No, being a teacher does NOT mean you are a hero

I was watching Burn Notice the other evening. It is one of my guilty pleasures...a poorly acted cheese-fest of ridiculous escapades and cheesy lines. But flat-out enjoyable, for all that.

One of their favorite ploys is appeals to cheap empathic emotional responses, hence the large number of story lines where the client is an abused wife/girlfriend/child. Simply saying, "x is abusive" provides all the motivation the heroes need to pursue a case.

And, since doing that 3,465 times in a row might get old, every so often they throw in some other easy appeal to something everyone feels great love for...

Such as this episode where a credit union has its files stolen and thousands of teachers are going to lose all they worked for and saved.

The unspoken but definitely intended intent is that, since the victims are teachers, they are by definition heroes worthy of honor and going the extra mile to protect them.

Now, let me say up front. I have nothing against teachers. And before we get there, no, I have nothing against policemen, firefighters, soldiers, or hamster-munching alligators who walk on two legs and wear Christian Dior. If they wore Ralph Lauren, of course I would have something against those gators...and so would you. But Dior is all right in my book.

I do want to take exception with the automatic assumption that teacher = hero. Because it outright is not true.

It is an article of faith in pop culture that being a teacher means you are underpaid, overworked, and a hero because you work with kids.

Those claims are a) bullsmurf, b) bullsmurf, and c) highly subjective and, in my humble yet accurate opinion, bullsmurf. Let me explain.

"Underpaid:. the school year is 9 months. For those 9 months, in 2006 (several raises ago), the AVERAGE salary in Oregon, at the time the 14th highest paid state for teachers, was $50,044.

That would be 5,560.444 cents per month with 3 months vacation besides the various vacation days during the year.

For the AVERAGE teacher. Some are lower, some are higher. That is the average.

Now, on the one hand, I do think good educators are worthy of good money. I do find it ridiculous that NBA and NFL players and owners are arguing over salaries when they play and manage a game for an extravagant living. The two things are not, however, related. One group being overpaid does not mean another group is underpaid.

I take hearty exception to the idea that a profession is worth more simply because someone says it is. Teachers do important work. And they get a very nice salary for it. They are well paid.

The overworked portion is nonsense as well. I know I will get screamed at by the "max 20 students to a class, 18 is better" crowd. Save it. You point to your preferred research cronies, I will point to mine. We all know even in the most heavily weighted studies, anything after 3rd grade comes out "marginal improvement if any at all" and 3rd grade and below results vary widely depending on control factors.

For that matter, if we take the results of the most heavily weighted, biased research crying for smaller classes, we would close the public schools entirely, return to the nuclear family option and home school every student since 1-to-1 teaching presents the highest results. But that will never fly because the teachers unions would make sure it was legally prevented from occurring.

The thing is, teachers have a set number of hours with students and several hours besides set aside to prepare, correct, grade, etc. Some use it effectively, others do not. those who do not often end up working more hours.

Working longer but less efficiently is a problem with the teacher, not the system.

On the third point...working with kids does not automatically make you a hero. Working with burn victims does not automatically make you a hero. Putting your life on the line does not automatically make you a hero (see "mob soldier").

There are many, many teachers out there. Lets reveal a dirty little secret. They are not all good.

In my public grade school years I had over 20 teachers. I liked several of them. I thought 1 (one) was excellent, Mr. Howell. I thought several were okay and I thought a few were outright the science teacher who allowed several groups to not dissect their assigned frog, asked students to help him figure out how to do it himself, and still gave As to several people who never came near their frog.

Nor was his teaching style unusual.

In my college and university years I had dozens upon dozens of teachers. And honestly...most of them are what they are. Average at what they do. A few are above average, a few are below average, and the vast majority are...wait for it...relatively close to average.


Furthermore, I caught mistakes made by numerous teachers. Even as far back as fourth grade. Continuing on through college. Sometimes they taught outright falsehoods because it was in the curriculum. That is pathetic and far from heroic. Do the research, teach.

There is the occasional individual who rejects a really high paying job (say...mid 6 figures) to dedicate their life to teaching. I might be inclined to view him or her as a hero.

There is the occasional instructor who finds ways to turn around students heading in the wrong direction. I am quite inclined to look on them as a hero.

But for the average teacher, most of them are probably making as much if not more money than they could had they not become teachers. they lead a pretty easy life with one of the most optimal schedules available to anyone, have more time off than anyone else who is not a multi-millionaire, and have unbelievable protection against job loss no matter how incompetent any given teacher is.

That is not the definition of hero in my book.

This is not to denigrate teachers. They provide a valuable service. Many of them are indeed dedicated, hard-working individuals.

But hero? That is stretching the meaning of the word.

And I, for one, am tired of hearing it and hearing them held up as sympathetic figures anytime someone needs to make a cheap appeal to emotion.

Now if you will excuse me, I have lollipops to steal from small children, puppies to kick, and a hiding place to find because i expect a whole lot of hate for this one.


Riot Kitty said...

"hamster-munching alligators who walk on two legs and wear Christian Dior."

When did you meet my mother's side of the family? :)

Before college, I had a lot of educators who were just average. A couple of great ones, some good ones, a few awful ones. College brought better people, probably because they had expectations to meet in order to keep their jobs: publishing, research, etc., and also because (sorry, but it's true) it was a private college so I think the standards were higher.

I think tenure is a terrible thing. As my high school economics teacher put it, "then they have to pull you out with a tractor."

Scribe said...

No hate mail here, Darth. I remember the great teachers for their dedication and caring. I tend not to remember the average teachers, but my pitchfork is reserved for those teachers who a) did not give a damn; b) did the bare minimum or less; or c) spent the class bragging about all of the things their teacher's salary bought (and believe me, there were too many of those.

G said...

No argument from this end of the continent.

You should've seen the battle that went on a few months ago when the city of Hartford wanted to tweak the seniority rules for teachers during the current budge fiasco.

My god, you thought a tornado had cut a path of destruction through city killing thousands of people, with the way the unions bitched about it.