the (un)pampered life of a high school teacher

You know, I have to admit, I just don’t get it.  If you take a new teacher’s starting salary, which is somewhere right around $41,000 (But as Chris points out below, it’s actually $31,000 — hey, there’s a reason I’m a historian!) (North Dakota is at the low end, with a new teacher starting at $25,000, and Connecticut is at the high end, with a starting salary of $40,000).  That’s K-12 of course.  Faculty incomes are higher.  But then there’s this whole thing about summers off, and short days, blah blah blah.  And of course, their unions…they’re ruining our economy, right?

Let me tell you about the K-12 teachers I know.  They get to work at least a half hour before the students arrive to make copies, set up their lessons for the day, catch up on the never ending pile of grading, enter grades into the computer, email parents of students who are failing — some of whom never email back — and maybe get a cup of coffee.  Then they greet their students and start teaching. In their classrooms, they have to deal with students who came into their classrooms unprepared, passed along by a system which would rather hand off the problem than deal one more time with problem student’s parents, who insist that their little angel couldn’t possibly be flunking.  They also have to deal with, well, teenagers — not the most attentive of age groups, regardless of the situation.  They have to keep in mind that state tests are coming up, and they have to prepare students for that, while at the same time, keeping the bright ones interested, getting the slow ones up to speed, and yet not losing sight of the middle.  They do this with somewhere between 25 and 40 students in the room.

In the 5 minutes between classes, they are breaking up fights (and occasionally, very public displays of affection), prepping for the next class, getting students into classrooms and ready for the start of class, and if they’re very, very lucky, dashing off to the bathroom.  If they’re really, really lucky, they might get 15 or even 20 minutes to go down to the break room and scarf down their lunches, although most times, they eat at their desks, grading, filling in paperwork to justify why someone’s ‘little angel’ isn’t, getting ready for their afternoon classes, calling parents who may or may not pick up the phone or return a message, answering emails from parents worried about their students, setting up a speaker or field trip (if their state still allows for those, mind you)…and then their afternoon begins.

Oh, you say, well that’s what I do at work, and they get done at 3 (such an easy life…and summers off, let’s not forget).  Yep, the students go home…at least some of them.  But then there’s the drama teacher herding cats into some semblance of a play, who’s there until 7 or 8 every night, and for 12 hours both days of the weekend to guide the students in building sets, and then, of course, there’s the performance nights, which start at 4 and often end by midnight.  And then there’s the teacher who helps the Model United Nations students, or the yearbook students, or the cheerleaders, football team, German club, history club (there’s a lot of clubs in high schools)…they’re there, still guiding teenagers, planning cultural events, or game schedules, coordinating chaperones, organizing bake sales, helping students with layouts or a new cheer, working on a new play…and they are there at every meeting.  Oh, and then there’s those meetings of all the teachers, to learn about yet another budget cut, new state standards, and other assorted things that are required for the school to actually RUN.

They might, if they are very lucky, leave sometime between 1 to 2 hours after the students have.  But when you go home from work, unless you are in a position where you might be on call, you don’t worry about it until the next morning.  When these teachers go home, they take a crate (yes, a crate) full of grading that they do, with a few breaks for dinner, maybe a bath or laundry, until they go to bed.  They fill in reports, grade exams, quizzes, and papers, make sure they’re ready for the next day, and ponder what to do about that student who, despite all the extra help, just isn’t doing well.  They might have to run to the office supply store for lined paper, or other supplies, which the school used to provide, but no longer can afford to.

And I haven’t even touched on that ‘summer off’, which, by the way, isn’t.  In the summer, if they aren’t teaching summer school, they are cramming in continuing education classes required by their states to maintain their teaching licenses. Some spend their summers writing grants so they can make education better.  Others spend time with their younger children, for whom the cost of daycare outstrips any income they could earn from a summer job. Still others get summer jobs, doing everything from working at a resort as a food server to being the gardening expert at the local big box home improvement store.  Some do all of these.  And let’s not forget that before students show up again in the fall, they have to get everything in place.  They show up back at school a full month before the students do, so that your precious little angel walks into a classroom that is ready to go from day one of the year.

So, just take a moment.  $41,000.  Let’s just assume that yes, they aren’t teaching in the summer.  Okay, still, most of the teachers I know work upwards of 80 hours a week.  Let’s do that math, shall we?  Let’s assume that a teacher makes the national average of $41,000 a year.  And further, let’s assume that they work 10 months a year (not true, but okay).  That’s $4100 a month…gosh, that’s a lot!  But wait, they work 80 hours a week on average…so that’s 4 weeks a month, which makes 320 hours a month.  Wait, what?  We pay our teachers an average of slightly UNDER 13 bucks an hour?  (Oh gosh, that’s a lot you might say…but remember, that doesn’t include taxes, their contribution to their retirement accounts — largely mandatory — or their health insurance premiums).  So let’s just cut that to $10 an hour (and dang, that’s a great cut…it’s likely much less than that).

Now ask yourself…would you do everything they do for $10 an hour?

Published in: on March 8, 2011 at 12:34 am  Comments (11)  

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  1. Teachers are overpaid babysitters. Just listen to Fox News. Now Bankers, they are underpaid. It’s hard to make ends meet on less than $1 million per year.

    Seriously though, I don’t see why you stay in the United States. Why don’t you move to Canada? We’d love to have you!

    Wayne aka The Mad Hatter

  2. I’m considering it. And Denmark. It’s mostly a matter of needing a job before I go.

    • In both Denmark and Canada you get fairly decent health care, compared to the third world health care you get in the Excited States. Seriously, I’d get out as quickly as possible. I’m reading the signs, and everything I’m seeing makes me think that the U.S. is headed for a full scale Depression.

      Hell, the fun part of this is I’m a Conservative. What you have down there in the Republicans isn’t Conservative. The closest thing I can come to is the Canadian Rhinoceros Party, which ran on a platform of neopotism, and cash hand outs to millionaires.

      Wayne aka The Mad Hatter

  3. So true! My mom was a first grade/kindergarten teacher and she would be in at work by 7am and home around 5pm. And then she would bring home a cart full of grading and other work to do. She was always on the computer typing up homework sheets and parent letters and researching ideas for projects in the classroom. She also frequented office depot, staples and borders for school supplies and books that weren’t covered by the school. And in the summer she was cleaning out her classroom and preparing lesson plans for the next year. She was one of the hardest working people I know and she wasn’t paid enough! It makes me sick hearing about people complaining that teachers jobs are too cushy and that we need to cut more from education. I would love to see those people try teaching for a day and see how they like it! Thanks for posting this!

  4. Tara, your mom was one of the people I was thinking of, along with several HS teachers I knew and met while doing the ECP class at El Toro. I find it amazing, truly, that educators are somehow the downfall of democracy.

    Wayne, it scares me to death to think that Margaret Atwood was right.

  5. Heard a good one the other day.

    A Billionaire, a Tea Partier, and a Teacher were sitting at a table. There was a plate with a dozen cookies on it. The Billionaire took eleven cookies, and told the Tea Partier, “Better look out, the Teacher is going to steal your cookie!”

    Like all good jokes, it’s has a sad side. The Tea Party doesn’t understand that it is being taken advantage of. I know several supposedly rational people who do not understand that society has changed.

    Society has always had divides. Protestant/Catholic (Hundred Years War anyone?) Left-Right, Educated-uneducated. In the back of those divides has always been the biggest divide of all, Rich-Poor.

    The problem is that we had a 200 year period where the Rich-Poor conflict was relatively unimportant. Well, guess what. It’s broken back out again. Notice the attempts to restrict the voting franchise to property owners? And to prevent college students from voting?

    For that matter consider the simple fact that almost all American politicians are rich BEFORE they are elected. They are far more comfortable chumming around with Hosni Mubarark than they are with their constituents.

    I know several people who are damned upset with Barack Obama. I saw this happening before he got elected. The guy is a Chicago Machine Politician. Come on. What did you expect from a Machine Politician?

    Pardon my cynicism.


  6. Not that your point isn’t a good one, but your cause can be hampered when you start your argument by describing an average starting salary of $41,000….when your range is from $25000 – $40000.

    Checking your link, it appears the average is $31,307

    While that number would help your point even further, I think it says something about the way we teach math in this country, that nobody questioned this number so far.

  7. Chris, thanks for checking the math…I’m really, really lousy at it (which is why I’m a historian, I suppose…not a lot of math there). Although that makes it closer to 8 bucks an hour, barely above minimum wage. Damn.

    • Just above minimum wage. No wonder so many American teachers work summers (even though in theory they have them off to help on the harvest) and many also work evenings during the school year if they can. To make ends meet.

      A single teacher will never own a home. Never. Unless it’s an inheritance. A single teacher will never go on a cruise. A single teacher will often be two steps from the food bank.

      Teachers who are married to hedge fund managers own their own homes, go on cruises, and eat filet mignon. Note that I’m not picking on hedge fund managers in particular. In general if a teacher is married to a partner who is in ANY white collar profession, the partner will earn more. I’ve known a lot of teachers who went on cruises. Their husbands were executives. I’ve known teachers who didn’t go on cruises. Their husbands worked blue collar jobs. And yes, husbands. Most grade school teachers tend to be female. If they were male, they’d be paid better.


  8. You know, Wayne, that’s an interesting point…most teachers are women. Hmmm…more in the gender war, perhaps?

    • Not the gender war. The Rich-Poor divide. Did you see the evaluation that Politifact did on Michael Moore’s speech in Wisconsin, where he claimed that the 400 richest American’s controlled half of the money in the country? They came to the conclusion that he was right.

      What they didn’t mention, and Moore didn’t explicitly mention, is that it’s getting worse. My estimate is that within ten years that the 400 richest Americans will own over 60% of the money in the country. This is unsustainable (note that by money I mean wealth in total).

      I’ve been watching this happen. At first I didn’t understand what was going on. But I was taught to think logically, and what I see is a power and wealth grab. What you will end up with is a small elite, and the peasants.

      We were heading in a similar direction in Canada, however some things that have happened in the last year make me believe that we may be able to stop the slide very shortly. The absolutely wonderful bad example that the United States, and to a lesser extent, the United Kingdom (which is run by a bunch of rich men right now), has proven a positive tonic to the Canadian electorate. Because one thing that Canadians believe in is fairness, and our current Prime Minister has proven that he doesn’t have a clue what it is. Look to see a Canadian election call within the next 3-4 months.


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