In response to a letter from someone who said that teachers have cushy jobs and should stop whining, this teacher wrote as follows:
Many ignorant Americans think as you do about teachers and the teaching profession.
I taught in both sectors–private and public and worked longer, harder hours in teaching than most people in the US work unless they work two jobs.
After earning my BA, in the private sector I was paid a monthly salary, worked an average 12 hours a day sometimes six days a week but I did get days off and that two week paid vacation you mention was about all I got as a teacher–three weeks, two before the New Year and one in the Spring but I had to take work home to catch up. During the school year, even when half of the more than 200 students I taught in five/six classes turned in work, I’d spend hours correcting one half hour student assignment and new assignments were being turned in almost daily. My work weeks as a public school teacher were never less than 60 hours and often reached 80 or 100 because of the stacks of student work that I took home to correct and record in the grade book. On weekends, I corrected half a day Saturday and half a day Sunday. On weeknights when I arrived home before seven PM, I corrected until ten or later and sometimes fell asleep at the kitchen table.
Then there was the three years I worked days Monday to Friday teaching and nights and weekends as a maître d because my teaching pay was too low to pay the bills. I knew two teachers that taught history all day and students how to drive in the late afternoons, early evenings and weekends. Those years I survived on two or three hours sleep a day.
As a teacher, during the summers, there was no paycheck. The contract for most teachers is for ten months a year—not twelve and we are only paid during those ten months.
Most teachers had to save during the year or work another job during the summer. I often taught summer school. However, some summers, I installed sprinkler systems for homeowners. I knew one teacher that worked in a pickle factory in the summer. Another teacher worked at Disneyland each summer because he was good at crowd control.
When I taught summer school, the pay was much less because summers were not covered under our contract so we were paid by the hour and I earned maybe a third of what I earned during the school year for the same number of hours worked.
In the private sector when I worked in middle management for a large truck company, no one ever threatened to kill me but as a teacher I taught gang bangers that had killed rival gangsters in turf wars and I was threatened every year. I saw drive buy shooting from my classroom doorway. Sometimes some parent would show up or call on the phone and yell at me because his or her kid earned an F. It didn’t matter that I tried to call the parents at work, at home (several times) and sent home warning letters that the parents often claimed they never saw. For every contact attempt, we had to fill out paperwork to prove we were doing our job. For example: make twenty calls in one day and fill out twenty forms.
I’m a former US Marine and I fought in Vietnam. I’ve been shot at with bullets, mortars and rockets and that was easier than teaching in America’s public schools. At last in combat, I had support from my fellow Marines and I carried a weapon to defend myself.
I retired from teaching after thirty years and if for some reason, the teacher’s retirement fund, that I paid 8% of my salary to for thirty years, went broke and I had to go back to work, I’d rather fight in Afghanistan than go back into the classroom and have to deal with kids that don’t want to learn and ignorant parents that think it is the teacher’s fault when his or her child will not read, study, do homework or behave in class so the teacher can teach.
Oh, lest I forget, when I retired, I took a forty-five percent pay cut—after thirty years—and most teachers do not retire with health care if he or she retires before age 65 as I did. Most have to wait to qualify for Medicare before they are covered again or pay for a very expensive COBRA health plan that may eat up a third or half of whatever the monthly retirement payment is. I was fortunate. Because I had a combat related disability, I was qualified for the VA medical system.
After I went into teaching, the hours increased. There were days I’d arrive at the high school where I taught when the front gate was unlocked at six in the morning and at 11 PM seventeen hours later, a custodian would come to the door and tell us we had to leave, the alarms were being turned on.
What I want to do is take people that think as you do and make them teach in the average American classroom fifth grade to ninth and see how long any of them would survive before they went screaming back to the private sector where work is usually much easier. About 50% of new teachers leave the profession in the first three to five years and never return to education. I know of one new teacher that didn’t even last one day. On his first day, with two classes left to teach, he walked into the principal’s office at lunch and tossed his room keys on the desk and said he was quitting because the students would not treat him with respect and cooperate while he was teaching.
I worked more than ten years in the private sector. I stared working 30 hour weeks washing dishes at age 15. I attended high school days. At nineteen, after I graduated from high school, I joined the US Marines. A few years later I was honorably discharged from the Marines and went to college on the GI Bill while working part time nights and weekends. From college, I went to work in the private sector.
I went into teaching at age 30 in 1975. My job was to maintain control and teach. It was up to the students to learn. If a kid doesn’t understand something, he is supposed to ask questions. Most students don’t ask questions. In the same classroom, I had students that learned nothing because that was his or her choice, and others that earned good grades because they read, worked and studied and then went on to Cal Tech, Stanford, Berkeley, USC, UCLA, etc. Same teacher. Different students. Different parents. The average American student has 42 or more teachers K -12 but only has one father and mother if he or she is fortunate to have both parents.