Archive for teachers

Teachers and Taxes

Posted in current events, opinion with tags , , on March 4, 2011 by Kyle Fleming

Since Wednesday’s entry, I decided to pay a little more attention to the Wisconsin teachers union situation. In reading up and watching reports on TV (including the great satire of The Daily Show’s segment “Crisis in Dairyland”), I’m learning that one of the main reasons this is such a national story is that, in an effort to cut the deficit, Gov. Scott Walker is trying to cut the flow of tax dollars to unnecessary programs, which, in his opinion, includes public school teachers.

Again, the assumption is, public school teachers are technically part-time workers: they work five days a week, from 8 AM to 3 PM, and they have three months off of work. And compared to other workers, they have an incredibly high salary for doing such a small amount of work. Teachers are greedy and power hungry, and don’t deserve a lot of the benefits that they are receiving.

According to Salary.com, the average salary for a public school teacher in the US is just under $51,000. Comparatively, a Top Government Affairs Executive (which was Salary.com’s definition for both “State Senator” and “Governor”) is a little over $164,000.

With my basic knowledge of what each job does, I can see that these salaries are disproportionate to the duties involved. Teachers must provide educational opportunities for a wide range of kids with many different learning styles, deal with constantly complaining parents about how their children are being treated unfairly, plus a variety of other duties: meetings, conferences, lunch room duties, parking lot duties, grading papers, writing and grading tests, and keep up to date on current educational trends.

Meanwhile, “Top Government Affairs Executives” think up bills that will benefit the people they represent while simultaneously sticking to an agenda that, for the most part, does nothing for the people the represent. Then they propose those bills amongst much infighting and virtually no discussion, whereupon they vote on said bills. They make television appearances and talk about the opposite agenda that is interfering with their work. They get many phone calls and emails from their region or state asking them to vote a certain way on an issue, which they mostly ignore. Then they write books and go on extensive book tours. For many of these people, they spend most of a year debating whether or not they’ll run for president.

Both of these positions are payed through tax dollars. And yet Gov. Walker wants to cut salaries for teachers.

I’ve talked about taxes before, and while I agree that deficits should be reduced, I don’t agree with cutting necessary funding. Teachers go through a lot of crap every day. Their work day may end at 3 PM, but their duties continue on late into the night. I’m friends with one of my professors on Facebook, and I regularly see him on late at night, planning lectures and working on different assignments. And he only teaches a few classes.

Public school teachers work themselves to death every day, and they deserve a lot more than they’re getting.

If Gov. Walker wants to reduce the deficit in Wisconsin, he should really cut costs where it counts: some of his salary and benefits, some military spending. Keep costs steady with public workers and teachers, and work to spend less in general. There’s also the option of raising taxes on the wealthier of the state, which is an unpopular position to hold, but by bringing in more money, you can do more with your money.

I urge those who support Wisconsin teachers to stay strong. Gov. Walker will eventually have to back down, and no amount of bullying will change that.

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Wrong About Teachers

Posted in current events, opinion with tags , , on March 2, 2011 by Kyle Fleming

The situation in Wisconsin is a frustrating one. I have many friends and classmates from Wisconsin, and they are all in solidarity with the many students, teachers, and supporters of the teachers unions as they protest the bill that Gov. Scott Walker is trying to pass in the Wisconsin Senate.

Granted, I don’t know much about what is going on, and to read up on the events of the past two weeks might mean that the event would be over before I’m able to offer a belated opinion on it. But, from what information I’m gleaning, here’s how I understand what’s going on, and feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.

Wisconsin is in debt. Gov. Walker needs to reduce the debt somehow, so he’s cutting programs and other expenses from the state in order to get out of debt. Part of what is on the chopping block is pay raises for teachers and other unions. The unions, originally a little ticked off, understand that some sacrifices need to be made in order to improve the situation. It was only when they realized that part of the bill is getting rid of the unions ability to collectively bargain that they found a problem. Teachers have been calling in sick in order to protest, and the Democratic state Senators have left the state to prevent a quorum to vote on the bill that many are fairly certain will be rushed through illegally.

What gets confusing is that a lot of news sources are focusing a lot on teachers. It’s a disturbing narrative that a lot of news networks have that say that teachers are greedy, that they only work part time, and that they don’t deserve the money they’re asking for.

Those sorts of conclusions are infuriating. While there are plenty of other unions out there fighting for their right for collective bargaining, the focus is primarily on the teachers, and for good reason. For every Fox News commentator that says the teachers should quit whining and get back to their jobs, I can come up with several reasons for supporting those teachers in their fight for keeping their right to collective bargaining.

Teachers work hard and have to tailor the material to a wide range of learning styles, which range from “picking up things on the first pass” to “I don’t care and won’t learn this no matter how many times you shove it down my throat.” Teachers don’t work part time; the school day ends at 3 PM, but they spend all night grading papers, planning for the next day, trying to figure out ways to get kids interested in the material. Sure, there are some crappy teachers out there, and we should definitely get rid of those teachers. But most of the time, the problem lies in the kids.

No one gets into teaching to be rich, and those who do completly misunderstand the teaching profession. Most people idolize and worship sports heros and movie stars, but if you ask nearly any person on the street who their greatest influence is, they will most likely name a teacher.

The person who motivated me most in school was my AP Literature teacher in high school, Mrs. Copperud. It was senior year, when I was letting myself slump, that she gathered a small group of us together. We were all slumping, and she was disappointed in us. I’ll never forget it; she said, “You four are the pace cars. You’re the ones who should be setting a standard for the rest of the class. You’ve always set a standard, and I don’t know what’s going on now, but I need you to keep setting that standard.”

No anger, no yelling, no giving up. Just straightforward encouragement to succeed. And I credit most, if not all of my success, to that little pep talk.

To those who still think teachers don’t deserve pay raises, and even deserve the elimination of their rights, I encourage you to spend a day in the shoes of a teacher, with constant pressure and antagonism every day, from students, parents, and the administration. If you understood what it is that teachers everywhere go through, I feel that you’d be a little more sympathetic to the cause.

God speed to those teachers in Wisconsin. I truly hope you win everything you deserve, and more.

Reforming Education: Merit-Based Employment

Posted in opinion with tags , , , on January 29, 2010 by Kyle Fleming

Education is imperative. So much depends on our ability to utilize every opportunity to learn something new, that if we miss even one opportunity, we fall far behind our peers.

And yet, there are problems with the current education system in America. Our current system was created during the Industrial Revolution, and is mostly based on a “liberal arts” mindset, having required credits for English, math, science, social studies, physical education, and the arts. Everything seems right in our system, except for one thing: the teachers.

Many times the only thing stopping students from getting a good education is having a teacher who knows that they cannot be fired. Sometimes, this is a good thing, as it allows fantastic teachers to teach controversial topics without worrying about having severe actions taken against them. But more often than not, the teachers who are tenured only try for those first four years, and then feel that because they can’t be fired, they don’t really have to try anymore.

In my experience, I’ve only had a couple of really great teachers. It was usually my English teachers and a few of my music teachers. But my all-time favorite professor in college made this brilliant statement in regards to student evaluations we have to fill out at the end of every term:

“Senior faculty members only have to have students fill out an evaluation for one class, whereas adjunct faculty members must have them for all of the classes they teach. Then there are senior faculty such as myself who have students fill out evaluations for all of their classes, because we want to make sure we’re up to par in all aspects of our teaching.”

Which gives me an idea: why don’t we employ and pay teachers according to skill level? It would be an incentive for teachers to always perform at their best, and in turn it would allow students an opportunity to get a quality education. While extrinsic motivation is definitely not the right way to go, it will definitely give value to the type of education that is being given.

Look at it this way: Teacher A and Teacher B both teach chemistry. They are both equally skilled at their position. They both teach an equally capable classroom, and yet, Teacher B’s students don’t have as firm of a grasp on the material as Teacher A’s students. By this logic, Teacher A is the more effective teacher, and deserves a higher pay than Teacher B.

Of course, this is assuming that they are teaching at Utopia High School in Lake Wobegon, Minnesota (“Where the women are strong, the men are good-looking, and the children are above average”). In reality, the students will require different teaching techniques as each student has a different learning style. But this is where the new employment system shines: it will give teachers an incentive to modify their teaching style to their students’ learning style.

The only foreseeable problem in this plan is how to determine what an effective teacher is. Standardized testing isn’t the way to go, as many students can be poor test takers. The best option at this point is to have an evaluation form for students to fill out, making sure that all questions are worded so as to only question the teaching methods and not the teacher. Granted, kids might be giving lower scores to teachers they don’t like, and higher scores to ones they do like.

So how do we offset this problem? Is there a way that we can make sure that the scores are accurate. Part of what we can do here is having observation hours, like teachers are required to have when they are in college. Of course, that could be cumbersome, as who would be qualified to observe and judge different teachers in different settings? Another option would be to take into consideration the test and homework scores along with the evaluation scores. There could possibly be a correlation between grades and feelings toward school (in fact, there have been studies that suggest that students with poor grades often have a poor outlook on schooling).

Whatever it is that needs to be done, it needs to be done soon. The last reports that have been out have placed Americans 10th in the world in Science skills, 12th in reading, and under 20th in mathematics. This current plan to focus students on those specific fields is poor judgment, as studies have shown that students involved with music and the arts do better in school than students that aren’t involved in such things.

Looking back on my education experience, I’ve had plenty of teachers and professors that could use a little more incentive to improve their teaching styles. I felt like this needed to be addressed, as the latest statistics at Wartburg College show that 85% of the college budget comes from the students (tuition, room and board, other fees), yet 69% of that budget goes toward faculty paychecks. Personally, I don’t feel like my tuition money should go right into the pockets of professors I’ll never meet, and especially to those professors who don’t really deserve it.

But until I get my say in anything education related, especially since I’m not in school to¬† be an educator, I’ll have to stay in the background.