The Value of an American Teacher: $10,000,000

According to the New York Times, the teachers in Atlanta who turned themselves in on cheating charges had bails set as high as 7.5 million.  They were able to negotiate lower bails, but the jurors originally wanted 10 million for Dr. Hall, the district’s superintendent.  What kind of bail was set for Wall Street cheater Bernie Madoff? 10 million.  Hmm.  If I cheat, my value to my community is 10 million.  If I do an excellent job, I get $45,000 a year, a pay freeze, no collective bargaining rights, and high medical premiums and co-pays.

The Vicious Cycle

I don’t agree with the cheating that occurred in Atlanta but I can certainly identify with the desperate teachers’ reasoning for cheating.  My previous school was under-performing even though 70% of my colleagues had Masters degrees.   My school was staffed with innovative, compassionate, hard-working teachers who held their students to high standards.

We were up against tough odds.  50% of the students were on Free & Reduced lunch.  38% of my students were Hispanic.  All though some of my students would be the first in their family to graduate from high school, they had huge challenges when it came to overcoming poverty, abuse, and chemical dependency.   Instead of playing sports or doing homework, kids went home to take care of siblings while their parents were working at one of their 3 jobs.  And it’s no wonder that this past year only 49% of the students at my old school passed the math exam for the 8th grade.

We spent years reconfiguring our school.  We made changes, improvements, spent thousands on professional development.  Some kids made huge gains and others crept up the scale, but our kids’ achievements did not grow at the rate the nation had set for us.  Because of NCLB (No Child Left Behind) our AYP (annual yearly progress) continued to be set at a rate of growth that was impossible for our students and us to achieve.  For example, if the goal was a net gain of 10% a year for 10 years, but then after two years we only gained 5%, we would still have to catch up 15% plus the 10% for the coming year.  It was a vicious cycle that left the teachers and students feeling completely defeated.  We were doing great things with kids, but the state and the nation thought otherwise.

As a last resort, my school district opted to hold students back.  If we were sure there was no way they would pass the state test in the 10th grade, we held them in the 8th grade.  We could “cheat” our way to better test scores.  The law stated that once the student entered the 9th grade the clock was ticking for them to take their 10th grade test.   Other schools in the area didn’t allow students take the test if they didn’t have enough credits to be listed as a 10th grader.  This is when I left the American public school system in search of something new.

The Current Situation

In the 4 years since I left things have continued to get worse for teachers in America.  Pay continues to stagnate.  Medical Insurance premiums rose, yet states in order to make cuts in the budget started to pay less and less of those insurance costs.  COLA’s went away when the economy tanked, but have not been put back in place now that things are better.  In some states, teachers are no longer able to bargain for their contracts.  The media screams that teachers are getting paid too much.  State standards that took so long to write and incorporate into the curriculum have gone by the wayside as the Common Core becomes the new framework….the list goes on.

I can’t read the comments on any education news articles anymore.  I want to throw the computer against the wall.  The 9 comments I actually read about the Atlanta case were horrific.  All stated that the teachers were greedy and inept.  I stopped reading at “How hard is it to teach to a test?!”

A German Comparison

I am blessed to be in a country that values education and the public school educator.  According to The Data Blog on theguardian.uk, teachers in Germany make 10,000 more dollars a year than American teachers. Germany pays less than the US per student for education, but they score higher on achievement tests.  Other benefits I have found are that German public school teachers receive a 13th month bonus, which equals one month’s pay at Christmas.  They have excellent medical benefits, job security, and paid family leave.

Teachers work 40 hours per week, yet they are only in front of students 16 hours per week.  Imagine that kind of luxury to plan, collaborate, and mark papers within your 40-hour workweek.  Early childhood education is subsidized by the state so that ALL children get the boost of preschool before they enter school at 6.  My kindergarten bill is 133 euros per month and our kindergarten has 2 full-time teachers to 12 children.

It’s not about the money. 

We all became teachers because we felt called.  We didn’t become teachers because it was “easier” as some commentators like to point out.   We love our students, we love to watch them learn, and we love our subjects.  But if I have to read one more article that degrades the educator…If I see one more interview with a person who has no idea what it is like to do what I do discuss how teachers are whiners and overpaid….If I see one more documentary that says Charter schools are the answer and Unions are the problem…

Go hug a teacher.  Tell them they are valued far beyond monetary riches the state gives them.  Tell them they are making a difference despite the test scores.  Tell them the objectives of knowing and caring about your child are the only objectives you care about.  And tell your congressmen and women that when they are looking for places in the budget where they could save some money, education is off-limits.

What is the value of a teacher in your community?  Is it $45,000 or $10,000,000?

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