Friday, September 4, 2009

Easy Shmeezy

I am not, under general circumstances, a violent person. I've learned to smile at provocation rather than indulge in a slanging match. I've been told I can be quite diplomatic. I also know which buttons, when pushed, are going to have me seeing red and acting accordingly.

A lot of people at this time of year aren't just pushing the buttons--they're banging on them with sledge hammers. You see, I teach. And teachers seem to be everybody's favorite whipping boy. There is no aspect of a teacher and his/her teaching that doesn't come in for a lot of criticism, none of it thinly veiled or concealed at all.

We teachers have the cushiest jobs in the entire universe. We don't work very many hours and get paid as if we did. We roll out of bed at about two minutes before the school bell rings. We walk into class and then sit and stare out of the windows for the rest of the day. Or even better, we sit on the computers in our classrooms and check our email, pay bills, chat with friends, read blogs, play games and shop. Preparation to face 20-30 students every day? Nah, why bother. The answer to parents' homework with the kids dilemma? We teachers don't give any, and therefore have none to mark. Tests? We buy those ready made. Lesson plans? We buy those too.

Our perks are absolutely the greatest perks ever seen in any profession anywhere. If we work in a yeshiva setting, we get parallel vacations to our own children. Sure we do--ever seen the wide differences in the school schedule from one yeshiva to another? They exist. Look at that--yeshiva teachers get all the Jewish holidays off with pay. That they don't get the regular legal holidays off is way beside the point. And yup, yeshivas just throw the benefits at us. Free health care? How about any health insurance. Retirement accounts? In what universe? And the size of our salaries? Wow, wow, wow!

And facing those 20-30 students? Hey, that's the easy part. Every one of those students comes in every day with the most perfect attitude. They are eager to learn anything and everything that you want to teach them. They never, ever come in in a bad mood. They never, ever form cliques. They never, ever argue with their fellow classmates. They always exhibit the highest level of behavior. They never, ever come in too tired to concentrate because they haven't gotten enough sleep. They never, ever cheat, with or without the assistance of their parents and siblings and fellow students.

And every one of them is super bright--Einstein pales in comparison. They all learn quickly and easily. There is no subject that gives any of them any trouble. Every assignment is done to perfection, meaning no input necessary from us. No one ever fidgets during class. No one ever reads a comic book hidden behind the gemorah, or sits with their cell phone in his/her lap text messaging and playing games. Not a one of them ever leaves to the bathroom and comes back 30 minutes later.

And you know what else? Every one of those students that I should be paying the school for the privilege of knowing them has the most incredible parents ever seen. Those parents always volunteer when asked. Those parents are themselves trained teachers and so offer their suggestions to me on how to improve based on experience, education and acquired skills. Those parents have 100% realistic expectations of what I'm going to do for their children. They know without a doubt that their children are just perfect, and if I don't think so, the problem is all mine. Those parents are 100% realistic in how they view their children. Those parents never tell a teacher "Chaim is an A student in every class but yours. What are you doing so that he isn't an A student by you?" They also never say "Chaim gets straight A's in history. Why isn't he getting straight A's in English? It's not like it's so hard like history."

I've been teaching college for the past ten years and I was thankful because I knew that I wouldn't have to deal with parents any more--yeah, right. I teach at a college under Jewish auspices and the parents of the students still have not gotten it through their heads that college is not like elementary and high school--they call, and call, and call. And by law, I can't talk to them about their children.

In the course of my career I have taught every grade from nursery through seniors in college, excepting fifth grade. I've taught English as a second language students and English as a primary language students. I've taught accelerated classes and I've spent time teaching students with learning disabilities. I've been a Vice Principal, a department head and a program supervisor. I have spent enough years in the classroom to make a definitive statement about what goes on in a classroom: it isn't easy. Those of you who think it is, put your money where your mouths are. Quit whatever job you are doing now and come and be a teacher. Don't worry about any training or education; after all, you already know how to do our jobs better than we do. And God have mercy on you--you're going to need it.

Just a little note: Anyone here work at a job where, when you need to use the bathroom, you aren't "allowed" to go? Any office you know of where the employees can't just go when they have to go? Teachers have to develop "directed bladders." Leaving a classroom unsupervised can't be done.


Anon is safer said...

A post I can relate to! So tired of the teachers do nothing comments.

Anonymous said...

I hear you. It alwyas makes my blood boil to hear teachers attacked on talk radio. I'm not a teacher, but have several family members who did or still do teach in public schools. They maybe more dedicated than the average, but they put in at least two to three hours every night and 3 or more hours on sundays doing lesson plans, grading homework, report cards, writing ieps, etc. and now, no child left behind has created even more paper work and headaches, not to mention all the conferences, committee meetings, parent meetings and continuing education and redoing plan s everytime the board changes the curriculum or the texts or adopts some new language or math system. It is definitely not the cushy 8-3 job that some people think. Good teachers are leaving in droves (or at least they were before the reccession) and retiring early.

efrex said...

I am the son of a teacher, the brother of another teacher, and occasionally the husband of a third (let me try that last one again: I'm always her husband, but she's only occasionally a teacher). After watching them, I have sworn by everything I hold sacred (and by many things that I do not) that I will never, ever, ever be a school teacher. Even a teacher of only average competence spends hours making and grading tests, revising lesson plans, speaking to parents, and keeping up with developments in his/her field - all in his/her "off-hours." Thanks but no thanks.

Of course, owing to G-d's remarkably sadistic sense of humor, I already know where my career is going to inevitably lead me down the line... :)

Dov said...

The company I work for (in the science field) is very into community relations and service. We are all asked to volunteer our time to various projects involving the local schools in our area, and get release time for them.

Two years ago I volunteered to teach a period of chemistry at a local yeshiva. I figured it would be an easy thing to do. That 45 minutes a day, 4 times a week felt like 100 times that long. I got a real lesson in what a teacher's life is like. I can't imagine how the teachers who teach longer hours don't go crazy in the process. And yes the hours at home were lots more then the hours actually in school.

One thing this did do for me. I'm a lot more respectful of my kids' teachers now.

Real-Time Jew said...

Coming from a family full of teachers (mother, sisters, brothers-in-law, aunts, uncles, cousins) all of the above goes without saying for me...and yes, I too was determined never to be a teacher as a result of seeing what they go through.

On the other hand, there are issues that I see red about, such as abusive rebbeim (physically or verbally) or plain old unfair teachers who have often effectively hidden behind the "I'm a rebbi/teacher, and I work my tail off..." fig leaf.

So for me, teachers in general absolutely deserve our abiding respect, but let's not be blinded to the damage that some of them can cause as a result.

JS said...

I appreciate this rant. At the same time, I think you need to understand why teachers get such a bad rap. The primary reason is that nearly all of what you described applies to dedicated, hard-working, caring teachers. I think each of us have had lousy teachers who simply did not care, were cruel or unkind, and didn't have any enthusiasm or energy. Maybe they were once good teachers and just burned out - I don't know. But, those lousy teachers give all the rest a bad name.

Furthermore, by the very nature of how schools are set up, a person, over his/her education career, encounters many tens of teachers (especially in a yeshiva with its dual curriculum). Thus, one encounters a large number of lousy teachers. From K through 12 I had about 10 good teachers and of those about 2-3 were great as compared to about 20 or so mediocre or lousy teachers. I'm sure I had more good teachers than most because I was "top tracks" and it was well-known that the school gave the better teachers to the top tracks. Many more of my good teachers were in grades 9-12 than in grades K-8. In college, and now in grad school, nearly every teacher I had was good, if not great. It's an interesting trend and I'm not sure if money is the decisive factor.

Also, I think the classroom does a lot of kids a disservice. Many kids simply don't learn well when they're younger in a large, impersonal classroom. I didn't have these problems, but there are many kids from grade school and high school who were in the "low tracks" and who were not given attention by teachers who are now doctors, lawyers, working in hedge funds, pursuing advanced degrees, etc. I'm not saying every parent who says, "My child is a genius!" is right, but there's clearly something wrong with the system and parents have a right to complain.

I also think teachers could do a better job of PR as many people do have the erroneous impression that it's all play and no work.

Rae said...

Real and JS, I don't think anyone is saying that ALL teachers are perfect and terrific. Yes, something needs to be done and now about getting the abusers out of the system (more of a problem in the yeshivas then in the public schools) and about getting really incompetent teachers out of the system (should be easier in the yeshiva system which mostly has no unions). But it's that teachers as a group get a really bad rap, based on only a few who aren't stellar.

We don't diss all doctors or accountants or any other profession based on a bad experience we had with one practitioner. There are other professions that don't work standard 9-5 workdays or even standard work years, and we don't give them as much grief as we do teachers.

Yes, teachers could do a better job of PR, but why should they have to? Saying they need to do that PR is like telling them that they have to justify to the public what they are doing.

JS said...

Lots of professions have bad raps because of a few bad apples.

It's not uncommon to hear that all lawyers are crooks or that all doctors think they're God.

Or, just plain old stereotypes:
I have friends who introduce themselves as being an engineer and are immediately asked about a lightbulb that won't turn on or a computer problem. Let alone these people aren't electricians or involved in IT.

I think the only real difference is that teachers are paid a lot less, generally, and thus are more bitter. After all, a lawyer earning 6 figures probably couldn't care less if people think he's a crook.

As for PR, I suppose Israel should shut down its Hasbarah Offices as it shouldn't have to justify its existence or that its "right."

E. Fink said...

Interesting post.

Another factor is the pay. Since salaries are low, the pool of potential teachers shrinks. Ambitious, hard working young adults that wish to pursue more lucrative careers weaken the talent pool of good teachers.

Of the folks who do become teachers, some are only teaching because they are not qualified to do anything else. Thus, you do get a lot of teachers who would are just not "successful people" -this is bad.

Think about it. Do you ever hear of a really talented young adult who is planning on going into teaching?

Anonymous said...

Fink: I do know someone. A very bright young woman who graduated summa from an ivy league just want back to get her master so she could become a high school history teacher. She has the advantage of coming from a wealthy family and has no college loans and probably a nice trust fund, but she could have chosen almost any career and is going into teaching.

Anonymous said...

Often it only takes a few good teachers in a mix of mediocre ones to inspire a child.

ProfK said...

Youch! Time to retire that old saying about those who can, do, and those who can't teach, and certainly time to retire the attitude. You want examples of people who could have done something else (and perhaps did for a while) but who are teachers instead? Without pointing elsewhere, how about little ol' me, Phi Beta Kappa, highest honors college graduate, not an ed major, and yes, valedictorian of my graduate school graduating class. I'm sure in blazes not teaching because I couldn't or can't do anything else--I happen to love being in the classroom. Or the MIT honors PhD in Physics who taught college and upon his recent retirement is teaching boys yeshiva high school? Or the JD with high honors from Columbia Law who is teaching yeshiva elementary school? Or the Harvard Law grad who is a partner in a major law firm and still teaches political science and civics in a yeshiva high school part time because "our kids deserve the best. Yes, there are more examples--these are just culled from among my friends.

JS said...

I think EFink's comment was a bit overbroad, but it does happen all too often that people go into teaching because they fall into it rather than because they're passionate and driven.

Most of the best teachers I had K-12 only became teachers as a form of "semi-retirement" if you will. They had long successful careers elsewhere and then, later in life, turned to teaching.

So, EFink is right (again, to a small extent) that these same great teachers would never have went straight into teaching. Some of these teachers told me outright that if it wasn't for the fact that they didn't really need the money at this point in their life they would never be doing it - the pay is just too crummy for someone with their talents and abilities.

It's important to note though that while the people may be qualified, a whole mess of jerks enter the high-paying professions solely because of money and not because of passion. They may be competent, but they're not fun to be around either (maybe not a perfect analogy, but it is the other side of the coin when it comes to salary).

A Heartbroken Former Teacher said...

ProfK- who is this guy in the firm who teaches part-time? I am a law student who desperately wanted to teach. I was going to teach (despite graduating with honors from a top school), and I was great at it too.

First, no one wanted me because I wasn't 'experienced'. Then a school hired me, but the administration and the parents treated me poorly, and as much as I loved the kids, and teaching was important enough to me that I would have sacrificed myself to continue, I simply could NOT sacrifice the needs and well-being of my family- certainly not for the peanuts I was getting paid! I had my son later in the year, and realized that I wouldn't be getting any tuition breaks when the time came. My husband was making good money but a salary and a half (because yes, what I was getting paid was not qualified to be called a living wage) just wasn't cutting it.

So here I am, a third year law student at an Ivy. I already know where I will be working following graduation, and I will be making a ton of money. We can afford tuition for the two kids we have as well as for the future kids we hope to have. But my heart is broken. I don't hate my firm, but I don't love it the way I loved teaching. I am dying to go back to teaching- but thanks to a lot of the things mentioned in this post, the field has lost another talented, loving, engaging teacher to the reality of more enticing, lucrative options.

If the Harvard guy really exists, I guess there is hope for me. Can you tell me more about him? I would be happy to give you my email if you'd prefer not to divulge online...

observer said...

You ask whether any of us work at jobs where you can't just go to the bathroom. I'm betting that most of the non-teachers reading this don't work at such jobs- but ALL of your students DO, unless YOU decide otherwise!

My point is that I know that teaching is a tough job (my husband is a teacher, my daughter is a teacher, and I have several more teachers in the family.) On the other hand, there are far too many teachers who have rules that have nothing to do with the needs of the students, or even with the best way to handle classroom management. And, in most schools, that's fine. Teachers can make some pretty arbitrary rules, and the administration will back them (unless a parent with money screams.)

There are a LOT of teachers ranging from good to great, and they deserve all the respect they get and then some. But, I can tell you from personal experience that too many of them blow it (in terms of getting some respect and understanding) by defending teachers that range from barely adequate to indefensible, or trying to defend indefensible actions.

Of course, that tendency is not unique to teachers. That same "circle the wagons" mentality has affected many professions very negatively, as well. At the end of the day, being honest about the duds in a profession is far more likely to garner respect for the profession than the reverse.

ProfK said...

A Heartbroken Former Teacher,

The firm the Harvard Law grad works for has a program of charitable donations; that is, they give funds or matching funds to organizations suggested by their employees. This particular employee worked out with the company that instead of funds being donated the company would "donate" a few hours where he would be teaching the poli sci/civics. He does so twice a week but only for two hours in total.

When I spoke with him he admitted that this was a "partner's perk" and most likely would not be granted to an associate. Given that partnership now takes about 10 years to be proferred by the big firms you have a way to go until you might get this perk. Still, it's something to shoot for.