I’ve read about the Wisconsin (and now my own Indiana) teacher protests with interest. As you know if you’ve been here long, I was a public school teacher for 8 years, although never a member of the teachers union. I’m not sure when my anti-union attitude started, but it may have been when I was a substitute teacher prior to getting a job, and heard the teachers in the lounge, complaining about their pay. I remember thinking, I would love to have your job, and yet you’re complaining about it? I just didn’t get it.
Although I understand that apparently teacher pay and benefits used to be awful, they haven’t been for some time now. When I quit my ill-fated first “real” job (managing a department at a fancy-schmancy department store) and became a teacher, my pay increased by $5,000 annually, plus I got 3 months of vacation. So, you could say that I didn’t have a real appreciation for the complaints about salary, or my $1-per-year-health-insurance either. I remember a teaching colleague once opining that we as teachers would have a hard time asking the public for more of their money for our salaries when we were already out-earning most of them.
It’s true – and I think one thing that teachers have had on their side – up until now – is the perception that they are poorly paid. A friend just told me about a conversation that she had with a friend, who was bemoaning teachers’ low pay. “How much do you think teachers make?” my friend asked, to which her friend replied, “Probably low 30’s.”
(Sorry) State of the Unions
I’ve been out of teaching for over a decade now, and maybe some teachers do start out in the low 30s. However, I bet you most all teachers who’ve taught a few years are earning closer to $50,000, and there are probably a whole lot at $60,000 and higher. No, it’s not politician pay, but it’s not too shabby either.
Which brings us to the next elephant in the room – teachers union members at my school used to moan, “But we’re professionals, and we make a lot less than other professionals, like doctors and lawyers!” When this argument came up, I’d always feel like inching slowly away because it seemed ridiculous to the point of being a bit embarrassing. To begin with, you can get a teaching license with a 4-year degree. I hope there’s no one out there practicing law (or heaven forbid, medicine) with a 4-year degree. Also, come on – do you think the coursework is harder for a prospective teacher or a prospective doctor? I got a master’s degree in education with straight A’s and “highest distinction,” although it doesn’t mean a lot to me, because it just wasn’t that hard to get. I mean, how difficult can it be to learn Piaget’s developmental stages and create a few dinosaur units?
So while I’ll always be all for “the children,” the teacher’s unions? Not so much. I’d be glad to see them gone completely. Perhaps then we could get more teachers who are interested in teaching those children rather than in reading up on their contracts and honoring them to the last detail, but not a bit beyond.
Because folks – if you can’t live on around $50,000, you don’t need to be rallying at the statehouse. You need to get serious about living more frugally. Try reading Money Saving Mom. Or Get Rich Slowly. Heck, follow me around for a week. I’d be happy to share tips on how to live within your means. Just stop trying to use “the children” as a cover for your own sense of greed at someone else’s expense.
At least in areas where I’ve lived, teachers have always seemed to have huge public support, but I’m wondering if the tide is changing on that. Last night I went to my youngest daughter’s school for talent show tryouts. I stood in the cafeteria with about 80 other parents and their kids. A teacher opened the session by saying, “I want to thank all the teachers that are helping with this – we aren’t paid to be here. But we thought it was important, so we are.” I braced myself, halfway expecting the whole room to erupt in applause.
But instead, the lady next to me (who I didn’t know at all), said to me, “Nobody paid me to be here either! If she knew how many hours my husband works, and nobody pays him extra either. I am so tired of that talk!”