9 Myths About Teachers and Teaching

I should state upfront that I am not a teacher, nor do I plan on becoming a teacher for any non-collegiate schools. I have, however, worked in two different public schools as an assistant for a competitive academic activity, so I’ve worked in close proximity to teachers. While I certainly haven’t had to endure what teachers endure, I’ve been closer than the average person and so I feel I can shed some light on the issue.

Recently, especially with the debates in Wisconsin over collective bargaining, I’ve heard some disturbing myths about teachers or the profession of teaching. Though my experience is limited, I do think I can offer some helpful insights into the profession of teaching by exploring some of these myths:

Myth #1 – “Teaching is just a part time job.”

The idea that teaching is just a part time job might be one of the most popular myths out there, one that has consistently been brought up in the recent debates over teacher benefits. After all, to the public we see someone who only has to work from 8am to 2pm and get the summers off. Before showing this myth to be absolutely absurd, let’s assume it’s correct for one second. Let’s assume that teachers actually only work from 8am to 2pm and get summers off; would this justify cutting their salary?

The answer is an emphatic no. There are two things necessary for any democracy to survive and for freedom to thrive; a strong moral base and an educated populace. The first aspect is generally handled through religious institutions, though educational institutions can handle it as well. The second aspect is solely the responsibility of educational institutions. So even if teachers essentially have a part-time job, we should still pay them far more than other positions in existence because they are the protectorates of our future, they help secure freedom and democracy. This fact alone makes them worthy of respect and high payment, regardless of hours spent on the job.

As it is, however, most teachers work far more than people believe. The average teacher will be at the school between 6:30am and 7am and not get home until 6pm, and that’s on a good night. This is assuming that the teacher has no obligations to helping the administrator run the building or any extra-curricular activities. The teacher gets to the school early to set up and stays late to set up lesson plans and prepare for the next day, not to mention he has to grade papers and homework assignments. Just because the students get out early doesn’t mean the teachers follow; they have other responsibilities to the class. In other words, the average teacher is working a 10-12 hour day, but is only compensated around $30,000 to $40,000 (by the national average of teachers without an M.A.).

School budgets being the way they are, however, means that most teachers are generally hired to fulfill two positions; one position in teaching and the other in an extra-curricular activity. This means the teacher has obligations to both the classroom and the afterschool activity. I know that the teachers I work with will, on an average day, get to the school around 7am and won’t leave until 9pm that night (hence why I was hired!). Working these hours doesn’t earn them all that much extra either; the extra money they earn for doing this, if spread out across the year, only brings in an extra $200-300 a month. Mazel tov, you can now afford an extra trip to the grocery store for picking up an extra 4 hours of work a day (this also doesn’t include that they’re busy every Saturday, leaving only Sunday off, and then have to travel in the summer for tournaments).

When we look at the summers, most teachers have to attend classes in the summer to learn what policy changes have come, how to organize a class, and other superfluous activities. If they’re lucky, they’ll get a few weeks off in July; but keep in mind that for the rest of the year they can’t really take vacation due to the demands of the classroom and extra-curricular activities. So when it’s all said and done, they get about the same amount of time off as an average American worker, or less than a Wall Street Banker; it all just depends on how you look at it.

Myth #2 – “Teachers make far more compared to the average worker in the public sector.”

I would point anyone who believes this to the above arguments and show that (1) teachers generally have a more important job than most private sector jobs (really, does the world need more lawyers?) and (2) teachers work more than most private sector jobs require. However, while such an argument is completely irrelevant since teachers deserve to make more than most public sector jobs, the argument is also false.

Ask yourself this simple question: How many people leave private sector jobs to become teachers because the pay is better? How many bank managers gave up their positions at the banks to teach at a public school because they wanted a pay raise? The fact is that teachers often leave public schools so they can get jobs in the private sector so they can make more money. After all, someone who can teach Calculus I and II is highly desired in some industries and would be paid twice his teacher’s salary.

The only reason the figures look like teachers make more than private sector jobs is because most graphs are taking into account the average US income! These graphs – which are highly suspect – show that the average US income is $38,000 and the average teacher income is around $50,000, and we then have the audacity to say, “See, teachers are taken care of!” They’re a whopping $12,000 above average and we’re proud of that?

But let’s take things into perspective; a teacher has a college degree. So what is the actual average income for teachers as compared to college graduates? The average college graduate in 2008 was making $50,000 (http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=77) right out of college (if you average out the discrepancy between female income and male income). The average salary for a teacher in the US – and this includes teachers who have Masters and even Doctorates – is $53,000 (http://www1.salary.com/High-School-Teacher-salary.html), which is less than the average for a male college graduate. So, do private sector jobs do worse than teachers? The answer is an emphatic no. In fact, if you look at the graph, you’ll see that 25% of teachers make less than $42,000 a year. Compare that to the fact that only 10% get paid more than $70,000 a year (but even then, most teachers making this salary generally have advanced degrees, meaning they have a lot of debt to go with minimal pay; the average college professor will make $110,000 if he is a full-fledged professor). And the graph is only for high school teachers, who are generally better paid than elementary or middle school teachers. In other words, it’s better to get a job in the private sector than it is to become a teacher if one is looking for the money.

Myth #3 – “Teachers are a part of the problem.”

It is true that some teachers are part of the problem, but that is true of any profession. We wouldn’t condemn the entire military because of Gen. Westmoreland or condemn all off college football because of Ohio St. So why would we condemn teachers because of a few bad teachers? The truth is, most of those teachers don’t last unless there’s no one to replace them.

But the problem isn’t the teachers, the problem is the system and the philosophy behind the system. Our current style of education was conjured up during the Industrial Revolution by pragmatists who wanted empirical results. This has produced our modern liberal arts education, which ironically enough isn’t a classical understanding of the liberal arts. Thus, our educational system is doomed from the beginning because of a faulty philosophy and because it was meant for a different time. In other words, the educational system we have in place wasn’t even good for the time it was created for, but since we as a society have advanced, it’s completely worthless now. What is worse is that most teachers recognize this, but there’s nothing they can do about it.

If we are to point any fingers, we have to point them at ourselves for not seeking out alternative forms of education and ridding ourselves of this outdated and false view of education.

Myth #4 – “We’re wasting money on public education and need to eradicate it.”

Some of the more extreme views concerning public education is that education should be completely privatized. After all, why should we spend money attempting to educate the general populace? Where in the Constitution is that a right?

While it may not be promised in the Constitution, logically a democratic society would want to have public education, because an educated populace will always resist tyranny. If we make it to where only the rich or middle class can be educated, then we create a de facto slave class that is at the whim of their educated superiors. In fact, we create a caste system, because we make it impossible for the poor to better their situations when we deprive them of an education.

Not everyone is meant to go to college, but certainly you want a plumber or a garbage man to at least have a basic understanding of knowledge. After all, these people still vote, so we want them to be educated to some type of minimum.

In other words, public education is a necessity for any society that wishes to avoid tyranny, though we should always allow for private schools and homeschools as an option.

Myth #5 – “Teacher’s hate any and all attempts at reform because they see it as a threat to their jobs.”

It is true that some states tend to hate reform more than other states. But as a whole, teachers are generally opposed to attempts at reform because the reform doesn’t do anything. Both Bill Clinton and George W Bush offered education reforms and, though different, neither actually accomplished anything. Under both Clinton and Bush our educational system continued to collapse.

Most teachers recognize that we need a massive overhaul to our system of education. They recognize that our current system doesn’t work; kids are required to go to school after a certain age, teachers aren’t allowed to fail a student, teachers must teach to a test, and so on. I’ve yet to run into one teacher who likes these things, and truth be told these are the aspects that both define and destroy our educational system. Yet, every teacher I’ve talked to about this is absolutely opposed to the current system.

Alternatively, every time I bring up a classical education, or a form of it, most of the teachers agree with what I have to say. While I understand that this is purely anecdotal, considering the number of teachers I’ve spoken to it’s hard to believe that the system I offer would meet wide range opposition.

The point in the above is merely to show that teachers are open to reform so long as that reform will help. But any reform that will help will require us to almost completely dismantle both the current structure and paradigm concerning public education and put a new system in place; this requires money and complexities that most politicians (Democrat or Republican) don’t want to deal with, because it won’t provide instant results. In other words, it’s the politicians, not the teachers, who are closed off to real reform.

Myth #6 – “If student’s fail, we must point the finger at the teacher.”

Our current system of education is actually based on the idea that the failure of the student is the failure of the teacher. After all, if the student can’t pass a simple test then the teacher must not have done his or her job in preparing the student for the test.

The reality of the situation is that most failed tests are the fault of the student. Certainly there are times where teachers are to blame, but these times are obvious; if you have a class of twenty students and nineteen students fail and one student barely passes, obviously the teacher did something wrong. But in a class of twenty students, if five or six fail while others pass with flying colors and the majority ends up in the middle, then the failure rests solely on the student.

At some point we need to wise up and realize that children are human beings, meaning they have free will and are imperfect. That means they can choose to study (or not to study) and even then they may just not get it. They are not computers or machines where we input information and they spit that information back out at us. In light of all of this it is extremely unrealistic to expect every student to pass or succeed; at some point we have to let our children fail.

In a system where teachers get blamed for failing students, is it any wonder that we have teenagers spelling “tenure” as “10year” or graduating with a reading level that previously was considered illiterate? In such cases it’s not the teachers’ fault, it’s our own fault for throwing a fit when the teacher fails our kid.

Myth #7 – “Teachers are simply indoctrinating our children into thinking like liberals.”

This is, shockingly enough, a very popular myth. And to a certain extent it is partially true in some cases; no one is unbiased and certain biases will come out in teaching. But in most cases teachers are simply teaching the curriculum and nothing else; while anecdotal, in high school my teachers were deathly afraid to share their personal beliefs on any issue (only three teachers I ever had displayed no hesitation in sharing beliefs).

This myth betrays a bigger problem in our schools, namely that we understand that our schools are teaching students what to think rather than how to think. If our students were taught how to think then indoctrination wouldn’t be an issue; you can’t indoctrinate free thinkers.

Myth #8 – “Teachers have it cushy compared to other positions.”

During the Wisconsin protests many news commentators were baffled at how incredulous the teachers could be. After all, how hard can it be to be a teacher? We’ve already dispelled the myth of payment, job length, and time off, but still, it’s not as though it’s a stressful job where thousands of incomes are dependent upon their work ethic.

Of course, such a view is completely false. For those who have kids imagine the following:

Everyday , all day, you have to take care of your child and thirty other children. You have to keep their attention, get them to remain calm, maintain order, and if you fail to do so the social services would come in and take all your children away. This is similar to being a teacher. They have to put up with rambunctious children and if they fail in the slightest way they could lose their income.

As for the stress, the reality is that it’s an extremely stressful job. There’s a reason that the turnover rate for teaching is around five years. In talking with some teachers they laugh about the horror stories of well-intentioned people leaving their professional jobs to become teachers, only to leave within a year or two due to the stress.

The reality is that teaching is a highly stressful position. It may not be the most stressful position, but chances are it’s more stressful than what you do (unless you happen to be in the military or a firefighter). The pressure from the administration as well as attempting to keep order is often too much for teachers, leading to many of them just snapping from the stress. Add into it that they do all of this for low pay and it just becomes too much.

Myth #9 – “It’s okay to make cuts in education, especially to areas like the arts, since those don’t help you get jobs.”

 There is nothing more discouraging when we make cuts to education. Ironically enough, when it comes to spending cuts education is the one area where Democrats and Republicans seem to agree. In almost every state budget education is the very first thing cut. Now, while money isn’t the solution to the problem, it doesn’t help when we cut funding.

Many people justify it by saying that usually it cuts out the arts and music, things that aren’t needed to get jobs. But I would contend that such things are needed for a society to function; an uncultured society is one without beauty, and a society without beauty is a society that lacks a soul. Just like humans need a soul in order to move the body and direct its ways, so too does a nation need a soul to direct its mores and laws; part of a nation’s soul is its appreciation for the arts.

A love of the arts is what makes us human. While we might say that elephants can paint (which is nothing more than random markings), an elephant can’t appreciate the art he creates. One of the areas of humanity that separates us from the animals is our ability to create and appreciate art; this is, in fact, part of what it means to be in the image of God. In many ways a degree in the arts is more important than a degree in business, because the arts allow us to create (to mimic God in His creation) when, given enough time, a monkey could be trained to run a business (example: Enron).

When we cut funding to the arts we cut funding to a subject area that helps distinguish us from animals, we cut funding to an area that makes us closer to God and therefore more human, we cut the funding to our soul.