All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. In the United States it also makes Jack a wealthy boy. Ever since human beings began to trade goods with one another, time became more and more valuable. The time and skill taken to cultivate a good would be reflected in its relative value because these elements create higher degrees of scarcity. In a post-industrial economy, we primarily exchange our money for services. The time and skill invested into training for a given service then is reflected in the cost for that service. Inevitability, the price for services comes back to the problem of scarcity. This holds true in nearly all professions except for one: teaching.
To be an effective teacher according to the standards established by the New York City Department of Education you need to juggle a lot of balls. First, you need to have engaging lessons to make learning fun for the students. Additionally, you need to differentiate those lessons so that each child has access to the information in the mode easiest for them and can produce a product that fits with their strengths and weaknesses. To be sure students are working with their strengths and weaknesses, you need to keep in depth data and share it with all stakeholders so that the students can choose their best route of education. You need to give essays and give each essay individual feedback. You need to give tests. You need to call home and try to reach out to the parents of every student. You need to keep track of all your students’ grades and attendance. You need to post student work and create a “text rich” environment. I think that’s about it…until the DoE tacks on another element to the Quality Review and Progress Report.
The bottom line is that in reality to do all the things that the DoE expects us to do; we have to work outside of our contracted hours. Data, grading, and phone calls can take more than the two preps a day most teachers receive. Lesson plans alone can take hours if you really do the dirty work of engagement and differentiation. When teachers talk about all they have to do, administration and others usually reply, “Well, this is your job. You are professionals”. What does this really mean though?
Attorneys and business consultants keep careful track of all their hours. This is because their time is considered valuable. In fact, attorneys can charge you five-hundred dollars an hour, so they keep track of every minute. These are individuals with advanced degrees providing an essential service and doing a difficult job. Wait, am I talking about lawyers or teachers? To continue teaching in most states eventually you have to get a masters degree or take a variety of certification courses. Education is essential to our society. Teaching has one of the highest turnovers of any job. Why is it that an attorney gets yelled at by their superiors for not billing for hours worked and teachers get yelled at when they ask to be paid for the actual hours they work?
Our society has a way of showing how much they value a service, money. Why is it that we say that education is the most essential part of our future, yet we don’t actually show that we value it by paying teachers for the work that they do? Most people point to teacher quality as the primary cause of the achievement gap and the education crisis as a whole. People don’t seem to complain about the quality of lawyers in the United States, or doctors, or business people. The difference isn’t the amount of pay; it’s what the individual is paid for. I don’t mind working hard. I’ll put in 12 hour days, or more if need be. But when I do that service, I want to see that it is valued.
The message we are now sending to teachers is that their time isn’t valuable. We love to place the onus on teachers, and yet we refuse to show how much we actually value them.
Many individuals are quick to point fingers at the Union for protecting complacent teachers. However, I actually feel that the Union now is too weak. Many teachers never receive per session, and now teachers who had been receiving per session simply aren’t getting checks in the face of the budget crisis. We can no longer make demands, because it is assumed that we will do the right thing out of the goodness of our hearts.
My cry is that we as teachers begin to see what we do in the same manner as attorneys and business people. We provide an essential service that society can not live without. The power should be in our court, not in the court of administrators and policy makers. We entered teaching out of the goodness of our hearts, but we need to be shown that the work we do is valued.