I teach mathematics at Ingraham High School in Seattle. I have been reading these comments with a combination of shock and bemusement. Shock that so many people hate teachers (when did we become the bad guys?) and bemusement that, in general, teachers are considered lazy, incompetent, and are living high on the hog with what we are paid and all the time off we get.
I am in my 8th year as a teacher, but I did not start teaching till I was 45. This is my second career. I love what I do and I am considered by the people who matter, my principal, my fellow math teachers, my students and the parents of my students to be quite good at what I do. I leave school at the end of every day exhausted but fulfilled because I am making a difference and when I die, I will be able to say that I contributed to making Seattle a better place by educating some of its children.
I am going to lay my cards face up on the table. My undergrad degree is in Accounting and my Masters is in Finance. My last full year before I went back to school to become a teacher (2002), I made $75,000 (including bonus) working as an analyst for a bank in downtown Seattle. I had a fully paid (meaning my contribution toward premiums was $0) health care plan that covered both me and my wife. It included a generous array of health care providers, including dental, vision, and mental health. I also had a defined benefit pension plan paid entirely by the bank that would have paid me the average of my last 5 years of my salary and a 401(k) that was matched by the bank up to 4% (I think) of what I made. I was a very well compensated private sector employee.
In 2012, working for the Seattle Public Schools, I made $62,000. This is lower than 2011. On top of this, I have to pay $175/month to have the Group Health “Low Option” plan to cover both my wife and myself. On January 1, 2013 this increased to $210. It is not nearly as comprehensive as the plan I had at the bank, the deductibles are way higher and the care not as good (though I do like and respect my doctor), but we have to make some choices. Better plans cost way more. I am required to contribute 5% of my salary to the defined benefit retirement plan that will pay me 1% of my highest salary for each year that I work (if I work for 25 years, I get 25% of my highest salary). I can contribute to a 503(b), but it is not matched by the district. This is not nearly as good a package as in the private sector. To make ends meet, I teach Summer School and night school at the community college. Yes it makes my day longer, I don’t really get my “summers off,” but I do what I have to make ends meet. Yes, I just get done with a 2 week winter break, but I was in my room every day the building was open (with the heat off to save money. It was in the mid 50’s) because I had papers to grade and projects to review.
Another recurring comment is how lazy and unmotivated teachers are. I am in the building at 6:30 am most mornings (6:40 if my wife wants me to get her an espresso!). I use that time to prepare relevant and interesting lessons for my students. I also use it to grade. Students (and their parents) always want to know what their grade is. I have 162 students in 5 classes this year. The total I am supposed to have is no more than 150, but we are a school on the rise, so enrollment is going up and we have been told by the district there will be no more teachers. I am not the only teacher at Ingraham that has huge class sizes. School starts at 8:00 and gets out at 2:30. Monday and Wednesdays, I stay till 4:00, planning, grading, and meeting with students, parents, other teachers or administrators. I then leave to go teach at the college. Class starts at 6:00 and gets done at 8:20. On Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, I stay till 5:00 (well, I may leave at 4:00 on Fridays). I like to think that the taxpayers of Washington (of which I and all teachers are) are getting an honest days’ labor for my salary. I also find myself in the library on weekends working on lessons.
I share this with you, not to complain, I went into teaching with my eyes wide open. I love my job. I feel honored that I get to teach math to your children and I take that responsibility seriously. But I share all of this to give one person’s (though not unique) situation. I know many of you are struggling to make ends meet also. I know many of you would love to have a job that makes $62,000/year with health care. I understand that. If you will support me, instead of denigrate me, I will give everything I have to make sure your child does not end up in your situation. I know every parent wants a better life for their child.
I closing, I just read the 2012 Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll on education in America. This is the 44th year this survey has been done, and it is full of many interesting results. The one that brings a smile to my face is that while most people think that the nation’s education system is not very good and needs reforming, the schools in their local area are quite good. It is the other guys’ school that has issues. I hope we can see that we all have responsibility for the education of all our children and we will put aside the “I have mine, forget everyone else” ethic that seems so prevalent. The more educated we are, the stronger we are.