(Sorry) State of the Unions

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!”

Amen, sister.


10 thoughts on “(Sorry) State of the Unions

  1. Preach it, girl! Unions are ruining/have ruined our nation. I’m with you on that. Thankfully I’ve never had a position that demanded/encouraged union participation.

  2. Thank you for a little perspective on this!

    I know that teachers do a job that I wouldn’t want to do (because, you know, lawyers and bankers are SO MUCH easier to work with 🙄 ), but, honestly, my experience has been that most teachers are more than fairly compensated.

    You’re right about the education – any job that starts you off, with just a bachelor’s degree, in the $30’s, gives you 3 months off during the summer, plus, what, about 6 random weeks off during the rest of the year?, PLUS plus every (phony) holiday and snow day off AND tenure and built-in raises just for showing up?


  3. I agree with your stance. I think the NEA works to keep teacher pay high, but by doing so, they take job performance out of the equation. Meanwhile, the stellar teachers have no way of being rewarded monetarily. I’m in favor of performance-based pay for teachers. With that said, I don’t believe the U.S. educational system can be fixed until families get back on the right track. Our failing schools have more to do with a crumbling society that is morally decadent.

  4. Oh don’t get me started. I am of two minds here. 1) I think it’s disgraceful what the teachers (and doctors, and politicians who didn’t show up to work) are doing out there. It is a disservice to the children who are missing school, and the parents who have to take time off their probably hourly wage jobs to watch their kids.
    However, as a former teacher myself, knowing how I would often work 14 hour days, weekends, vacations, and summers to plan lessons, keep myself “professionally developed” etc… I really don’t think you can pay a teacher “too much.” These days, teachers risk physical assault and character assassination at the hands of their students. It’s a hard job. And in my state, it now REQUIRES a Master’s Degree to be certified. So… while I am “anti-union” for many reasons, I am also frustrated by people who say “teachers only work 9 months” or “teacher get paid too much.” Still, there is NO justification for what the people in WI are doing. They are clearly circumventing the law here, and what the voters wanted, and I do not support that!
    Thanks for a great post!!

  5. Excellent point about the comparison between teachers, lawyers, and doctors. The truth is that many doctors don’t really make a huge amount more than these higher paid union teachers, once you deduct the cost of their offices, salaries and benefits they must pay, equipment, and malpractice insurance. Malpractice insurance doubles and triples year after year, even if the doctor has never been sued for anything. Doctors also must spend 4 years undergraduate, 3-4 years medical school, internship, etc. So it is 10 years at least before they can even get a job.

    Thanks for sharing your fine article.


  6. I think you are right that the pay is between 50,000 and 60,000 per year. What shocked me is that the benefits are around 48,000 per year as well, putting them at over 100,000 in total compensation. Any higher and they will fall into Obama’s “rich” category.

  7. I’m a third year teacher who has been laid off 3 times. I’m not rallying against anyone or leaving my students untaught but I’m completely frustrated with the teaching profession. I’d love to making close to 50,000 a year but right now i’m at 36,000 and I’m still not at a district that I think will keep me. After 3 years, I’d like to try to dent my student loans so I don’t owe on them forever. I’m thinking becoming a teacher was a waste. I think we need to get rid of tenure and all the teachers who sit back and relax because they are making that kind of money and not doing a damn thing for the kids.

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