Thursday, March 31, 2011

What Do Teachers Think?

It is not hard to find articles in newspapers or weekly magazines, or to hear segments of so called television news programs all complaining about teachers in the public schools.  "They don't work hard,"  They get paid to have three months off,"  "My kid is smarter then his teacher,"  and so it goes.  In the past year the teacher unions and associations have also come under fire along with the universal complaint "....that if we could get rid of the BAD teachers things would get better."  I have asked people time after time, "What is a bad teacher?"  but no one has given me a clear answer.

Throughout the past couple of years I find it fascinating that you haven't much from the teachers themselves.  I've talked to only a few local teachers but their answers seemed typical--"if they want to get somebody else to teach this class, fine."  I suspect they know that most people wouldn't want the job.  It takes dedication.

However, a couple of weeks ago, Corrine Smith from, a fellow blogger wrote me about an article titled:  "10 Most Common Complaints Among Today’s Teachers" recently printed in her blog.  You can read it at: (  I don't know if Corrine wrote this but I'm glad to see that someone is listening to teachers finally.

Let's review what teachers are saying and thinking.  Number one on Corrine list is Overworked.  I'm not surprised.  I've heard this same anguish since 1968 when I started working as a volunteer for the Washington Education Association.  But I heard it in my own teachers' room as well.  Teaching is a hard job.  You're on your feet most of the day, you have to think, the pressure doesn't let up.....  I don't care what grade level be it high school, middle school or elementary, it is hard work.  In some of the better school districts in this state there are teacher assistants or aids but there are not as many as teachers would like and as one of my teacher friends said, you can't delegate thinking--lesson plans, student evaluations and the like.  Do I think teacher overloads are going to change?  Not by a long will probably get worse with bigger classes and less teaching materials.  

Numer two goes hand in glove with number one.  Most teachers feel underapprediated.  In fact, there is research to support this complaint.  Most teachers do their job without supervision.  Sometimes a principal will come into the classroom but that is not a daily happening and it may not be for teaching reviews.  Other research says that most principals dislike doing teacher reviews most of all and then not to do it.  So the teacher is in his/her classroom 180 days (or more) getting kids to learn.  `

Here is a kicker--at the end of the year most teachers don't even get a letter saying thank you--see you next year.  And for many, no pay raises to indicate a good job done. 

I watched the other night where a major television station gave praise to a local teacher who had been nominated by her class for being good.  The teacher got a fifty dollar check to be used for materials in her classroom.  Not for herself but for her classroom.  She seemed very pleased.  The whole episode on the TV schedule must have taken two minutes.  Right after that segment the following bit of news was about major executives of large companies in the United State whose companies did not pay any national tax.....and these executives were getting bonuses this year in excess of two million dollars each.  Two Million!  You see why teachers feel under appreciated.  Oh well, let them eat cake.

Third on Corrine's list was being under paid.  And it going to get worse I suppose given the tax climate.  Some years ago when I was still teaching in the public schools, the WEA did some research.  The hired some secretaries to sit in different classrooms and take notes of what teachers did.  Yes, we had a standardized list of categories, teaching, responding to student, writing on the board, etc.  Then the WEA took those forms, added what the teachers said they did in the evening and then totaled the hours, divided by what an hourly pay would be for the teacher and oh my!  It was below minimum pay.  Yes, you're correct--there were flaws in the research--we didn't account for summer nor did we add it the health benefits.  But by and large because it is a tax supported function, public education does not get a lot of money.  Never will happen.

By the way, for your edification, it takes about twelve to fifteen years before the "Is This All There Is?" syndrome hits many teachers.  Think about it--you've taught for ten or twelve years and have received a few pay raises but no promotion.  There aren't any promotions in teaching.....except to go into administration. It is at this point we begin to loose some of our more experienced teachers as they find different jobs.   If we look at Boeings, you get a pay raise at six months and your job title changes.  You feel like you're getting ahead--you're doing good work.  No one tells that to a teacher.  Teachers have to feel their own satisfaction--pat themselves on the back.

The next gripe is large class sizes.  I do hear this from elementary and middle school teachers a lot--more then high school teachers.  I can see the reasoning for primary teachers to have smaller classes but the research on class size does not show confidence in smaller classes for increased learning.  But I sense that teachers want to do a good job teaching all their kids and smaller classes give them this chance to do just that.  I understand their fervor.  Understand I could have a bias on this complaint--I did teach band and choir and in those classes it was normal to have fifty to sixty kids.

Corrine Smith's number five complaint from teachers is Student Disengagement.  It is my feelings that this complaint depends upon the school districts.  One of the teacher's main tasks is to engage the student and I suspect depending upon the support from the district's parents would be how difficult it might be to "bring the students along."  I have not heard this complaint too often in recent years but perhaps I've been in the wrong districts talking to the wrong teachers.  

Number six is a difficult problem to solve--that of Lack of Parental Involvement.  I've always have said that the parents are in charge.  We teachers and parents have to work together to education the children.  But it is difficult if the parent(s) has two jobs or works the night shift.  In recent years I have heard teachers who report that they have parents that do not encourage their children to go to school.  Migratory kids are difficult to teach when they come weeks late to school and leave in a middle of a semester.  One of the first things an older teacher taught me when I started teaching fifth grade was NOT to erase a kids name from my grade book if they moved away.  They might move back and some did.  Parental involvement is a difficult problem.

Number seven is a problem that won't go away--Lack of Funding.  And I don't think it will ever go away.  It is my thought that money does improve education but sometimes it doesn't get down to the teachers.  Teachers do and probably will continue to buy supplies for their classrooms.  I remember finding a ditto machine that was not being used at the district office and bringing it back to my classroom only to be told that I couldn't use the paper in our school office.  I had to buy ditto paper from Sears for my classroom.  [if any of you write me and ask what dittos or ditto paper is you will be banned from reading any further] Still, some classrooms NEED supplies.  The sciences at the high school are always in need of material.  How can you teach chemistry without chemicals?  How can you have a band without music?  Todays teachers have their problems in funding.  

Number nine is a biggie, dealing with Layoffs.  It use to be a standard rule that the last hired was the first to be laid off.  Not anymore.  New York City Public Schools want to be able to lay off ANY teacher at any time.  I am certain that many teachers with higher salaries will be among the first to go when they cut back the schools.  I also have talked to teachers who quite frankly do not trust the principal to make good decisions.  One teacher frankly told me that she would be the first to go because she has irritated the principal too much during the past few years in getting new books, supplies, etc.  She and He don't get along and she is sure she will be among the first to be released.  

I also know of a superintendent who for a number of years would release teachers at the end of their third year for various reasons--this was the way he kept his budget down--no expensive teacher salaries to maintain.  While the court put a stop to that administrative policy I know that we will start to see such policies once again.  I feel for the teachers--all of them.

I have to say I think Corrine's tenth complaint does not belong in this list of gripes from teachers only because this one is a constant, that of School Schedules/breaks.  Teachers have been griping over playground duty, the Holiday Break, length of periods in the high school, parent/teacher conference days, the list goes on. I have heard more excitement over SNOW make up days then probably any other subject. Some teachers want schools to start earlier while others want schools to start later in the day and go longer.  A bus schedule  can drive a teacher berserk.  This complaint will never go away.

We haven't talked about the curriculum.  But it is a subject that teachers like to talk about.  "When should we teach this subject?  Should it be reviewed in the middle school and again in the high school?  How can we teach it so that the kids LIKE it"  I wish many parents could be flies on the wall when teachers start discussing how they want the kids to learn and what they want the kids to learn. I think all parents would be impressed.

Thanks to Corrine Smith for alerting us to this list of teacher complaints.  Well done.  I am looking forward to hearing from more teachers about their tasks and responsibilities. 

And to all teachers, thank you.  I think you're doing a great job.  Have you thanked a teacher today? 

1 comment:

  1. It sounds as though this conversation always comes back to compensation. In fact in regards to this post, I don't see any difference between being "underappreciated" and being "under paid." The simple truth is that the overwhelming majority of Americans are underappreciated and under paid, regardless of profession. We've seen staggering growth in terms of hours worked, while simultaneoulsy seeing our compensation for our efforts either remain stagnent or decrease. Meanwhile, our "socialized" European sisters and brothers have more time off, earn higher wages and receieve better benefits packages (3 months paid maternity AND paternity!?!).

    What I'm getting at is that this is systemic and not unique to educators (as they'd often like you to believe).

    While I commend you for pointing out the flawed research in the "under paid" argument, several of the teachers I know reguarly fail to mention all of the time off that they recieve through-out the year, while arguing for increased salaries. I think it'd be a great service to the educators of America to take ownership of the time off, as opposed to dismissing it without discussion.

    Additionally, in Seattle, the average FAMILY income is the same as what one average Seattle teacher makes, roughly $45,000. Meanwhile the per capita income of a Seattleite is only $30,000.

    With an economic climate of uncertainty affecting all of us, wage discrepancy (like I mentioned above), should be the last thing teachers are complaining about, particularly when they're working nearly 100 days less than the average non-educator.