Sunday, August 28, 2005

Poor Teachers Need Handouts

There are a couple of American legends that just won't go away. The first is that old people are poor and need senior citizen discounts. Any government report, economist, and advertising executive will tell you that America's senior citizens are by far our wealthiest citizens, thanks primarily to a post-WWII economy that has been kind to them for the past 50 years. Senior citizens' discounts date from the time when seniors truly were a poor segment of our population, pre-social security, and so many relied on such kind actions in order to be able to afford such luxuries as eating out.

Another such legend is that of the poor teacher. Teaching used to be a single woman's profession, and as such wasn't paid very highly. It was considered a calling, like the clergy, one that had rewards other than money. Those days are also, for the most part, long past. Now, I'm not saying that I'm overpaid--far from it. I drive a Kia Rio. :-) I'm also not saying that I can afford the same house my parents had at my age--but how many can, given today's real estate prices here in California? But I doubt that too many people in the country would hesitate to trade salaries with me, given that I work in what is probably the 3nd most expensive state in the union (I hear Connecticut and Alaska are pretty bad). Honestly, I think teachers, at least here in California, should quit whining about low pay. There's nothing wrong with wanting to make more money, or honestly feeling that, for whatever reason, you deserve more than you're getting (EdWonk, for example, has gone without a raise for the last three years). But for a teacher to complain about low pay? I just don't see it. Somewhere on the NEA web site--I can't find it, but perhaps one of my legions of readers can!--is a list of the *average* pay for teachers in each state. Check it out; you might be surprised.

Anyway, let's finally get to the point of this post. tells us the story of a school faculty group that is actively soliciting gifts for its teachers.

To encourage teachers to spend more time rewarding positive attributes, the group is seeking donations such as gift certificates and "financial contributions" to buy teaching aids and "maybe even a small weekend getaway," the letter said.

My school PTSA has a "secret pal" program, wherein an anonymous parent "adopts" a teacher and provides gifts and tokens of appreciation thoughout the school year. It's a wonderful idea, one that has brought me no end of pleasure during the last two years at my current school. However, that program is initiated by the PTSA itself as an act of kindness and generosity, not by members of the staff to solicit presents for ourselves. I can't be the only one who thinks that asking for gifts for oneself is a little beyond the pale, not to mention just disgustingly rude!

And I'm not. One business owner who was solicited had the following comment:

"I think it's outrageous they want money for the teachers to inspire them to inspire the children," Lickle said. "Isn't that what teachers are all about? This is absolutely nuts. They even will take a small weekend getaway. Come on!"

Hard to disagree.

I wonder if I have any present or former students here who will comment that I frequently make reference to the fact that I've never been to the Bahamas (hint hint hint). The difference is that my so-called request is made in jest, and I have no expectation that any student will ever send me on such a vacation. In fact, when questioned about it by students, I remark that if a student really did give me such a gift, it would really put me in the difficult situation of having to refuse it because of the appearance of a conflict of interest, bribery, or whatever. {Note: give me the gift anonymously!} I hope that reasonable people can see the difference between what I do and what this particular faculty group has done.

Then there's this story out of Washington State, in which teachers appeared on the front page of a newspaper with picket signs claiming they qualified for WIC and subsidized health care. Turns out a member of the Evergreen Freedom Foundation did some fact-checking, something the newspaper reporter apparently didn't, and found that the married couple pictured actually earned a combined amount in excess of $90,000 and had benefits packages worth more than $10,000 apiece. In short, they lied, and the newspaper contributed to this lie. To paraphrase, have they no shame? What damage do they do to the integrity of all teachers by doing what they have done?

As the EFF article said:

Mr. and Mrs. Aston’s individual teaching pay is not outlandishly high—many professionals earn as much or more. But it is certainly disingenuous to present it as a vow of poverty in an attempt to garner support for the contract demands being made by their local union officials.


KimJ said...

Sort of on the subject of solicitation, one day my public high school sent every student home with a letter urging parents to shop at a particular grocery store that was donating x% of every order to the school system. My parents at the time ran a small independent grocery store. My father went nuts, writing a letter detailing every donation (and there were quite a few) of food, time, and money our family store had made to the school system. He wrote that he was very insulted that the school system had the gall to send his child home with an advertisement for his competitor.

We heard later from a friend who taught at the high school that the administration had ordered all such memos cease distribution until the day my younger brother (my only sibling) graduated from the high school. ;) I'm sure they are being sent out again now that we've all graduated and the store has closed.

Darren said...

That's disgusting on so many levels, I don't know where to begin. So I won't. Just know that it's disgusting!

Polski3 said...

Teachers soliciting eh....! Didn't ginnyboink or some other female blogger who teaches in Texas have a post about teachers getting donations from the parents and it was like, a bunch of garage sale junk?

Are we teachers overpaid? Underpaid? I don't know. However, I do know that many school districts are going to continue having a difficult time hiring new teachers in the future, because those new teachers cannot live within 100 miles of their school on the salary they will earn teaching. (Bay Area, San Diego area, Orange Co., etc.). That is, unless the teacher wants to live in slum housing. Screw that.
And, if the teacher has a family, that almost rules out teaching as a career/job option.....

On the other hand, those of us with lots of teaching experience cannot change school districts without taking a big pay cut. Is this a form of wage slavery?

Any new teachers out there, with less than five years experience, be sure you want to live and teach where you are after five years.....because if you move you will lose salary (in most school districts).

Darren: What if a student offered you a trip to Alcatrez? Thats an island too! :-)

Darren said...

Been to Alcatraz :-)

Personally, and I've written about this before (although perhaps not on this blog), I'm against the idea of each district determining pay. Here's my plan:

Pay is done as it is in the military--everyone at the same level (years, education, etc) gets the same base pay, then there's a variable housing allowance that factors in the cost of living in the zip code in which you teach. As a lieutenant living in Colorado Springs, my VHA was significantly less than my friends assigned to Fort Ord, near Monterey. So it would be with teachers who work in SF, San Diego, etc.

Now, this either strengthens CTA immensely or weakens them immensely. I'm not sure which. It could strengthen them because now pay would be "uniform" across the state and would be set by the legislature, which means any strike would be statewide. It could weaken them because now so much of what they do in hundreds of school districts would immediately go away.

You make the call! I'm sure some will complain about market forces here, but I always counter that government is more like a non-profit and a for-profit organization. Do the kids in the poorest districts really deserve the lowest paid (and *perhaps* not as employable) teachers? No slight intended there--any intelligent person knows what I'm saying.

Darren said...

Oh, such a system would then allow teachers to move anywhere in the state. We would no longer be tied to our current districts as medieval serfs were tied to the land.