Reading, Writing, Retailing

Dave Eggers (who I have a huge lit-crush on) co-authors a great op/ed in the New York Times about the teaching profession. It is completely ridiculous, he asserts, that teachers are so under-paid that they often have to take on second jobs just to support their families.

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?

He’s right; it’s about time we started paying teachers fairly.


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11 comments for “Reading, Writing, Retailing

  1. June 28, 2005 at 5:26 am

    Back off, Eggers is mine :-p

    Political and the writer of beautiful prose? Checks all my boxes!

  2. June 28, 2005 at 9:42 am

    After asking that of them, we pay them so little that they have to find work selling electronics and cleaning our houses.

    And in California, our movie star governor blames them for the fact that Enron looted our treasury.

  3. June 28, 2005 at 10:54 am

    At least it’s a pretty good bet a lot of people aren’t becoming teachers just for the money, like doctors and lawyers and such.

    I think the concept of living wage needs to move beyond hourly laborers and should also apply to salaried workers, especially those we supposedly so highly esteem.

  4. Tim
    June 28, 2005 at 11:25 am

    Eggers practices what he preaches. He did a reading at my college a few years ago and before he started signing copies of AHWOSG he asked a small group of students if any of them were ed. majors. One was, and Eggers pulled him aside and said quietly, “You’re not going to make much money, but you should always know that people appreciate what you do.” He then handed the kid the check that he had received as an appearance fee. Pretty classy guy.

  5. June 28, 2005 at 1:10 pm

    AHBWOSG was a great book. I can’t wait to read more by him. My old English teacher said he was a bit arrogant, but maybe it was just a bad first impression.

  6. June 28, 2005 at 2:11 pm

    My old English teacher said the same thing, along with more on the “postmodern ironic” vein that Eggers himself rejects in the footnotes to AHBWOSG. I was less enthused over “And You Will Know Our Velocity” but it’s still got some breath-taking bits

  7. pragmatic_realist
    June 28, 2005 at 3:07 pm

    In my state, WV, being a teacher is one of the best jobs you can get as far as pay, holidays, working conditions and benefits are concerned. It looks even better if the annual salary is prorated for the fact that there are only 180 days of school. And it is not unusual for any family to need two incomes. A two teacher family pulling in $60K a year is making a very upper middle class income as I see it.

    I know that it is difficult, frustrating work that requires a good education, but so do lots of occupations.

  8. Grace
    June 28, 2005 at 6:43 pm

    Well, the 180-day work year is a bit of a myth. Virtually every teacher takes courses to maintain their license (which are paid for by the teacher in most cases), updates/reworks lessons, or works over the summer. I have yet to meet a teacher who just kicks back and takes the summer off.

    Also, my husband and I are both teachers, making us a “two teacher family”. We don’t have kids, and we can’t afford to buy a house in our little midwestern city, which is not exactly a boom town. To me, owning a house is part of “middle class” status and while I do feel pretty financially comfortable (we both work over the summers to make ends meet) I do think that home ownership is a significant part of middle class status that eludes a lot of people who might be able to live comfortably otherwise. And having kids is simply not a financial possibility unless one of us quits our job (halving our income) because we can’t afford day care.

    I know this situation is not unique to teachers, but I do think it’s relativley unique to educated professionals. I’ve been on both sides – I was an office drone “professional” working in publishing and I made more money doing that than teaching but I felt like it was slowly eroding my will to live, so I returned to teaching. The thing that surprised me most is that as a teacher, you have no time to yourself. I don’t check email, I don’t make phone calls, I don’t talk to other adults for the vast majority of the day. I think a lot of people who aren’t teachers (not talking about anybody specific here, honest) assume that we just go in at 8, leave at 3:30 and spend some time with kids in between. The reality is that I get there around 7:30, leave around 5, and take work home with me to do until 8 or so. But I love it and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. For me, it is a calling, a horribly corny as that sounds.

    My whole point with this rant is that it’s misleading to say teachers have jobs that require the same committment as the jobs of other educated professionals because they don’t. “Difficult” and “frustrating” don’t begin to describe some of my experiences with my students and their parents. It was difficult and frustrating when I couldn’t get an author to turn in a manuscript on time. It’s rather harder to see one of my bright, promising (albeit troubled) kids get arrested for drug and gun possession in school. Also, if you haven’t read it, I do suggest checking out the recent Time article on the parent-teacher relationship.

    Sorry to be so long-winded :)

  9. June 28, 2005 at 9:17 pm

    i agree (not that i have a crush on dave eggers though). all the socially beneficial careers need better pay… but then they might draw the wrong sort of people to be teachers, nurses, etc. i wouldn’t want Scrushy laying hands upon me when i’m sick, let him wallow in the emptiness of his frauded millionaire’s life.

  10. mythago
    June 29, 2005 at 1:49 am

    It looks even better if the annual salary is prorated for the fact that there are only 180 days of school.

    The fact that you are in school 180 days does not mean your teachers go off to party in Cancun when you’re not personally in the building.

  11. E Rust
    June 29, 2005 at 9:58 pm

    Maybe there’s a way to guarantee teachers a fraction of a percent of their students’ eventual incomes. IRS could track & kick it back to them. Inspire the next Dave Eggers and you’ll be doing just fine come retirement. Since the rest of the world seems to be operating on a commission basis . . .

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