Tuesday, December 26, 2006


Greetings! Here we are in Blog Heaven, though I've always hated the word blog. It has sounded so much like bog as in "bogged down," the way we all are out there. I meniton the word we as if there really is someone out there who might read this. We'll see.
If you remember CEL-Talk back in the mid-90s, you will recall my voice calling out to see if anyone was reading any of our/my questions or comments, even rantings. It turns out there were some. Occasionally, someone would whisper a word to me at NCTE, "Keep talking; it's fun reading." Well, maybe.

But Henry Kiernan suggested my name for this spot so let's see what happens. I haven't been a big fan of a lot of the blogs connected to newspapers. It sounds similar to some of the people on sports talk radio (WFAN in NY) that I often listen to. Thank goodness the hosts have a button to push to turn off some of these ranting fans after 20 seconds of yak. The people who might read this are much more knowledgeable. So today is about getting the lay of the land.

Has anyone vistied the NCTE blog? Whew! These people are good, with all their information and expertise and links to Higher Education and other fancy reports. I don't think I could do that because I don't know about that stuff. I just have an occasional thought or two, while I putter around outside my house or remove leaves from my gutters, about leaders and teaching, about passion and portfolios, about supervising student teachers, and teaching developmental writing classes for very disadvantaged college students.

And very often I have to check with some of my good friends at CEL who have deeper thoughts than I do, like Pat Monahan or Louann Reid or Jim Strickland, and a bunch of other people like that. They set me straight.

But just after returning from NCTE (and that horrible Opryland where we couldn't connect with anyone because there was no place to connect), I was out at the curb, raking up some nice leaves for mulching. I had to get to class that night but along came my neighbor, Emil. He started talking about teacher salaries and then he laid it on me when he said, "Those Pennsbury teachers (the district where I live in PA) earn about $80,000 to $90,ooo, did you know that?" I looked at him, needing to get back inside to get to class, when he said, "That's not bad for a part-time job, you know, half a day, summers off."

"Emil, don't get me started," I say. And then I give him my two minute rant, citing my student teachers and all the work they carry home, all the work I carried home, and how getting out at 2:45 when school starts at 7:10 and I'm there at 6:30 in the morning doesn't exactly seem like half a day. Especially when I may have a couple hours or more of work that I will carry home, after I leave at 5:00 or after I finish coaching girls soccer practice or working on the literary magazine. But I don't really say all of this because I haven't rehearsed it well enough to have it down smoothly.

Later that night, in my writing methods class, I bring this up with my students and we talk about how they would answer that. I tell them how I regret not bringling up NCLB and 1 in 3 in 5. In my mind, I am asking Emil, a vigourous walker in his mid-seventies and a friendly neighbor, what reason he might guess for one in three new teachers leaving the profession in five years and what that might have to do with the No Child Left Behind legislation. But I don't and I am left to have endless conversations with Emil in my dreams and I can never get the words out or he doesn't understand my language and I wake up sweating.

So what exactly do you say to your neighbor and all the people who ask you about teachers who have it so easy?


Anonymous said...

Jim, funny story about waking up in a sweat over what to say to Emil. We all have those.

I was interested in what you were doing with those leaves out at the street. I myself am a big time gardener and I use those leaves to make compost in the hot weather when the stuff will cook up real good in my compost tumbler. But you can't get those leaves in the summer so I shred up about 40 big plastic bags of leaves in the fall and then store them. I get the best compost from my grass clippings mixed with one-third leaves, along with kitchen scraps. Then in the spring, after I plant my seedlings, I put down about two inches of the shredded leaves in the beds to keep the weeds away, to retain the moisture, and to feed those little buggers that I just put in. I also get great compost tea which I water onto my flowers each day. All the while, I am listening to old tapes of Othello or Romeo and Juliet or some other great plays. In this way, I don't have to think about Emil and the half day jobs issue.

Sorry to get off track with the leaves but I liked your comments and I'll have to visit this site again, in between writing my next book.

Keep on blogging!

Farmer Ed from PA

Louann said...


Thank you for taking up the challenge to try to get us to talk. I think it's really important that we do so--it is fun reading.

I don't really know what to say to your neighbor, although his question is one that people have either asked or implied over the years. (A side note, though: here in Colorado, teachers start at under or around $30,000, making $80K sound pretty good.)

Maybe the best answer is one I heard from Jeff Golub--"Teaching is a twelve-month job squeezed into nine months." That seems so right to me. Isn't that what it really is? And it's definitely not half days.

I also think that, if we could have a longer conversation with people like your neighbor, we could discuss how society places value on people--and, consequently--salaries. Who are the highest-paid people in society? Entertainers and heads of large companies. What does this show about our values? What does the placement of teachers on society's salary scales show about our appreciation for and opinion of teachers? Is that what we want?

But this would be a discussion that would continue until next year's leaves have fallen and are ready to be cleaned from the gutters. I just wish we could/would take the time to have it.

Wouldn't it be interesting to see how things might be different if we did?


Nellie in Hartland said...

Jim--You might enjoy this recent forward from my principal:
>The dinner guests were sitting around the table discussing life.
>One man, a CEO, decided to explain the problem with education. He argued, "What's a kid going to learn from someone who decided his best option in life was to become a teacher?"
>He reminded the other dinner guests what they say about teachers: "Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach."
>To stress his point he said to another guest; "You're a teacher, Bonnie. Be honest. What do you make?"
>Bonnie, who had a reputation for honesty and frankness replied, "You want to know what I make? (She paused for a second, then began...)

>"Well, I make kids work harder than they ever thought they could.
>I make a C+ feel like the Congressional Medal of Honor.
>I make kids sit through 40 minutes of class time when their parents can't make them sit for 5 without an I Pod, Game Cube or movie rental...
>You want to know what I make?" (She paused again and looked at each and every person at the table.)
>I make kids wonder.
>I make them question.
>I make them criticize.
>I make them apologize and mean it.
>I make them have respect and take responsibility for their actions.
>I teach them to write and then I make them write.
>I make them read, read, read.
>I make them show all their work in math.
>I make my students from other countries learn everything they need to know in English while preserving their unique cultural identity.
>I make my classroom a place where all my students feel safe.
>I make my students stand to say the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag, because we live in the United States of America.
>Finally, I make them understand that if they use the gifts they were given, work hard, and follow their hearts, they can succeed in life.
>(Bonnie paused one last time and then continued.)
>"Then, when people try to judge me by what I make, I can hold my head up high and pay no attention because they are ignorant...
>You want to know what I make?
>I MAKE A DIFFERENCE. What do you make?"

Joan said...


Regarding teacher salaries, it really depends on how one looks at it. Like Louann, I think 80 grand sounds pretty good!

I tell my preservice teachers to eliminate the words "summer vacation" from their vocabularies. Instead, I tell them to refer to that time period as "mandatory summer layoffs" because they are not paid, but the general population doesn't see it that way.

My favorite piece about this issue is an oldie but goodie FOR ANYONE WHO THINKS TEACHERS ARE OVERPAID!

Anyone want a baby sitting job?

I, for one, am sick and tired of those high paid teachers. Their hefty salaries are driving up taxes and they only work nine or ten months a year!

It's time we put things in perspective and pay them for what they do...baby-sit!

We can get that for less than minimum wage. That's right...I would give them $3.00 dollars an hour and only the hours they worked, not any of that silly planning time.

That would be 15 dollars a day. Each parent should pay 15 dollars a day for these teachers to baby-sit their children.

Now, how many do they teach in a day.... maybe 25?

Then that's 15 X 25 = $375 a day.

But remember they only work 180 days a year! I'm not going to pay them for any vacations.

Let's see... *that's 375 x 180 = $67,500.00

(Hold on, my calculator must need batteries!)

What about those special teachers or the ones with master's degrees? Well, we could pay them minimum wage just to be fair. Let's round it off to $6.00 an hour. That would be $6 times 5 hours times 25 children times 180 days = $135,000.00 per year.

Wait a minute, there is something wrong here!!!

(There sure is!)

Corey Joyce said...


We're running into that problem DAILY here in Plymouth, MA (where we've been working without a contract since last July). The main (and most interesting) thing I notice about questions like these is that the people who are asking the questions are the ones who think they can do my job, but I'd never be qualified enough to do theirs.

One of my coworkers has a comeback that she has used for years. When someone says that to her, she says, "Well, you could have been a teacher, why didn't you?" It doesn't really solve the lack of respect issue, but I, too, have yet to find the perfect response (although several I have read today have some promise).

By the way, the MAXIMUM a teacher can make in my district is 65K. We start around 30K--WITH a Master's degree.