March 25, 2006

What do parents say to kids who announce that they want to become teachers?

Here's a piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education (via A&L Daily):
In focus-group interviews that I conducted, candidates enrolled at the most-selective education schools reported having been told, "You are too smart to become a teacher" and feeling as if "I would probably end up living in my parents' basement with my wife and children." On another occasion, even a foundation executive who worked in urban-school reform told of having to bite his tongue when his son, who attended a top college, announced with pride that he was going to become a teacher. The executive was about to say, "Is that all you are going to do after all the money we spent on your education?"
I remember a print ad from quite a while ago, which must have been placed by the NEA. It showed an empty classroom and the line: "The sale is over." The "sale" was the cheap price society paid to hire teachers, back in the days when when other lines of work were closed or hostile to women and when women expected to receive lower pay. We've never really adjusted to the end of the sale on teachers, have we?

But beyond economics, I think it used to be much more ingrained in women that we should be unselfish and unmaterialistic. It was common to the point of mind-numbing triteness for girls, asked about careers, to answer, "I want to help people" or "I want to work with children" and, of course, "I don't care about money." Girls that didn't feel that way would disguise that fact, for fear of being thought not a good person. That's the way I remember it.

33 comments:

TopCat said...

We spend over $10K per student with 28-32 per classroom -- how much more do these folks want from the taxpayers. Vouchers and freedom of choice would add so much enjoyment to a teachers job that more cash cannot.

Chris O'Brien said...

I hate to get a little off topic so quickly in the comment thread, but are there any other lawyers besides me who would have to bite their tongue like the Foundation Executive if their kids wanted to become lawyers?

Gahrie said...

1) 28-32 kids in a classroom? I wish!I teach 37 kids each period.

2) Taking your figure of $10K per student, I see less than 15% of that 370K. Most of it is sucked up by educational bureacracy.

3) That being said, I am a teacher who is in favor of vouchers.

Jennifer said...

Taking your figure of $10K per student, I see less than 15% of that 370K. Most of it is sucked up by educational bureacracy.

Given that this is clearly the case, I've always wondered why teachers don't get angry with their empire building administrators. They are stealing the funds you so richly deserve! Not your already overburdened taxpayers. Not your obviously interested in education President.

Jennifer said...

But beyond economics, I think it used to be much more ingrained in women that we should be unselfish and unmaterialistic.

I think to an extent that mentality still exists but its spread to boys too. Equal opportunity guilt!

I remember lots of classmates who wanted to be environmental lawyers and doctors who help people, etc. I'm sure there were those who straight up said they just wanted to be rich but I don't recall them.

J said...

I don't know that the "sale" ever ended. If you have a child, a job that is synchronized to their schedule has considerable economic value in and of itself. Though that doesn't factor into many, or even most teachers' lives, the fact that there is a supply of teachers for whom going to work in that profession is effectively pure profit for their family will always exert some downward pressure on salaries. In general, people don't get paid what they're worth - they get paid about what it would cost to replace them, adjusted for non-financial hassle factor.

As to the issue of attracting "top college graduates" to the profession, what difference does that make? Is there any evidence at all that graduates of Columbia or Harvard are better teachers than graduates of New Mexico State? Sorry, but I have to agree with the parents on this one - I'm not sure I want my child locked in a classroom with somebody crazy enough to pay Columbia tuition when they could have gotten (and be just as good at) the same job with a degree from the SUNY of their choice.

Art said...

J Wrote:
"Sorry, but I have to agree with the parents on this one - I'm not sure I want my child locked in a classroom with somebody crazy enough to pay Columbia tuition when they could have gotten (and be just as good at) the same job with a degree from the SUNY of their choice."

I have to agree with J. on this one.
We hired a President with an undergrad degree from Yale and a Harvard MBA and look where it got us.

Art said...

Oh..I forgot the full disclosure.
Two years ago my son wrote to say he was going back to school at U-Iowa to pick up his credentials to teach middle school English.
I think what I said was something along the lines of, "You'll be really good at it. I'm proud you're doing this."

Slocum said...

In my school district, teachers with seniority make $75K for 9 months of work (median is over $50k). They also have iron-clad job security once tenured, great health benefits, and defined pension plans that are available virtually nowhere in the private sector. They are not exactly underpaid.

al said...

My son was a junior in high school when he told me that he wanted to be a teacher. He had entered high school wanting to go into I.T. like his dad.

I told him that I thought it was a great idea and that he would be a great teacher. He's a sophmore in college majoring in Elementary Ed and has already been spending time in classrooms teacher aiding - and loving every second of it. He knows that pay will be a little low to start but in our neck of the woods teachers get paid fairly well once they have put a few years in.

Most of the problems facing education, IMO, are in the bureacracy that runs the districts and the unions that teachers have to belong to. Fix those and education will improve.

Dave said...

The notion that teachers are underpaid is, of course, absurd. The issue is that teachers are underpaid relative to other professions, for which there is essentially no upper limit on income.

A teacher who has taught for 40 years will earn a small fraction of a corporate lawyer who has practiced for the same tenure.

Teachers see themselves as underpaid because (1) they are locked into union contracts that define their pay grade explicitly, with no room for performance-based bonsuses and (2) there is woefully little competition with which to sort out the winners from the losers.

Not so in other professions, where high performance yields outsized gains.

Throw in job security accorded tenured teachers, benefits, and pension plans, and teacher are very generously paid.

If teachers want to be paid more perhaps they should assume some risk and work in a different profession.

Ann Althouse said...

J: The "sale" was the way schools could hire the best college graduates cheaply, because women with the highest credentials regularly took such jobs. You can no longer routinely attract these women into teaching. That "sale" is in fact over. These women are pursuing other options. You're just saying the schools could argue that the pay is better than it looks, because of other benefits, but that doesn't change the reality of women not taking these jobs the way they used to.

CatoRenasci said...

It's certainly true that the broad opening of the other learned professions to women from the late 1960s on has resulted in fewer women of truly exceptional qualification choosing to teach. However, those teachers were never the majority. Most teachers even in the 1950s were not graduates of elite colleges and universities; rather they were graduates of public universities, state teachers colleges and - in an earlier era - normal schools. So, the end of the 'sale' really didn't change the median level of teacher qualification much, except at the margins. (Although, it may well be true that in certain places, larger percentages of the teachers were graudates of elite colleges and universities).

Simultaneously with the end of the 'sale' as it were, we saw the growth of teachers unions. I think that by far the larger problem in the teaching "profession" has been unionization and the introduction of the trade union mentality into what was once a learned profession. The insistance on lock-step pay, tenure, and the like has created an adversarial relationship between the educator and the customers -- the taxpayers who employ them.

Based on my own experience, I think most teachers are paid handsomely given their education and ability. The few truly outstanding teachers are surely underpaid, but I've met many who are clearly overpaid.

As long as becoming a teacher did not mean sacrificing an academic major for a lot of worthless teaching courses, I'd be perfectly comfortable with either of my daughters deciding to teach, at least for a time.

C. Schweitzer said...

Adding to this problem is that Schools of Education at colleges and universities are widely perceived (I think rightly) to be intellectually lacking. A lot of my friends that started as Education majors ended up changing out of sheer boredom and lack of challenge in the education curriculum.

That's why I teach college--I wanted to get a degree in literature (something with a "there" there) not education. That's one of the things I admire about private schools--they'll hire someone with a master's degree in a subject over someone with a generalized degree in education any day.

J said...

Re "the best college graduates": My point is that an Ivy League degree opens a lot of professional doors - but not in education, and is thus not worth it in that profession if you want to be in the classroom. In business such a degree is a powerful branding tool, but it's NO guarantee that the person holding it isn't stupid and incompetent (that is not meant as a political statement - sorry Art). Indeed, there's a statistical case that CEOs with Harvard or Columbia MBAs are actually harmful to shareholder return (http://www.forbes.com/2002/04/25/0425ceoschools.html).

Re: "You're just saying the schools could argue that the pay is better than it looks", I think you've got me confused with Dave or Slocum. Nothing I wrote implies any position on the appropriate level of teacher pay. I'm saying that teacher pay will always be suppressed to some extent by the existence of a group that is willing to accept lower pay because of benefits that are irrelevant to most teachers but have significant financial value to that group.

I don't see why women, "top graduate" or otherwise, pursuing other options is a bad thing.

Brendan said...

In terms of parental expectations, I think the stigma applies to the entire Humanities. My father's face sank four inches when I told him I was going to J-School. My two older brothers have a JD and MBA respectively; an older sister has a CPA. In dad's opinion, if you're not working with money or numbers or something similarly complicated, you're wasting your life. So be it.

Ann Althouse said...

J: "I don't see why women, "top graduate" or otherwise, pursuing other options is a bad thing."

It's bad for education not to have good teachers, obviously. Women should pursue their own goals and shouldn't be discriminated against, but schools need to bring in quality teachers, and they are failing to do it.

reader_iam said...

But beyond economics, I think it used to be much more ingrained in women that we should be unselfish and unmaterialistic. It was common to the point of mind-numbing triteness for girls, asked about careers, to answer, "I want to help people" or "I want to work with children" and, of course, "I don't care about money."

I think you've captured that well, and I think that was pretty common well into the '70s, even. I remember my mom railing about the attitude back in the day and once really slapping down someone for saying that teaching was really a calling more than a career. She felt that people just used that as an excuse to marginalize and underpay primarily "female" occupations, and that it implied that women should somehow be satisfied with "more lofty" rewards than money. It seems to me that there's a good deal of truth to that.

That said, I also think with regard to current pay for teachers (bearing in mind that this isn't true in school districts or even states) that this pretty much captures it:

Based on my own experience, I think most teachers are paid handsomely given their education and ability. The few truly outstanding teachers are surely underpaid, but I've met many who are clearly overpaid.

Actually, now that I re-read Catorenasci's whole comment (from which I excerpted the above), it seems pretty on target overall.

TWM said...

My extremely bright son (academic scholarships abound) is studying to be a high school english teacher.

I told him that, one, it was an honorable profession and vitally important to the future of our society and, two, he would not make any money doing it.

He values the former rather than the latter and I could not be more proud of him.

JimNtexas said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
JimNtexas said...

If one normalizes government school teacher pay and benefits for days worked I suspect one will find that teaching pays very well.

Single in the City said...

Wow! It was very interesting to read everybody's responses about teachers and teacher training in the U.S.
I am a Canadian teacher. I chose the teaching profession, having initially pursued a career in advertising, marketing, and public service. In 2001 I decided to quit my high-paying job and go back to university to become a teacher. As a result I now have two undergraduate degrees and one Masters of Teaching degree. I worked very hard and had to get top grades to enter teacher's college. Once there I had to maintain a high GPA to graduate. Teaching is a highly competitive profession here in Canada. Our universities offer limited spots for those entering teacher training programs, and the competition for those spots is fierce. Top grades, experience, references and excellent interviews are mandatory pre-requisites. This must be because our teacher unions are strong, teachers are paid well, and we receive good benefits. Our salaries are commeasurate with our individual level of education and years of teaching experience. Teachers are encouraged to pursue post-graduate degrees because this will lead to a higher level of pay.

That being said, teachers are consistently undervalued and overworked no matter where in the world they teach. However I would never discourage anyone from becoming a teacher. It is a rewarding profession. There are deep relationships formed within the classroom, with staff, and with parents, and many of these relationships last a lifetime. It is an amazing thing to see how what you say, think, and do affects your students inside and outside the classroom. I love that I am a teacher, and I am glad I changed professions to become and educator. Let us not forget that teaching is the profession that forms all others :)

Gahrie said...

If one normalizes government school teacher pay and benefits for days worked I suspect one will find that teaching pays very well.


It depends. Are you going to just use the hours I spend in a classroom with students present? Then you might have a point.

But if you are going to include all the time after work and on the weekends that I spend grading papers, writing lesson plans, and talking to parents; all of the "days off" I spend attending professional development, writing curriculum, and organizing the school year; and all of the hours of classes I have to take to maintain my credential then things aren't so clear.

We are clearly the lowest paid of all the professions.

JimNtexas said...

"It depends. Are you going to just use the hours I spend in a classroom with students present? Then you might have a point..."

All technical, managerial, and professional jobs require work and education outside of normal working hours. Homework and meeting parents is just part of your job. I hear this whine from a lot of teachers, it always sounds to me like "my job would be great if it wasn't for those pesky customers".

I've put three kids through goverment schools (big mistake) and I never had a teacher conference before 9a or after 3pm. Or on a federal holiday, or on any of the weeks and weeks of holiday time during the school year, and of course not in the summer.

The nice thing about teaching is that you actually get time off for your professional education. Substantial time off compared to any other job. Especially any private sector job.

Teaching has great job security , and it requires only minimal performance standards, if any, once employed beyond probationary periods.

With a goverment teaching job you can retire young with an inflation adjusted defined benefit plan.

Teaching for the goverment pays extremely well when one objectively considers the whole package.

vesna said...

I think the bigger issue for many is status, not money. Teaching just does not carry much cache in the United States, unfortunately.

Bruce Hayden said...

I am finding that those of my baby boom generation who went into teaching already retired in their early to mid 50's. Most of the rest of us are a decade or so away. I also see this with the military and the police, but have always felt that justified that based on the inherant danger of their professions. I have a hard time justifying that for teachers.

But a couple of previous posters have nailed it I think. So much of the public school funding now goes into administration, that the price/performance of public education has gotten to be abysmal. Add to that, that the union mandated job security and lock-step pay result in marginal teachers staying in the profession, and those more talented going elsewhere. The result is a failure in public education (and, yes, I strongly support private education, vouchers, and home schooling).

Finally, I agree that a lot of attorneys and doctors are not pushing their kids to follow them into their professions. Many in my generation did follow their parents, but I don't see this as much now. I will admit though that as a patent attorney, I would suggest that as a career to a kid of mine. It is one of the most intellectually stimulating careers I can envision, and, so far, doesn't have the same type of stress as does a regular law practice.

Jenny D. said...

Ann, the history of teaching shows that the most capable women, and those most interesting in working, chose teaching as a career in the first half to two-third of the 20th century. Why? Because what else were they going to do? Besides the odd doctor and lawyer, teaching and nursing were two skilled professions that were quite open to women.

That's changed, of course. But what hasn't are the intellectual demands of teaching. It's not easy to plan and execute a lesson for learning, and then build on it the next day. Teaching is not "whatever you want."

I teach future teachers, and I've had more than one break down in tears when I tell my class that teaching is good, difficulty, demanding, and noble. The weepers always tell us about the nasty comments they've gotten from parents/relatives for their choice.

miked0268 said...

Question for Gahrie, or any other teachers out there,

Recently I've been attempting to evaluate the possibility of a career switch to teaching some time down the road. I note that pay for teachers (here in NJ, at least) really doesn't look so bad, especially after a few years experience and a Master's degree.

Many teachers mention OT activities like grading papers and lesson plans. Can you tell me, how does your overall workload really compare to the standard for white collar corporate types: say, 50-55 hours per week or so with maybe 3 weeks vacation for the whole year? Is your work demand truly comparable to this?

Gahrie said...

miked0268:

There are really a lot of variables involved. How organized are you? What subject are you teaching? Are you involved in a leadership (Dept Chair, grade level leader, etc) position? How many preps do you have ? (are you teaching only one class such as Algebra? or are you teaching Geometry and Algebra II also?)

This year I know of a veteran teacher at my campus who leaves work everyday at 3:00 P.M. (kids leave at 2:00 P.M.) and has to take no work home with him or work on the week ends. The teacher next door stays until 5:00 P.M. each night and comes in on Saturdays when she can.

I fit somewhere between the two.
I used to work 60 hours a week, 240 - 280 days a year, for near minimum wage. I don't work nearly that hard now.

Sean E said...

"We are clearly the lowest paid of all the professions."

I hope this isn't being petty, but I have to ask: how can you define "profession" such that it includes teachers but leaves out priests, electricians, or pretty much anyone else who needs some formal training to perform their jobs?

me said...

In the rich blue states teachers might get paid $70,000/year, but I assure it is not so here in Kentucky unless you have been a teacher for 30 years. I have a friend who married young and had a baby, and now is going back to school to get her undergrad degree. She's debating what to do, and is thinking about teaching, but the starting salary is $24,500, after she spends four plus years in school. www.prichardcommittee.org/ pubs/perspectives-spring01.pdf. Is it worth it? She makes $30,000 a year now selling phones for T-Mobile, and has great benefits. Teaching would provide great job security and benefits, and she might eventually make $70,000 if she stayed for 30 years -- but it would also mean dealing with the insane bureaucracy, starting out at the worst schools, working long hours in the first few years before you get the lesson plans down pat, etc. So, she might do it to have a more flexible schedule to spend time with her son, but she might not, considering all the downsides. Its kind of ridiculous to spend money on a degree in education and then make less than a job where you don't need a college degree.

peter hoh said...

Ah yes, the easy life of a teacher. One of the enduring myths. If it had been easy, I would still be teaching.

One of the things not mentioned in the comments is the degree to which the first few years of teaching (when there is no job security) are so demanding. Six years of 12 hour days took their toll, and I moved on.

I'll admit that I was not the most organized teacher. Marking papers dragged me down. Too bad I couldn't have outsourced that part of my job. Or maybe I should have taught gym. Or math.

But even if I were more organized, I still would have had a couple hours of grading each day, and at least an hour of preparation outside of the 50 minute prep period I got.

In my second year, a helpful principal wanted to try to figure out how I could improve my efficiency. I was teaching 3 sections of 7th grade English -- 17 kids per section -- in addition to a couple of other classes. Great student-teacher ratio, as one finds in an expensive private school, and it came with some very high expectations. Students were turning in a couple pages of writing each week.

So I asked the principal how much time he thought I should give to each one-page essay -- not just to slap a grade on it, but to write comments and make suggestions for improvement. He thought that 15 minutes seemed about right. I asked him to do the math. I remember the look on his face when it dawned on him that worked out to be 12.5 hours for a single, one page writing assignment.

Robert said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.