Tuesday, November 12, 2013

A Love Letter to the True Believers

Education is one of the few industries that subjects its young professionals to an unpaid internship.  This may be annoying to college students who find themselves saddled with the accrued bulk of their undergraduate debt while the financial miasma of adult life (marriage, mortgage, etc.) looms high on the horizon, but it is a practice that should not change.  Let me repeat: we should NOT pay our student teachers.  Why, you say?  Many of our young teaching professionals are as credentialed and hardworking (maybe more-so) as our young engineers.  So, why does one group get well-compensated, and one does not?  Shouldn't we offer a big paycheck to attract the best and brightest to our profession?  No, we should not.  Here's why.

The true believers that enter the field of education do so out of an almost painful idealism to dedicate their lives to a cause that matters.  Sorry cynics and naysayers, that's the way it is, and education, despite everything, is still a profession in which it is possible to change the world for the better.  Do we really want to jeopardize the future of our profession by attracting young professionals motivated by a large salary?

The young professionals that enter the field of education do not do it for the money.  The common perception is that teachers rake in the cash, and some politicians have made careers of painting us as having too many hands in the collective cookie jar... but let me explain why this perception is wrong. Recent gubernatorial budget cuts in public education have placed undue scrutiny on the salaries of public educators.  If you're an educator reading this and you don’t think people know what you make, Google yourself.  I’ll bet your salary is one of the first hits.  In a profession in which we are required to be nearly as educated as doctors and subject to one of the most difficult audience in the world, the American teenager, we are woefully behind the salary trends for professionals according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, coming in under the average salaries of not only Engineers, Architects, those in Social Science and Business, but also people in Humanities and Liberal Arts, Law, Communications and Journalism.  The only group we beat are those in the Arts.  Take it from someone who knows how financially ruinous a degree in the arts is (I worked my tail off to obtain a Masters of Fine Arts degree and cannot really think of a profession save teaching that could financially support my family) we only edge them out by a $1,000/year on average.  So, while it is true that public educators make good money... it really ain't that good, honey.    

So, in a profession whose median salary is less than someone's in the food service industry (no disrespect to any of you food service brothers or sisters who may be reading this), why set a student teacher up with unrealistic expectations of wealth?  I think it's good training that they work harder than they ever thought they could at something, become totally and completely emotionally invested, and make zero dollars.  That is good training for the field of education.  

A few years ago here in Ohio legislators tried to limit our right to collectively bargain and to strike.  We repealed this legislation through a voter referendum known as Issue 2.  This legislation was initiated by politicians who are unfriendly to public education.  It appears their sympathizers want to undo years of educational progress.  Collective Bargaining is constructivism at work.  For those of you who don't happen to be education majors let me define what I mean here by constructivism... plain and simple I mean that we construct a context for meaning.  For the same reasons the classroom teacher has evolved from a pedantic gatekeeper of trivial knowledge to a facilitator creatively encouraging independent thinking, so have the rules of our employment changed for the better.  In short, we have a say.

As teachers we are invested heart, soul, and wallet.  

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