As noted in “Minding the Gap: The Teaching Wage Gap” teachers are among the most trusted of all professionals in the United States. Although teachers are trusted to care for and educate children they also have been losing their status as professionals and experts. There are many factors that contribute to this de-professionalization of teachers, some of them are listed and explained below, as always this is only one teacher’s opinion and discussion is encouraged.
The Wage Gap
As detailed very carefully in “Minding the Gap: The Teaching Wage Gap” teachers get paid far less per hour than people with jobs of similar education and responsibility to society. In fact, the gap in teacher pay is responsible, in part, for the perception that teachers are not professionals or experts. Our society rewards people who possess unique skills with higher pay, by paying teachers less we send the message that teachers are more expendable and possess less expertise than they actually do.
In addition to public perception of salary, we also are missing out on many talented individuals who decide that they would rather use their expertise to make money rather than teach children. This leads to less potentially qualified and good teachers entering education, and more people who see teaching as a fall back plan entering the field. We want the former rather than the latter, we want teaching to be seen as a competitive field that isn’t just someone’s fall back plan. When students come out of college they should have a fierce passion for education.
“Those who can, do, those who can’t teach.”
This quote, from George Bernard Shaw’s Man and Superman in the early 1900’s, is still a common thought process today. As an example, people think that if you have the ability and expertise to be a paleontologist then, well, you should be a paleontologist. Why in the world would you want to simply teach others when you can get the fame and glory that comes with doing the real thing! On the flip side, if you study history, but lack the ability or expertise to become a historian then you can always be a teacher because, well, it is easy. The connotation is that if you simply have knowledge on a subject but not the ability to perform in it then you simply can just teach others your knowledge.
In order to counteract this thinking we need to decide that teaching, in and of itself, is a profession that is separate from simple content knowledge. Yes, knowledge of topic is important, however, equally, if not of more importance is knowledge of audience and how to reach them. This idea gets to the heart of teaching as an art rather than a science. Teaching requires as much expertise as being a historian or a paleontologist but the expertise is in reaching students rather than knowing the content. Teachers are more than just purveyors of content knowledge, they are experts in getting young people to learn.
Time Spent Visibly Working
Often times when I tell new acquaintances that I am a teacher their first response is usually related to how difficult my job is or how it must be nice to get summers off. Teachers get a lot of time off; there is no doubt about it. I get a couple months for summer vacation, a week for Thanksgiving, and a couple of weeks for the winter holiday; I even get a one-week break in the spring. However, as detailed in my previous posts, the time spent working as a teacher actually comes close to the time spent working a 40 hour week 52 weeks a year. The reason why is the amount of time outside of school and class that is spent on perfecting my craft and helping my students to be successful. It is difficult to quantify for the general public exactly how many hours get put in by how many teachers because each teacher is different. Some put in tons of work and others not as much, similar to most careers.
The other piece that I want to include here is that a teacher’s workday does not stop at the bell. Our day continues home, it permeates our lives. Many teachers need to actively work to turn work off at night just to be present with their families and friends. This is not typical of most 9-5 jobs. At most traditional jobs you stop all work activity at 5 and go home and don’t think about work until your drive in the morning.
We Retain Bad Teachers
This point, I am sure, is not popular amongst my fellow teachers, but it is true! Once out of the probationary phase and acquiring tenure it becomes exceedingly difficult to fire a teacher who loses their fire and passion or who slipped through the cracks in the beginning. It takes observations, coaching, and other evidence over a period of time to actually get them out, in Colorado it takes 2 ineffective years with consistent monitoring to be moved from non-probationary back to probationary status. Often times rather than hassle with this we just move one bad teacher to another school and they get passed through the same process over and over again.
This is ineffective. If we want to be taken seriously as professionals we need to be performing at all times in our career and when a teacher is not exhibiting good teaching consistently then it is time to say goodbye to them. Whether that teacher has been teaching for 3 months or 30 years, if they are exhibiting a pattern of ineffective teaching, as documented through observations, data, and coaching, we need to do what is right by the students and move on. Keeping these teachers only bring down the perception of our profession. People see their kids with bad teachers and they think, “Is this really who is teaching my kid, they have not idea what they are doing.”
Of course, like in all things education poor schools face the brunt of bad teaching. In many Title 1 schools mediocre teachers are held on to even more in hopes that they will progress with coaching. The philosophy tends to be that it is better to have the devil you know than the devil you don’t. Title 1 schools have a problem filling positions so it is difficult to cut a teacher that you know will not make any grossly horrendous mistakes in favor of an unknown. So we keep them on another year and the students never reach their full potential with them.
Good Teachers Make it Look Easy
We all have walked into a classroom of a master. You just sit and wonder how in the hell they were able to get the kids to sit down, work, and learn without yelling, bribing, or getting any feathers ruffled at all. This what I call the “good teacher fallacy.” A good teacher will make the classroom look effortless when in reality weeks and even years of work have gone into to getting to this point. These teachers make district officials believe that if you put anyone in charge of class in their place the classroom would run just the same unless that replacement teacher was really horrible. We know this is false. Teachers like this have a special gift, one that cannot simply be replicated. This gets back to the idea of teaching as art. You cannot copy a teacher and hope to get the same results; you have to find what works for you. That is what a professional does, they take ideas from others, make them their own and then create systems and structures that allow for success. No two teachers are the same and no two classrooms are the same. Teaching is not an exact science.
Teaching is For Women!
This reason is perhaps the most influencial and subversive of all in the fight to elevate the level of respect shown to teachers by society. In the United States, historically, the job of raising, nurturing, and educating children has fallen to women. We have a problem with putting men in charge of young children for a variety of reasons, none of which are within the scope of this article. Nationwide, at the elementary level, men make up 19.3% of the population of teachers compared to 40.8% at the high school and college level (statistics from Bureau of Labor Statistics 2015). This view, that education is simply a job for women to occupy their time, takes away from the expertise and professionalism that is truly needed in order to be an effective teacher. In short, society views teachers as glorified babysitters, and pays them as such.
Equity in pay for women is a major issue in our society, today it is estimated that women make 80 cents on the dollar to work the same job as men. With teaching being a career field dominated by women that disparity in pay also follows into teaching, however, teachers make the same regardless of whether they are male or female so the dip in pay affects both men and women. As noted at the beginning of this post, we pay professions that we view as skillful or that require expertise with more money. Teachers are not viewed as skilled instructors with a command of content AND teaching, rather we are viewed as caretakers and babysitters who are simply there to make sure the kids don't die. Sexism is certainly a factor in thinking about how we view and value our teachers, whether male, or female. Until we address this massive societal issue I fear that teachers may never be valued as much as they should be.
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English Language Development teacher attempting to bring some truth to the table.
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