teachers here in the US. It is horrible. The economics of that is warped is one heck of an understatement :(

Ah, yes, bureaucracy and admin. All part of the problem, indeed. But here is the bottom-line as I have come to understand it: in the US, and in India too, conditions have become so awful that finding good teachers will become more and more difficult--and in many places it has already become so. And we have set ourselves on a path of negative feedback loop: the talented and the capable are not attracted to teaching, which then opens the door for the less able who are not good teachers, which then leads to more criticism of teaching and teachers, which further leads to ...

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