Saturday, January 14, 2012

Some people do...the best people TEACH

ON Soapbox:

In my miniscule view of the universe and politics I'm basically a conservative independent. I make my opinions based on what I have learned, read, and seen in this world we live in.  I've had the privilege of being educated over the years in parochial schools for 10 years, a private university for several more and a couple of public institutions.  I taught for a number of years in the same grouping as well as a one-roomed schoolhouse with grades K-12 all together (what a wonderful memory).

Over the years I have watched my children, all of them, either succeed or fail depending on their motivation (sadly,  most of those young people came to me too late to try to instill a love of learning) mostly in the public school system here in the US.

As a teacher, I have literally worked for nothing and not much.  My idealistic thoughts that I can make a difference remain even today.  I see my local school system rake in $13,000 or more PER STUDENT from taxes and the federal government.  In Oregon, the average starting salary for a teacher, $33k + is nearly 6 times more than I started and the average teacher salary is around $51k.  No one is getting rich from teaching.  But with around 3200 students in the district, WHAT is that money (41,600,000 + dollars a year) going to?
Public School Spending-a black hole?

Granted a lot of that funding goes to salaries and building maintenance and upkeep.  Giving students a safe place to learn and to have qualified staff to teach them is of utmost importance.  Like most school systems the administration is over heavy but the lawns around the school are green and of course, the sports facilities are the best that can be bought.

When I was applying for my first teaching job, one of the first questions asked was, "What sport can you coach?"    Was I to be honest and say, "None? But I can coach drama, and speech, and debating."  Needless to say, I pounded a lot of pavement before I became the only male teacher on a faculty who didn't coach a sport.  AND I became very unpopular among other teachers when I refused to take into consideration "the big game" when I handed out students' grades--education was more important to me.

And that last six words are the crux of this epistle--education was more important to me.

It was only towards the end of my public school career that I joined the teachers' union.  There was a rather spirited debate going on regarding salaries and benefits for the teachers.  I joined because I supported the "good teachers" in the district, the ones who cared for the kids and who thought that their education was their highest priority.

I said above that no one is getting rich from teaching.  Good teachers deserve to receive compensation for the knowledge they share with their students and the skill they use to help those kids learn what is necessary.  Frankly, in my mind, a good teacher should be treated like a good doctor--they are THAT important to our young people--and should be paid accordingly.

Unfortunately, good teachers (note I keep repeating that) are treated no differently than bad teachers. Most school systems can't recognize the good teachers.  Most school systems can't fire a bad teacher.  Historically, very, very few teachers have been fired by any public system and that's because the unions have iron-clad contracts protecting the teachers--all of them.  After two years, a public school teacher receives tenure and it takes an act of God to fire them (or lewd/malicious behavior).  The unions are there to protect the teachers...period.  They recognize what a teacher's task is but in no uncertain terms.  Indeed, when a top NEA lawyer (Bob Chanin)  retired in 2009, his parting address included the following :

“Despite what some among us would like to believe it is not because of our creative ideas. It is not because of the merit of our positions. It is not because we care about children and it is not because we have a vision of a great public school for every child. NEA and its affiliates are effective advocates because we have power."

I have no union-busting bones in my body but I have a love for education and learning and most importantly, children.  It seems from the above that the National Education Association doesn't quite have the same loves in mind.  My daughter has been in a Christian school for most of her young life.  Her teachers all work for a fraction of what their counterparts in the public schools receive.  Her education has been of the highest quality and her standardized scores for the most part have been considerably higher than her public school peers--and my daughter isn't brilliant by any means, she's a bright, average student who has had good teachers.  

Tuitions in the best private schools in this region are considerably lower than what our county gets per kid, for the most part.   The difference is in the people who teach these youngsters--they are there for the children and every day set out to teach them to the best of their ability. Their idealism and zeal remain because they don't have to spend 15 minutes of every 45 dealing with bureaucracy and they are doing what they love, teaching. The majority of the teachers give their students their home/cell phone numbers in case there is a problem. The facilities are safe and most do have sport programs as well as other extra-curricular activities.

County school systems lose huge numbers of students to home-schooling because parents have lost faith in the system (although they still receive dollars for each of those home-schooled kids).  How many more students would be lost if some sort of voucher system was in place so that more parents could send their children to private schools of any sort--how many students have already been lost to Charter Schools which are basically independent from the county system and exist because parents and good teachers care? How many of the good teachers in the public schools would go to the alternatives just because the idealism of putting students first would attract them?

Good teachers teach.  They are one of the most important links in our young peoples' lives to the the future.  Let's reward those good teachers somehow--that apple on the desk is great but it's only good for one meal!

Getting off of soapbox now!


  1. I love this post Larry. No only can good teachers interest a child to learn but sometimes they can make a child interested in something they weren't before, however after having that teacher the child may return to not liking it. For me, I was never interested in History. It was probably my least favorite class in school. Then in HS I had a history class from a teacher that had taught Alex. I knew this teacher from before and talked to her often but until 10th grade I had never had a class with her. She made me like history that year. I looked forward to going to her class and learning more from her. The next year she transferred to a different school. History, with other teachers, was just not as interesting to me as it was with her.

    By the time I got to college I was back to not being interested in history again. I've never had a problem with my history teachers, I've liked them all (except 1) I just had no interest in history.

    Now, teaching at 2 schools in Japan, I have some idea of how my teachers felt each day teaching my classmates and I. However at one school I feel like I'm making a bigger and better impression on my students and making English classes something that they can enjoy learning. At my other I feel as if I have to drag the students into participating and being interested. Sometimes I wonder how the teachers at that school can stand having those kids as students (then I think on my classmates and remember that they weren't any better). There are days when I get done with work and think "I love my job. I can't wait to go back tomorrow." and there are days when I get done when I think "Am I really helping any? Am I to these students what my teachers were to me?".

    At this point in time, if I were to return to America to teach, whatever, I would personally want to do it at a Private school. I greatly enjoyed the interactions I had with my teachers at the private schools I went too and enjoy the feeling I get at my first mentioned school. The intimate interactions with students that smaller class sizes, or just smaller schools, give you the opportunity to have is something that I really treasure.

    That being said, at this point I still don't know if I would want to be a teacher for my whole life. There are many people I look up to in life as role models. However the main ones are or were teachers. So I know if I ever have problems I can always ask them for help, just like in school.

  2. Thaedra, At some point I'm going to have to get Skype set up again so I can talk to you.

    Teachers can and do make all the difference as you have noted. An animated, interested teacher can draw their students into whatever the subject matter is and cause the kids/students to really enjoy what they are doing while learning.

    However, a lot of that is up to the students, too--how much time or willingness they are going to put into a class, how THEY are willing to interact with a teacher and, of course, whether or not they like the teacher or vice versa.

    Teachers making a difference is the idealism I mentioned several times. Teachers can and do make a difference each and every day in a classroom or out of it. The more interaction a teacher has with their pupils, the more the learners take away.

    As a first year teacher, you are full of that zeal and enthusiasm. Yours is a somewhat different scenario than State-side teaching but nonetheless, you are impacting people's lives. Some of your students are going to love you and others, of course, aren't going to like you much--but that's part of the game. It's up to you to integrate whatever you feel works. Teaching for the first time is sort of like walking blind-folded-until you find what works, it's always hit or miss.

    Private schools have the advantage of having small class sizes although you could have near as many as a public school. Generally, because the schools are smaller, you know the entire population and from them can get the cues you need to be successful, very successful.

    I have always been a teacher, it seems---and will remain that way. It's what I love to do. There is nothing more satisfying than seeing the light bulb of understanding go off in someones head. I've said it before, if I can touch just one of those lives, it makes everything else worth it.

  3. Larry,

    The first thing that stands out to me is the twist on the old adage that "some people do, those that cannot teach"... to "Some people do... the best people teach." I started teaching last fall, and I have a truck driving friend that reiterates the first part of what you said to me over and over again. Even when I tell him that it is NOT that simple, he guffaws me, and continues to say it any way. We have come to a place where we just agree to disagree.

    Like any type of field, there are those whose hearts are in it, and will use every fiber of what they have, know, and learn to share their information in a manner which perpetuates learning. I agree that the system is set up in a way which does not encourage "good" teachers to continue teaching, or implement their own creative means, but rather those who fit in, can find a way to become a helpful volunteer for the education system (note I did not say the learners here), and grab a hold of the tenure track. I hold out for the hope that things will change in a way that assists the learning process.

    If I can share my passion for learning in a way that encourages that in others, I will have succeeded. I'm still green around the gills, and learning to swim in the education pond, but I am paying attention, and so are my students.

    Thank you for an inspiring post!

  4. k, (sometime I need to get your name)

    As I said to Thaedra, being a first year teacher is the best but also the toughest year for a teacher, period. You will work harder this year than any other because you need to create ALL your materials.

    Your trucker friend, I'm so sorry he can't see into the depth of what you do. Teaching is HARD WORK and teaching well is harder yet. I've been a trucker...I know what his life must be like and the responsibility he has navigating that big rig down the road BUT he isn't responsible for the minds of young people.

    Through Facebook, I've found that a number of my former students are now teachers. It is my hope that, at least in a small way, I affected them enough to inspire them to choose that profession. That alone makes it all worth it.

    The education pool is deep in places. It will sap your enthusiasm if you allow it to. I burned out, to be honest, in the public environs--I remember, after I left public education, being asked to write a list of my "jobs" I did in my job. That "list" was three pages long!

    Keep your eye on your goals and your dreams...and watch your kids soar. Then you'll know you've done well.


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