In a recent post (which I first read about in Mercedes Schneider's blog entry, Teacher Workload vs. Teacher Salary: And the Winner Is...) blogger Paul Murphy wrote that teachers complain about their workload and low pay because it makes them feel superior.
Teachers who talk about working 12-hour days and going in on weekends and spending thousands of their own dollars aren’t actually complaining about it. They’re proud of it. They believe it’s proof of their dedication. It makes them feel superior to those who aren’t as selfless.Wrong!
I was a teacher for nearly four decades...and I talked about how much work it was to be a teacher, but it wasn't bragging. Most of the time I was trying to explain to people who have no clue what teaching actually entails, that it's a real job. It takes a lot of work to do it well.
I never felt "pride" that I was working for free or paying for classroom supplies with my own money. On the contrary, I often felt it was shameful that our nation's children were such a low priority that the workers felt obligated to subsidize the employers.
Teachers spend extra money and time on our classrooms because we put our students first. Pride? Not really. Necessity? You bet. Murphy even admits that he wouldn’t stop doing those extra things…and he goes on in a subsequent post to explain further. Teachers need to organize, work the contract and by doing so, let their employers know that they won't work for nothing. This, he admits, is easier said than done. I agree.
My disagreement with Murphy is in his language choices. Teachers don't talk about their jobs to "feel superior." We're not "proud" of our sacrifices. We do them because we care about our students.
With the end of summer closing in, many teachers will be heading into their classrooms to donate some work. They’ll spend hours decorating their rooms...Murphy was speaking specifically of elementary teachers (although I know secondary teachers who go in early and stay late, as well). We go in early and we donate work. Why? Because the work has to get done, and if we only work the hours for which we're paid our students will be the poorer for it.
And, I should add, it's not all decorating, something Murphy, as an elementary teacher, ought to know. Decorating a classroom is not like putting up Christmas lights, Thanksgiving turkeys, or Valentine's Day hearts, although that might be part of it. We also display motivational posters, calendars, word walls, charts, maps. Those are better labeled teaching tools not decorations. We use those teaching tools for the benefit of the students. So, when I went in to school a week early to get things ready, aside from making sure that materials were ready for students, and making sure that the classroom looked inviting, I also made sure that there were necessary teaching tools available for use during classroom instruction.
Finally, he wrote,
...what struck me, as it always does, is the contradiction between whining about low pay and bragging about working for free.Again, not bragging! And not whining about low pay, either. Are school boards accused of whining about money when they claim, "we haven't got enough money for a 1% across the board raise"? Are legislators accused of whining when they say, "this is all we can afford to budget for public education this year"?
Our so-called "whining" about pay is really an objection to the lack of full funding from the state. Local school systems are forced to choose between providing a full curriculum with sufficient materials, or a well paid staff. They often cannot do both.
HOW HARD CAN IT BE?
But, again, the common knowledge is that teachers don't really work that hard, so why pay them like other professionals? Teaching is easy. After all, they have all that time off in the summer, get to go home at 3 pm every day, and only have to spend their days with a bunch of kids. How hard can it be?
That "common knowledge" is the reason teachers need to talk about how much work they do, how much they spend on their classrooms, and how little they're paid in relation to how much they do and how much other professionals with equal training are paid.
My objections (whining?) are with Murphy's word choices...I agree with much of what he wrote, but bragging, decorating, and whining, are not only incorrect descriptions of what teachers do, they're (IMHO) demeaning. Words matter.
And, as if on cue, there appeared a comment to Mercedes Schneider's blog supporting the aforementioned "common knowledge" about teachers...
SocratesYes, it's true. The comment about how easy teachers have it (in this case, elementary teachers) was written by...a teacher.
Those elementary teachers sure are precious, aren’t they? They ought to spend some time trying to grade labs or essays only during the time that they’re at school. Working overtime as a high school teacher *is* doing the minimum. Sheesh.
Socrates is apparently a high school teacher who thinks that elementary teachers have it easy because we don't have to grade labs or essays and we don't have to work extra hours. We are, apparently, "precious" because we have it so easy, and if we really want to work hard we would have become secondary teachers!
Socrates is obviously ignorant about what goes on in an elementary classroom.
Now it wouldn't be hard to find an elementary teacher who is equally ignorant about secondary teachers – Someone who might say, "they get to go home early every day"..."they don't have to worry about recess duty, bus duty, or cafeteria duty"..."they get a whole period for prep time (or lunch)"..."they may have two or three preps a day, but elementary teachers have seven, eight, or even nine different subjects they have to teach every day"...and so on.
Luckily for both sets of ignoramuses, I know differently. I know from experience how hard elementary teachers work. I know from observation how hard secondary teachers work.
There are differences between elementary and secondary teachers, which we won't get into right now. Suffice it to say, however, that those secondary teachers, like Socrates, who think that elementary teachers don't work just as hard as they do, are wrong...wrong...wrong.
And vice versa.
It's teachers like Socrates who perpetuate the stereotype of "teaching as an easy job," and Murphy, who use demeaning language, perpetuating the myth that teachers complain without justification, who make life hard for the rest of us.