The Value of a Teacher

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.

–John Harlow


Filed under John Harlow

3 responses to “The Value of a Teacher

  1. Ron Lussier

    A middle school teacher of mine and his wife who was an elementary school teacher moved from my city in Mass. to a modest home in a tony suburb of Springfield on the Conn. border so they could conveniently teach in Conn. When I asked Joe why they wanted to teach in Conn., he explained that Conn. teachers are the first or second best paid in the nation because the teachers’ unions are very strong. Teachers tend to vote more as a bloc there than in most places. People running for elective office know that unless they support education and teacher issues that they probably will not be elected. When I taught in San Diego, I was always amazed by the teachers who voted for people who’s philosophy or that of their party did not support teachers and education. In California, the corrections officers union is extremely strong and it shows in their pay and benefits. Teachers could learn a lesson from its success.

  2. Teachers have a tough time all ove the world. The situation in Israel where I taught for 13 years reminds me of Pittsburgh (where I’m teaching now) and brings me back to my NYC roots (where I long to sometimes be)

    The bottom line as I see it, is the relationship a teacher builds with his/her students. A teacher comes to nurture that connection even day even if students don’t successfully plug in Physics formulas. It’s all about building a connection.

    Great informative post. Thank you.

    Dorit Sasson
    “Helping You Become a Successful and Confident Teacher”
    The New Teacher Resource Center

  3. Well said! This is the point of my blog,, to keep track of how many hours I work this year. I get so tired of people complaining how we work only 6.5 hours a day for 9 months a year. Well, it’s 7.5 hours a day for 10 months right off the bat, PLUS all that we do outside of school, and all of those classes we have to take. Teachers go through more *mandated* continuing education than lawyers or doctors, yet receive a fraction of their pay. I think taxpayers don’t realize that. They think we babysit all day.

    On the other hand, I know where I teach, the families cannot afford to pay us any more than they do. Their school taxes are already outrageous because we do not have a great business tax base. We have contract negotiations starting in January, and they are already mentioning the possibility of a strike. We deserve to be paid well, but the local economy can’t sustain it. What to do then?

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