Monday, June 27, 2005

Teaching is Not Easy to Love

More proof that, unfortunately, the general public is not willing to pay teachers what they are worth. This is particularly sad given that, after parenting, teaching is the second most valuable job that anyone can do. So, no child left behind is working?

This is a bizarre and unsettling time in the lives of students, parents and teachers. It is a time when school lets out, and hundreds of thousands of teachers start their second jobs to keep their rents and mortgages paid. One day they're shaping minds, a moral force in the lives of the young people they teach and know, and in some ways the architects of the future of the nation. The next day they're serving cocktails and selling plasma TV's at the mall...

Most teachers love teaching, but teaching is often not so easy to love. True, the profession is gaining respect: in 2003, 49 percent of adults thought teaching was a profession with "very great" prestige; in 1977, only 29 percent thought so.

But teachers' salaries are well below what similarly educated professionals expect. The average salary for a teacher in 2003 was $45,771. A teacher with a master's degree might get an additional stipend of anywhere from $500 to $2,000. Across all professions, however, the average beginning salary for those with master's degrees is $62,820 - about what a teacher might earn with 15 years of experience. It is no surprise, then, that in a Public Agenda study, 75 percent of teachers considered themselves "seriously underpaid."

Meanwhile, President Bush's education law known as No Child Left Behind insists that by 2006 all teachers be "highly qualified." A laudable goal, clearly beyond debate. But while school districts must find increasingly qualified teachers, the legislation does not provide enough money to substantially increase teachers' earning potential...

There's almost something darkly comic about it all. We place the highest demands on a profession, and not just through the teacher-quality provisions of the legislation. We have unarticulated expectations that teachers be morally and ethically unimpeachable, possessed of dynamic, compelling personalities and agile minds and capable of guiding the learning, for example, of 35 hormonally charged 13-year-olds right after lunch.

After asking that of them, we pay them so little that they have to find work selling electronics and cleaning our houses. Is it any surprise that 45 percent of new teachers leave our schools within the first five years?

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