Why are public schools, and public school educators, such an easy target for abuse in terms of wage stagnation, underfunding, and worker disrespect? Why is it so easy for legislators and policy makers to treat teachers like enemies of the state?
|Oklahoma teachers on strike.
WHO ARE THE TEACHERS?
One possible answer to the questions, above, is the relative value given to work done by women in our society.
Three-fourths of American teachers are female, and despite the fact that teaching is a difficult job, needing training and experience, it’s still considered “women’s work” by the patriarchal society at large. In nearly every job, at every level, in every area where both men and women are employed, women earn less – even when men and women are doing the same exact work.
The assumption has been, even among educators, that women who work will (or ought to) have a higher-earning spouse at home, so they don’t need to earn as much. There is rarely an assumption that women are the “bread-winners” of a family or that a woman might need to earn more than their partner of either sex. The tradition of women as teachers leads to teachers being disrespected because women are disrespected.
To the extent that work done by women is denigrated in our society, teachers are denigrated.
To the extent that work done by women is disrespected in our society, teachers are disrespected.
To the extent that work done by women is shortchanged in our society, teachers are shortchanged.
Blogger Jan Resseger has a similar response…
Maybe part of our forgetting about teachers comes from gender bias. As we have all noticed in West Virginia last month, and now in Oklahoma and Kentucky, most of these teachers are energetic young women. All the old messages come into play: Teachers do their work because they love our children; the money isn’t so important to them. They’re probably married and have another income to depend on in addition to whatever they can bring in from teaching. These women should be good sports as they do more with less. And the worst: Teaching is really just glorified babysitting.
TEACHER’S MAKE THEIR VOICES HEARD
Finally…thankfully…teachers are speaking out in large numbers. They have been taking the brunt of the political, legislative, and social war on public education that has been waged for the last four decades. The war has been fought on several fronts…the most notable being funding. Public school funding has taken a hit from the poor economy as have other areas, but with the recovery, those who control the money have not seen fit to increase funding for schools.
In Indiana, teachers have seen a loss of earning power adjusted for inflation of over 15% in the last 15 years. Add to that, larger classes, media bashing, professional demoralization and fewer benefits which have resulted from the recent recession, tax cuts, and political pandering. Most teachers are doing more with less…and less…and less. Policy makers assume that teachers will pick up the slack, which, of course, they do…at a rate of about $500 per teacher, per year. There are more than 3 and a half million teachers in the United States. In other words, teachers subsidize our public schools by more than $1 billion a year.
Salaries are not keeping up with inflation…funding is not keeping up with inflation…teachers are donating money, as well as time, for their students…it all adds up to…
“ENOUGH IS ENOUGH“
…Underpaid and under-resourced teachers have had enough. Tired of struggling to pay their bills and educating students without sufficient resources — or, in some places, heat to keep kids from freezing in the winter — teachers are suddenly rebelling in places not known for union activism.
The protests are coming in states that have seen the country’s deepest funding cuts for public education by Republican legislators, including West Virginia, Oklahoma and Arizona…
|Arizona teachers rally at the statehouse.|
Teachers have long been underpaid. Their average salary is a little over $58,000 a year. While that’s just below the national median income, teachers have the kinds of qualifications that should mean they bring home more than the average employee. About half of public-school teachers have a master’s degree, and nearly two-thirds have more than 10 years of job experience. And yet they make 17 percent less than other similarly educated workers, according to the Economic Policy Institute. Compensation for all college graduates rose over the last two decades, adjusted for inflation, but for teachers it actually declined.
Thousands of teachers returned Tuesday to the Oklahoma Capitol in Oklahoma City to protest low teacher pay and years of cuts to school funding, continuing a strike launched Monday.
Nearly 200 of the state’s 550 school districts remained closed, according to a tally on the Oklahoma Teacher Walkout Facebook group. An estimated 30,000 teachers and educators had gathered at the capitol on Monday, joined by hundreds of state employees.
Teachers are demanding that state legislators come up with $3.3 billion over the next three years for school funding, benefits, and pay raises for all public employees. On Monday, lawmakers didn’t give an inch.
That made teachers even angrier.
Don’t try us, Oklahoma legislatures. We work in classrooms of 30-35 children, seven-plus hours a day, with very few supplies, no restroom breaks, kids who are out of hand, kids who are hungry, kids who are angry, kids who have horrible home lives, kids who have broken hearts. And we still get up every school day, ready to work, ready to do everything necessary to help our kids, in conditions that are not suitable for what we need to do with pay that barely pays our bills and feeds our families.
Go ahead, try to reduce us to ashes.
The Phoenix will continue to rise.
TEACHERS ARE QUITTING
While many teachers are taking to the streets, others are leaving. Teachers are moving to other states to seek better conditions for themselves and their own children. They’re looking for places where public schools are publicly supported.
Others are walking away from the profession completely.
The biggest loss, however, is with pre-service teachers. There are fewer and fewer young people choosing teaching as a profession…and with good reason. The pay gap between teachers and other similarly educated professionals is still large.
It’s hard to recruit young people to a career which doesn’t pay well and is regularly insulted and figuratively spat upon by the national media and politicians.
As a dean of a school of education I have watched our undergraduate enrollments take a nose dive (55%) in the last 3 years. I meet with prospective students and parents who actively encourage their sons and daughters to avoid becoming a teacher. I know teachers that actively advise their students to avoid teaching. And I have talked to high school students who tell me they’ll never go into teaching. When I ask why, I get this response, “I’ve seen what my teachers go through. They’re not allowed to teach. So many of them are miserable. No thank you.”
PAYING FOR THE COMMON GOOD
The anti-taxers – or more accurately, anti-taxers-of-the-wealthy – have convinced Americans that all taxes are always bad. But that’s not true.
We’re not the highest taxed nation on Earth, contrary to what some political leaders would have you believe. And our businesses and wealthy fellow citizens could pay more than they do, especially after the latest tax cuts for wealthy Americans.
Our taxes pay for the physical infrastructure of our cities and counties which benefit everyone. It pays for roads and their upkeep, water and sewage systems, transportation, libraries, parks, and support for the elderly and needy. Taxes also pay for public schools.
When we refuse to pay taxes, we refuse to pay our membership fee for living in a free society.
When we shortchange public education we shortchange our future. That is something Americans throughout history have understood…
by Benjamin Franklin, Philadelphia, 1749
The good Education of Youth has been esteemed by wise Men in all Ages, as the surest Foundation of the Happiness both of private Families and of Common-wealths. Almost all Governments have therefore made it a principal Object of their Attention, to establish and endow with proper Revenues, such Seminaries of Learning, as might supply the succeeding Age with Men qualified to serve the Publick with Honour to themselves, and to their Country. [emphasis added]
by John Adams, Second President of the United States, 10 September, 1785.
The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves. [emphasis added]
by Frederick Douglass, African American writer and abolitionist, speech at the National Convention of Colored Men, 1883
[T]he fact remains that the whole country is directly interested in the education of every child that lives within its borders. The ignorance of any part of the American people so deeply concerns all the rest that there can be no doubt of the right to pass laws compelling the attendance of every child at school…