Monday, January 24, 2011

What Does Your Money Buy?

Educating the entire American population is phenomenally expensive.  And if you’re like me, you immediately think of the expense of huge high schools with fitness club-quality weight rooms, stadiums with artificial turf, swimming pools, computers for every kid, Smart Boards, air conditioning, administrators with laptop computers, athletic teams traveling all over the country, and lunch options rivaling mall food courts.  I’ve had a computer on my desk since 1994.  I’ve had my own projector for at least five years.  It has been since my time in the inner-city that I have ever had to worry about the supply of paper or the dependability of copiers.  I have had a resource-rich career. 

But the reality is that about 80% of a school district’s funds are spent on teachers’ salaries.  As a high school teacher myself, I thought you might appreciate hearing just what you get for the bulk of your tax money.

I receive a paycheck all year, every two weeks, summer included.  However, I have few obligations in June, July or early August.  That’s that nasty summer vacation so many people complain about.  Teachers don’t really work an entire year, right?  I certainly have nice summers.  During a few I traveled more than some people do in a decade, even a lifetime.  I had the time to read, think, contemplate – things that I realize many people lack the luxury of doing.  I am fortunate.  But of the dozens of books I read each summer, about a third are exclusively for school and another third will find a way to serve me in improving my classroom instruction.  Few books I read are fiction; when they are they tend to be classics such as Don Quixote De La Mancha.  I’ve spent all or part of seven summers traveling in Europe, most with a small group of invited students.  There’s nothing like teaching the function of a flying buttress while standing in the shadow of one outside Notre Dame in Paris.  Some of my travel may include conferences about the achievement gap, school improvement and school reform and I will spend over a week travelling to grade a national exam.  I will also start planning for the coming school year at least a week or two before my contract begins. 

I’m in my classroom by 6:30 most mornings so that I can get some work done before my room is flooded with teenagers.  My first class normally begins between 7:45 and 8am.  I have had a massive room with 60 sophomores and small rooms with less than 10 freshmen.  For the next 45 to 100 minutes my teaching partner, should I be so fortunate to have one, and I do our best to develop critical readers, descriptive writers, inquisitive thinkers, and all-around kind young people.  Once they leave, another crowd enters and I will try to duplicate the successes while repairing the stumbles.  Eventually the clock strikes 11:30 or noon, and I head off to a 20-60 minute lunch (shorter is the norm) and a chance to catch my breath.  Following lunch I head to a hallway to keep it safe for democracy, a study hall to protect academic integrity, or an in-school suspension room protecting the guilty.  I will probably teach a couple more classes.  By 4pm I am done with the classroom.  Maybe I have work to grade, or another day’s lessons to prepare.  I may also have a meeting to attend.  If I am lucky I can get out of the building right away and fight rush hour traffic for 35 miles.  Hopefully my schedule will occasionally have some common time available with my teaching partners so we can plan future units and lessons.

Over the years I have spent much time after school with a variety of activities.  I may be involved in curriculum writing, school and district leadership, school improvement activities, coaching, club sponsorship, leading students through enrichment activities, or meeting with parents.  I’ve regularly shown movies after school such as Gandhi, Amistad or The Battle of Algiers.  I may also be writing college recommendation letters or simply attending students’ activities.  I dedicated a huge portion of my career to guiding teachers and administrators investigating achievement gaps in their classrooms and buildings.  This evolved into helping teachers form supportive relationships with students and looking deeply at the role of race in their lives. 

At home I do all I can to avoid doing school work, but it’s impossible.  I may spend time reading journal articles or books about teaching, but most likely I’ll be grading.  Over the years I probably averaged about 10 hours a week doing something at home for school.  Some weeks were certainly better, but others far, far worse.  I’ve just about eliminated this though.         

One year I kept track of all my hours.  Then I added them all and spread them over a 52 week year to see what it looked like.  It worked out to 47 hours per week.  But I had done it all from late August to the first week of June.  It did not count time attending and teaching summer professional development or studying over the summer.   

Some might say that this is not like most teachers.  I have peers who work a lot more than I do, and I see some who don’t – but they likely spend more time at home doing school work.  It’s an awfully hard job to coast through; teenagers will eat you alive.  And others may say, “Big deal, we all work that hard.”  They’re right. But the public deserves to have a realistic idea of what their tax and tuition dollars do, and in much of the country your property taxes pay an awful lot of teachers to work with great dedication, far beyond the minimum requirements of their contracts.  Many communities are getting a bargain for their education dollars. 

1 comment:

Teacher Andre Netto said...

A teacher's job is never done! There is always something else to do! Once the semester begins for me, there is no free weekend until the semester ends. My hours are a little weird. I have a break in the morning, after my 7:30 class. Then I work from 2 pm to 8 pm. And there is always some grading to do at night when I get home. Basically, Once the semester begins, I get about 6 hours of sleep every night, if that. It's a tough job, but someone's got to do it, right?
I realize that my reality is a little different down here in Brazil, but I guess we all face similar problems.