Comedian Rodney Dangerfield popularized the phrase, “I get no respect.” If I didn’t know differently, I would think he was a teacher. Teachers are, perhaps, the most overworked and underappreciated portion of the American public.
Teachers’ salaries and benefits have been in the news a lot lately associated with discussions of Senate Bill 5 and Governor John Kasich’s new budget. In Kasich’s effort to balance the budget he is proposing to cut school funding by $1.3 billion over the next two years. Let me repeat that in case you misread it—that is billion—with a B.
Before I go any further let me explain why I am so passionate about this subject. I was a teacher once upon a time. But, unlike a fairy tale, my experience was not a pleasant one. Growing up and all through college, all I ever wanted was to be a teacher. Unlike many college students, I never wavered in my declared major. After graduation I went out to save the world one student at a time armed with my diploma and teaching certificate. I was not naive, I knew it would be a challenge but I thought I was prepared. I knew my subject material and felt I could relate well to students.
Experience showed that, yes, I was prepared to work effectively in the classroom; but what I was not prepared for was the utter lack of respect for my profession from the students, administration, parents, community, and even fellow teachers. The attitude was sink or swim. There was no mentoring from colleagues and no support from the administration. In addition, the general public had the attitude—those who can do; those who can’t, teach. I am ashamed to say I lasted only three years. The pressure was so intense from unruly students, angry parents, demanding administrators and a questioning public that I finally said to myself, “There has to be more to life than this.”
I walked away nearly 40 years ago and although times have changed, I’m afraid the attitude toward teachers has not changed. In fact, I think they have worsened. The new proposals are a witness to that fact. As part of Kasich’s new streamlined government plan he proposes to eliminate all collective bargaining and the ability to strike. There are other goodies thrown in such as:
- Ending work rules as a topic of collective bargaining, such as length of school day, building assignments, class size, etc.
- Delaying retirement age from 30 years to 35 years of service and age 60.
- Lowering retirement payments to 77% of a teacher’s highest five years of salary…down from 88.5% based on 3 years of service.
- Chopping cost-of-living adjustments for retirees from 3% to 2% with no cost-of-living adjustment the first five years of retirement.
- Eliminating automatic pay increases for longevity, replacing with merit pay.
These are not all the proposed changes but just a few that jumped out at me. Something else that has been grabbing my attention during all the debates is the news media constantly stressing that currently a teacher’s average salary is now $57,000 for only 182 official working days. Stop teachers on the street and they will all tell you they work way more than the 182 “official” days. In fact, a teacher’s time is rarely entirely his own. After the official work day there is grading papers, preparing next day’s lesson plan, never-ending paperwork, maintaining a pleasant classroom atmosphere, communications with parents, chaperoning extracurricular activities, continuing education in the form of seminars and advanced degrees, and the list goes on and on. So, what on the surface looks like a cushy part time job of only 182 work days per year, becomes a life time of commitment.
Another overlooked fact of a teacher’s life is the amount of money the teacher personally spends for equipment and supplies in her classroom. Many teachers, especially those in elementary schools, spend their own money buying workbooks, art supplies, colorful posters, and other teaching aids. They do whatever it takes to brighten their classroom and the lives of their students—your children. No one ever went into teaching to become rich but to begin taking money out of their pockets is sinful.
I would like to know how many people could last even a week in a classroom room with approximately 30 children or young people constantly demanding your attention and not wanting to learn the lesson at hand. It is emotionally and physically exhausting work.
Another controversial item is merit pay versus automatic pay increases. Merit pay sounds good in the business world but the question is—how do you accurately measure for merit pay? In the business world there is usually a product that can be measured and then charted; but in education it is difficult to really know how much a student is learning. Various tests have been designed to evaluate this but when school districts and teachers know that so much depends on the numbers they produce on the tests, this then leads to teaching only to the test. Students must know X amount of information by the end of the school year so the teacher runs through the text books so all material can be covered; but, this often leaves students behind because there is no time to spend extra days on a particular concept for just a few students. In addition, it cuts out any opportunities to explore new areas brought up in discussions or for field trips. Must cover that material!
Also, when it comes to merit pay, the makeup of schools is never equal. The population of some schools may have many students from disadvantaged homes where they go to bed hungry and don’t feel safe in their own homes. Many today don’t even have homes of their own but are forced to live in shelters or temporary housing. In today’s culturally diverse society many come from non-English speaking homes making learning even more difficult. These students will bring down the overall average of the school or district because they can’t keep up with the progress of other students.
The world of education is not the same as the business world. It cannot be held to the same principals and mode of operation. There are no profit and loss statements or sales figures. There is no tangible manufactured product. Educators pass on knowledge and produce productive citizens. It takes a long time to know whether or not your efforts are successful. Even test results don’t tell the whole story, anyone can memorize a lot of facts and repeat them for a test but how do you know if your students really learned the lessons.
One evening I heard on the news a “brilliant” proposal of how to level the playing field—eliminate the bad teachers and put more students in the classes of the good teachers. This is the most ridiculous idea I have ever heard! It “rewards” the good teachers by increasing their class sizes. And, believe me, class size is important. A teacher is only one person and the more students in a class the less individual time the teacher has with each student. It also means more chaos and more papers to grade. Once again, someone will be pushed aside.
I feel one of the problems we have is too many people from the business world have tried to guide the schools when they know nothing about the educational system. I watched legislators make laws affecting the schools when they knew nothing about them. What was even more sickening was to see them in committee meetings where they were supposed to be listening to experts testify but instead were talking among themselves and walking about the room, plainly ignoring the speakers. The State Board of Education is no different. During my time as lobbyist I was shocked to learn that I don’t think there was any board member with an educational background. So we have legislators and board members creating laws, curriculum, guidelines, etc. with no practical educational experience. It is merely political posturing at the expense of our children and our state’s future.
Something else that annoys me about this whole SB 5 affair is the prevailing attitude that somehow the teachers are guilty of creating the mess within the educational system. It is almost as if society is lumping the teachers in the same category as naughty kids and, therefore, everyone must be punished. Treat teachers as intelligent adults! Robert Davis, lobbyist with the Ohio Education Association, said Kasich can’t blame teachers for Ohio’s budget woes. “Teachers shouldn’t be scapegoats for the state of the economy in Ohio. It feels like swipe after swipe. First and foremost, teachers care about kids, and the job they do is helping students. You look at this budget, which claims to prioritize education, but it cuts education by double digits.”
Another item overlooked by everyone is the schools should not be included in the general budget in the first place. When the state voters approved the lottery it was sold on the idea that proceeds would go to funding the schools. However, as money got tight that fund was raided and school funding landed in the general budget. I was a lobbyist during the debates of DeRolf versus State of Ohio which was a class action suit claiming every student is entitled to an equal and equitable education. I watched in disgust as the Republicans and Democrats squared off and took shots at one another, each trying to escape the blame for the state of the schools and each claiming it had all the answers to our problems. The debates became angry and agitated as they played politics at the expense of our children’s education. The state supreme court ruled that the 611 school systems in Ohio were not equal but every student deserved the opportunity to receive an equal education. After over 20 years of debates, the suit died in committee due to politics. According to findings resulting from the DeRolf case, the schools drastically were in need of better and equal funding then and now, twenty plus years later, we are going to drastically cut funding even more.
I have a suggestion for the governor and legislature—listen to the teachers. Most teachers are reasonable and are concerned with the financial well being of our state as well as their own finances and the needs of their students. Surely a compromise can be worked out if everyone comes to the table with an open mind and respect for each other. The teachers aren’t the bad guys here. They are doing the best they can with the limited resources they have. Don’t restrict those resources even more.
PS—to quote a bumper sticker—if you can read this, thank a teacher.