Friday, March 18, 2011

What is a teacher worth? (Why teachers like me support unions)

I want to share a Letter to the Editor that I recently sent to a couple of Michigan newspapers. It reflects my current frustration with how little we value teachers and their efforts. We must make our voices heard.
Full disclosure: I'm a teacher. My wife is a teacher. Both of my parents taught. And my maternal grandparents were teachers. I am aware I am biased on this issue. However, that does not negate the following facts.

I have read comments lately suggesting teachers are paid too much. Sometimes, the rationale behind these comments is that teachers are simply glorified babysitters. So let's consider this for a minute. Babysitters make anywhere from $4-10 an hour. Let's be conservative and use the lower amount. Classrooms now have about 25 kids per class. School runs from around 8 am until 3 pm, but teachers often get an hour planning and a luxurious 30-minute lunch. So seemingly, they work 5.5 hours. The school year is 180 days long. Doing the math I learned thanks to a teacher, that totals to $99,000 per year. Of course, we will have to pay someone else to do the planning, assessing, and other duties that teachers do beyond the school day since that's not in a babysitter’s job description.

Now I can hear some of you complaining that this is too much money given that you consider teachers part time civic employees. So let's consider paying teachers what we pay another "part time" civic employee - a Michigan legislator. They make around $70,000 per year and about $900 per month for expenses. Not a bad amount for "part time" work.

But wait, there has been a lot of yelling recently that we must reduce government debt so our precious children and grandchildren will not be saddled with this burden. They are our future, after all, and an investment in ensuring that America will go on after us. A precious investment, you say? Then maybe we should pay teachers like investment bankers.

You get the point. A teacher is worth much more than the average $58,000 we pay them - even when you add in benefits. So the next time you think that teachers are paid too much or that their unions are unnecessary consider these examples. When we pay teachers as much as investment bankers or legislators or even babysitters then maybe the time for teacher unions has passed. But until then be grateful for the bargain.
While this letter was fairly easy to write, it was extremely difficult to submit. The last thing I want to do is add to the damage being done to a profession I feel so passionately about. My fear is that my passion (and some tongue-in-cheek points) will be misconstrued when placed in a section that far too many people read literally - the opinion page.

full list of blogposts supporting edusolidarity. (google spreadsheet.)

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