Teachers Are Useless

America does not value education or teachers.

Education is not important in the US. If it were, the pay would show it, because money is the only measure of importance in America. All the blather from politicians about the importance of education, how our kids are our future yada-yada is so much hot air.

“The High Cost of Low Teacher Salaries”, a recent article in the New York Times by Dave Eggers and Nínive Clements Calegari, should shame every politician who ever voted to cut funds to education, every right winger who thinks teachers are lazy babysitters, every governor who destroys teachers’ rights to bargain for a decent living.

As a The Nation article, “Teachers Aren’t the Enemy”, by Pedro Noguera and Michelle Fine, pointed out, all kinds of people who should know better are demonizing teachers and their unions, and romanticizing young (i.e., cheap) inexperienced teachers. Teaching is the only profession where experience is considered a liability.

Teachers do not get the respect they do in most countries. Here they are called things like “overpaid babysitters”, “lazy”, “fat cats”, and much more. They “feed at the public trough” with “golden retirements”. The vitriol is shocking. Several states have forced new laws disallowing collective bargaining for teachers.

Eggers and Calegari compare teachers to soldiers. When soldiers do not do well, the brass try to find out why, and to make success more possible. It might mean more training, better equipment, a larger support force, or pay incentives. But teachers? It’s the opposite. “Imagine a novice teacher”, Eggers and Calegari say, “thrown into an urban school, told to teach five classes a day, with up to 40 students each. At the year’s end, if test scores haven’t risen enough, he or she is called a bad teacher.” Nothing is done to make things next year better. If the whole school’s standard national test scores go down, the entire school might be closed as punishment.

Half our teachers are gone before five years. Neither schools nor teachers can solve all the problems kids bring to school with them, but we expect them to somehow do exactly that. “For college graduates who have other options, this kind of pressure, for such low pay, doesn’t make much sense. So every year 20 percent of teachers in urban districts quit. Nationwide, 46 percent of teachers quit before their fifth year.” This costs us a lot.

Contrast that with teacher attrition in the three nations with the highest educational ratings: South Korea, 1 percent per year; Finland, 2; Singapore, 3. Many of the best recruit their teachers, pay for their education, and pay salaries twice or more what we pay.

But in America, “In real terms, teachers’ salaries have declined for 30 years. The average starting salary is $39,000; the average ending salary — after 25 years in the profession — is $67,000. This prices teachers out of home ownership in 32 metropolitan areas, and makes raising a family on one salary near impossible.” Many teachers haven’t even had a COLA for years. As a result, there are usually at least two jobs in teachers’ families.

Thanks a whole pant-load, Wall Street bankers, you of the $20-million annual bonus. Thanks to you, there are educational budget disasters at every level.

This year a lot of teacher retirements are expected. State and local support for education is being slashed across the board. If you do not retire, there is a good chance that salaries next year will be cut, which could mean that your retirement income will also be cut. Retiring now is the best option if you can manage it.

But who are these retiring teachers? They are the best and brightest we have, the ones who hung on in spite of inadequate pay and lack of respect. They are the ones who know the students best, and who love them. They know how to teach, how to get things done. Losing a big chunk of the best teachers will leave schools in dire circumstances. Still, even with many retirements, many school districts will have to lay off large numbers of teachers. There will be few new teachers hired.

It could be the worst year in education in many decades. Don’t tell me we think education is important. Everything we do tells me we think teachers are useless.

Eggers and Calegari founded 826 National, a national educational organization that was first at 826 Valencia Street, San Francisco, where students aged 6-18 can come to be tutored one-on-one with their writing skills. All quotes here are from their article.

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