5 Things to Remember About Teachers for Back to School

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Earlier this year you may have heard about a “War on Teachers,” where discussions of how little teachers work compared to how much they're paid got a lot of play in the media. With school starting again, let's take a closer look at our teachers.

1. They Don’t Do It for the Money

Since more money is the way to motivate employees in most businesses, some school districts with less than stellar test grades have tried offering large bonuses to teachers if they get their kids to a higher level. In 2007, New York City put aside $75 million, breaking down to $3,000 per teacher per year, if they increased their students’ test scores by enough. The scheme was ineffective, with very few schools claiming the bonuses, and was quietly done away with two years later.

The problem seems to be that unlike other jobs, just “working harder” isn’t enough. There are too many variables when it comes to teaching, and no amount of monetary incentive is enough to overcome all of them. It’s not usually the teacher’s work ethic that is the problem.

2. They Don’t Do It for the Money – Part 2

Even if you think teachers get paid too much, what isn’t in dispute is that most public schools have too little money for other areas. That is why every year teachers spend hundreds of dollars of their own money on classroom supplies, usually without any chance of being reimbursed. Studies have shown that 92% of K-12 teachers spend personal money on their classrooms. While the amount varied from around $350 to $550 per teacher per year in the last decade, in 2010 it added up to $1.3 billion.

And the numbers went down as the recession deepened and teachers had to cut corners in all areas of their lives. So a bad economy isn’t just bad for you at home -- it affects your kids at school as well, even if state funding isn’t cut.

3. It’s Not a Part-Time Job

One of the accusations often leveled against teachers is that they only work half days, since they are out of their classrooms by 3pm. Nothing could be further from the truth. A 2001 study found that the average teacher works 50 hours a week, because their work doesn’t end when the bell rings. Grading takes hours a day, not to mention any school extracurricular activities they may lead, like clubs, sports teams, or theater groups. There are long meetings outside of school hours, and someone has to be there if they assign a kid detention. Not to mention time spent making lesson plans so the whole school day runs smoothly.

While teachers may have more vacation days than most jobs in the US, it doesn’t mean they can afford them. Many teachers teach summer school or get a retail or restaurant job over the holidays, just like their students, in order to supplement their income.

4. They Are a Huge Influence on Your Child

Who had the biggest effect on your kid’s academic success? Their teachers. A large-scale Australian study found that a good teacher-student relationship meant better grades, even more so than good parental or peer relationships, especially during middle and high school.

When it comes to bad grades, most Americans think the blame lies with the parents. A study found that 68% of parents deserve “heavy blame” for failing students, while only 35% said teachers. While this was personal opinion and not based on proven fact, it shows that most people understand failing schools are not the sole fault of the teachers.

5. It Might Be Your Fault the Good Teachers Are Leaving

OK, not always. But studies have shown that the main contributor to young teachers burning out and leaving the profession is pushy parents. When new teachers come into the classroom ready to change the lives of their students, they are often shell-shocked by the number of complaints and sometimes outright abuse that they receive from those students’ parents. Many new teachers feel pressure to be perfect right away, and perfect always means making sure the child of that particular parent is happy and getting good grades. Multiply this by 25 or 30 parents (or more) in a school year and you get the mass exodus from teaching that America is now faced with.

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September 4, 2012 - 7:19am
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