A friend of the site writes in with this lovely, eloquent defense of teachers in the current climate. After a little cajoling, he agreed to let me post his remarks on the site. His comments are in regards to the unfortunately misguided Nicolas Kristof editorial that ran this past weekend in the New York Times, entitled “Pay Teachers More”. You might read it before taking a look at the below post:
From the debates going on in the national media, you might get the impression that teachers are in it for the money.
That’s a pernicious fallacy. A basic educational challenge is not that teachers are over or underpaid, but that they are disrespected, to the point of outright scorn. Better pay will not attract “better people”. Better people, as you have so often pointed out in your column, are those who inspire and sacrifice. These are the kind of people who become teachers.
Unless you define “better people” as investment bankers.
A study shows that teachers from the top 25% would eliminate the black-white achievement gap. And that policemen from the top 25% would eliminate crime. And that reporters from the top 25% would eliminate corruption. It’s just that simple, right?
While we’re at it, let’s define our student’s achievements by how much money they’re projected to earn over their lifetimes. That’s the best measure of a person’s worth, isn’t it? Earning more will make them “better people” right?
Look, I’m a fan of all unions. Considering what’s going on in Wisconsin and across the country, lambasting any union is particularly galling. Teachers’ unions in particular have created a secure environment where dedicated educators can devote their lives to an institution and a particular community without having to worry that their career will be threatened by the whim of a fly-by-night administrator. This allows teachers to be flexible and creative, using their experience (experience matters? Who’da thunk it?) to fully engage students and not treat them solely as test-takers who need to meet the bottom line. Or maybe such teachers are just “low achievers”.
But none of this has to do with a teacher’s pay. What teachers value most are family and community and the types of benefits that nurture these things.
Moreover, part of the problem is public esteem. When commentators characterize people who are currently teachers as bottom-feeders, they demean the profession, including the best and the brightest who have been honing their craft for years, even decades. We should be elevating teachers, not throwing darts at them.
Jeanne Allen of the Center for Education Reform says, “Throw them whatever it takes.” Well instead of throwing things at teachers that they don’t want, how about letting them keep the things that made them want to be teachers to begin with?
It makes sense to cut corners by increasing class sizes? So the solution is to help teachers by firing more of them? (That model that works so well in Japan? I’m sure it could be duplicated here. If we had a homogeneous population. That came from a culture that ingrains respect for elders. Even teachers.)
Teaching is unusual among the professions in that it pays a living wage and offers security (remember security? That thing many of us had before investment bankers treated our homes and hard-earned pensions like a game of three-card monte?) It affords rights and protections that all middle-class Americans should have, and critics are dead wrong to fault it. The bottom line is that we should respect teachers more, not less – and that politicians and pundits who falsely pat teachers on the back with one hand while slapping them in the face with the other are making it damn near impossible for these generous, selfless teachers to give their wonderful students the care, attention and expertise they so richly deserve.
I believe your Miss Trantina would agree.
-Derek Mainhart, Teacher