Friday, September 14, 2018

Teachers in America

Time Magazine released an article online this morning regarding teachers in America.  The online headline reads 'I Work 3 Jobs And Donate Blood Plasma to Pay the Bills.'  This Is What It's Like to Be a Teacher in America.

The story is also the cover story for this week's magazine (Sept. 24, 2018, Vol. 192 No. 12).  The related cover to the online headline reads "I have a master's degree, 16 years of experience, work two extra jobs and donate plasma to pay the bills.  I'm a teacher in America."  The cover also carries other teacher's stories, with the following headlines:
  • My child and I share a bed in a small apartment, I spend $1,000 on supplies and I've been laid off three times due to budget cuts.  I'm a teacher in America.
  • I have 20 years of eperience, but I can't afford to fix my car, see a doctor for headaches or save for my child's future.  I'm a teacher in America.
The magazine also includes 13 stories on life on a teacher's salary.  Stories of worrying about not being able to afford a replacement vehicle if their current car breaks down, not being able to afford appropriate medicine for their children and family, worrying about affording a second child, about refusing to go to the doctor because the cost cannot be paid.  It's heartbreaking what people are going through to continue to pursue their passion to teach and mold our next generations.

We have a serious problem with education in America.  And teacher's are feeling the brunt of it.

According to the article, public-school teachers are experiencing the worst wage stagnation of any profession, earning less on average, in inflation-adjusted dollars, than they did in 1990.  The pay gap between teachers and other comparably educated professionals is now the largest on record.  Just in 1994, the gap was only 1.8% less per week than comparable workers.  The gap is now 18.7%.

Insurance rates for teachers continue to rise, with the teacher bearing more and more of the burden, the retirement age is increasing, and retirement benefits are being cut.

Nationwide, the estimated average public-school teacher's salary is now $58,950 according to the National Center for Education Statistics.  That however is a figure that varies widely with locale and does not always track with the costs of living.  That is also the average across all years of experience. For comparison, just two years ago, the average teacher's starting salary was $38,617 - 20% lower than that of other professions requiring a college degree.

Further, in twenty-nine states, spending per students is below Great Recession rates, leaving schools dilapidated, overcrowded, and reliant on outdated textbooks and threadbare supplies.

We have school districts across the country facing a hiring crisis.  In nearly any other field, such a crisis would be met with signing bonuses, free housing, tuition reimbursement, and other perks to draw people to the field.  Hiring shortages in teaching are met with increased class sizes, shortening school weeks, and emergency certifications for those not trained as educators.  

Because of this, the number of new educators completing preparatory programs fell by 23% between 2008 and 2016, according to the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education.  Further, teacher attrition is up.  At least 17% leave the profession in the first five years.

This is particularly felt in rural schools.  For example, the median beginning teacher salary for rural districts in Texas was $34,858 compared to the state's average starting salary of $45,507.  The turnover rate is likewise 19.2% in rural districts, up compared to the 16.5% state average.

In Texas especially, we have a vicious cycle resorting in less and less funding being available for public schools.  Education usually bears budget shortfalls, especially in Republican controlled state bodies.  So the state decides it is giving less to individual districts, who then generally raise property taxes to offset the loss (as local districts are generally funded through property taxes).  Then, because the district has raised more money, the state sends less the next year, and so on and so forth.  

Combine this cycle, with increasing dollars and attention being diverted to charter schools and private schools, ill-designed standards being implemented to line Pearson's pocket, and almost outwardly hostile legislatures and Department of Education, and its no wonder teacher's have had enough, with many noticeable strikes last year and more planned for the future.

We have to do better. 

At some point, we have to recognize the value of education.  We preach it all the time, especially now, with the almost 100% expectation that every person should go to college.  But we do not value fundamental, primary education through our actions and votes.  

I get that no one likes taxes, but when taxes are the primary way to fund our schools, it becomes important to vote for additional taxes at least some of the time.  I've seen several districts that desperately needed bond measures to pass in order to build/rehabilitate dilapidated facilities lose in the elections.  They cannot get the funds needed from the state and the people in their own community will not vote to support it.  So, what happens?  The status quo.  Teachers continue to improvise and make the best out of an increasingly bad situation and children continue to attend classes in a building that should have been brought up to code years ago.

Here in Texas, we have people continue to vote at the state level for people who have promised to gut public education.  For example, ask any teacher their thoughts on Lt. Governor Dan Patrick and you're likely to get an earful.  He has a horrible record regarding education (unless you want it privatized).  And yet he gets re-elected because he has that all important R next to his name.  There are even teachers who will vote for him and against their own interests because of the R.

We have to expect more of our public officials and we need to expect more of ourselves.

If you know a teacher personally, hug them.  Thank them for what they do.  For the long hours, for the lack of recognition, for the incredible ask that we are putting on them.  Ask them how you can help, even in some small way.

Until we can get larger changes made in the state and in the nation regarding how we properly value public education and compensate our teacher's accordingly, it's on all of us.

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