It is Tuesday and I have not posted since last Tuesday, May 22nd. In keeping with the title of this blog (WEEKLY Wilson), I will now share some of Fareed Zakaria’s Sunday morning show statistics, leavened with a few personal observations on teachers and teaching in America today.
Fahreed began his Sunday morning GPS show on May 27th with this quote from John Steinbeck’s (1902-1968) “East of Eden:”
“In the country, the teacher was not only an intellectual paragon and a social leader, but also the matrimonial catch of the countryside. A family could, indeed, walk proudly if a son married the schoolteacher.” Fareed went on to say that Steinbeck’s quote, written in the early part of the 20th century, was “now unrecognizable” as far as the status of teachers in America today.
Nobody knows that better than I do, someone whose mother began teaching school in 1927 and who encouraged her two daughters (my sister Kay and me) to follow in her footsteps.
I went to Iowa on a Ferner/Hearst Journalism Scholarship and a Freshman Merit Scholarship awarded to the entering 5% of the freshman class, and I intended to be where the action was—reporting the news, living in the moment. Then I saw what beginning journalists were paid, and my mother began her refrain of “Get your teaching credential so you have something to fall back on.” (As Richard Dreyfuss said in “The Competition,” “The problem with having a career to ‘fall back on’ is that you tend to fall back.” (He played an aspiring pianist in that one, believe it or not.)
So, I continued as a Journalism major for 3 years and then was forced with the Sophie’s choice of either working all day at the Daily Iowan, helping turn out that student newspaper, or student teaching, which usually meant getting on a bus and being trucked 53 miles down the road to Davenport, Iowa. (*In my case, I lucked out and was given an assignment at the University Lab School which university professors children attended, now defunct, but only because I was a member of Old Gold Singers and needed to be present for practice at noon each day at the Union.)
After marriage and the birth of my first child, I first tried to go to work for our local newspaper, but the pay was pathetic. Teaching wasn’t much better back in 1969, but it was actually better than being a reporter, and I began teaching for $5,280 a year. If this sounds incredibly low, you’re right.
Silvis (Illinois) was always the worst paid district in the Quad Cities and in those days, we still had the Rock Island Lines Railroad paying taxes AND the John Deere Foundary in Silvis, neither of which still pays taxes to the city and neither of which has really been replaced in the tax base of the Silvis Public Schools.
My pay rose if I went back to school and got additional hours, so I finished my Master’s degree in record time (under 2 years) and my pay eventually rose to the less-than-impressive amount of $25,000 my final year on the job (1984-1985). It was 1985 and I quit to write a book for a New Jersey firm (Performance Learning Systems, Inc.) which promised they could match my pay level, which wasn’t difficult. The condition was that I had to quit my tenured full-time job as Department Chairperson. (I had asked if I could write it during my summers off.) I was supposed to travel for them, as well, and do interviews for their newsletter. In fact, I was scheduled to interview the “Teacher in Space”—until they blew Christa McAuliffe up.
When I asked what would happen to me AFTER the book came out, no one (including me) seemed to know, but, after 4 terms as Co Chair of the Silvis Education Association, during which I worked tirelessly to earn recognition for our teachers’ union (and succeeded, after 3 contentious years), I was ready to move on.
I had taught 5 years of 7th grade Language Arts, 5 years of 8th grade Language Arts (by request), taken a one-year leave of absence to try to find gainful employment at a higher level, and, unsuccessful, returned to teach a mixture of 7th AND 8th graders. Most of my friends from the struggle to achieve recognition, [which ended when the League of Women Voters was brought in and the district’s 50 or so employees voted to have them recognized as their bargaining agent] had left. Some left teaching all together. Some went to the high school level or to another district, where the pay was better.
It should be noted that our school board first had to be changed to allow us to even HAVE such a revolutionary vote. And it shouldn’t have BEEN a revolutionary vote, since the Silvis Education Association had been formed in 1962, when I was still in high school! This was 1979-1980, so why wasn’t it “recognized” and why weren’t the teachers being asked for input on their teaching conditions, class size, materials, and pay? (Every other district had been meeting with their teachers’ bargaining representatives for years, but we got to read ours in the paper and it sometimes went down.)
In order to be allowed to bring in the League of Women Voters we had to first elect 3 members of a 7 member board that would agree it was a good idea; that was the difficult part. The old board would not have allowed it.
We backed some concerned citizens in the community who agreed that Silvis was a bit behind the times ( about 20 years behind) in terms of agreeing to bargain with its employees in a hopefully constructive manner, and we did not tumble to the IEA (Illinois Education Association’s) advice that we do “bullet voting” and try to elect one member at a time over a longer period. We took on getting 3 board members on at once and we succeeded, which the Powers-That-Be in Springfield said was one of the few times in Illinois history this had occurred. I was even asked to lead workshops around the state to explain exactly how we had pulled off this small miracle.
So, I left Silvis, Illinois as Chairman of the English Department making $25,000 a year, went to work for PLS (Perfomance Learning Systems, Inc.) making the same amount, wrote their book (“Training the Teacher As A Champion”) and handling their news letter, and, at the end of my time writing the book (which was published in 1989), no one had any idea what to do with me.
Thus, I became the founder of a Sylvan Learning Center (2nd in the state of Iowa) and an adjunct faculty member at 6 colleges in my spare time, and performed my duties as CEO, chief marketing director, H&R, community representative, and sometime substitute teacher uninterruptedly until I sold that business and the Prometric Testing Center that I had also founded within our walls in 1995, in April of 2003.
I had noticed that the students coming to me from the elementary grades over the years were coming in with less and less basic knowledge and less and less parental support. The parents usually sided with the student and the teacher was at fault if little Johnny failed. Respect for the profession was sliding even then. As an example of how the students were losing ground I often cite a short story writing contest I ran at Halloween time to write a “scary” story.
When I started teaching, the students wrote fairly good stories of more than one paragraph. By the middle of my 15 years in Silvis, the students had difficulty knowing enough about good grammar and punctuation to even write 3 paragraphs. By the end of my time in Silvis, I was teaching them how to write 5-line paragraphs and we had scrapped the entire idea of writing fiction.
And United Township’s High School Creative Writing Class, which had blind judged the stories and picked the winners, had also been scrapped, so we no longer had judges for my junior high school students’ work. I persisted in teaching Literature, Grammar (yes, we diagrammed sentences), Spelling (a separate grade), and Writing/Composition.
I made sure that my students always were entering any writing competition that was being offered in the Quad City area. (They often won.) I was always correcting papers while waiting in a dentist’s office or a doctor’s office and once left a stack of them there and had to go back to retrieve them. ALL of my students wrote, but, because of the excessive amount of time it takes to truly critique and proof a paper, I had to schedule one class at a time to do their writing assignment, and I did.
I worked at Sylvan for 3 years taking no pay, since we were a new business, and I had an acrimonious break-up with the woman I had invited to join me over ‘creative differences’ in our vision for the business. Since I was the President, founder and CEO, I bought her out and started over again from the bottom of the ladder, right after the birth of my second child in 1987. (She opened one in Cedar Rapids, but it no longer exists, either.)
Here are some facts about teaching today, some of which I researched for the book for PLS entitled “Training the Teacher As A Champion” and some of which Fareed Zakaria highlighted on May 27, 2018:
- The average pay for teachers has declined over the last 15 years, while health care costs have risen substantially.
- In 2003, the median household income was $63,777, but teachers made only $59,141.
- In 2009, the median household income was $64,803, but teachers made only $58,257.
- In 2016, the median household income was $61,768, but teachers made only $61,675.
- Teachers are 5 times as likely as the average full-time workers to have a second job; adjunct faculty even approach the poverty level and qualify for food stamps (especially in Chicago, it seems). Colleges are fond of what I term “the sponge mentality,” where they hire teachers with advanced degrees, but only allow them to have just under the maximum number of hours that would make them full-time, squeeze out all the good, and then cast them aside; hence, no benefits need be paid, like health insurance or retirement pension moneys.
- Teachers make 60% less than a professional in another career with a comparable education (I had a Master’s + 30 hours, the equivalent of a PhD)
- Because of low wages and teacher stress, teachers burn out at two times the rate of other workers. (Linda Hammond of the Lang Policy Institute). the Boston Women’s Study I remember reading for the PLS book pegged the “burn out” time as ten years.
- Enrollment in teacher preparation courses is down 35%.
- We are facing a massive teacher shortage at at time when teachers are being asked to put their lives on the line for their students and a debate rages nationwide about arming teachers.
- The shortage of teachers from the U.S. is so bad that 100,000 teachers are being recruited from countries like the Philippines.
- There is a significant link between teacher pay and student achievement.
- Singapore/Finland and South Korea can recruit the top graduates because they pay well and there is respect for the profession in those countries, unlike in this country.
- “Over the last 30 years, being a teacher in America has become a thankless job. And that is the one profession that makes all the other professions possible.” (Fareed Zakaria)
- My own observation(s), from a family that has logged about 200 teacher years (Mother, sister, sister-in-law, brother-in-law): When I graduated from high school (1963), I was offered 3 possible job options: nurse, teacher or office worker.
- I graduated second in my class, but no one said I could become an engineer, a doctor, or a lawyer. In fact, when I took the LSAT (Law School Aptitude Test) 3 times as I was graduating from the University of Iowa in 1967, scoring in the top 1/2 of 1% on the English portions, I was told, by my old-fashioned parents that they would help finance a post graduate career in English, but that I shouldn’t aspire to go to law school. Several law students (all male, of course) seconded that assessment, noting how much the professors disliked having females in their classes. [up the spaceLest you think I am making this up, just look for Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s remarks about how her law professors told her that she and her 8 female classmate were “taking for 9 male students.”] I took the LSAT in the chemistry auditorium, which holds roughly 500 students, and only one other woman was there taking the examination, and she was Forrest Evaschevski’s daughter-in-law.[ *If you don’t know who Forrest Evaschevski was, he would be the equivalent in that day and age of Hayden Fry or Iowa’s current long-time coach, Kirk Ferentz.]
Fareed went on to say, “Have you thanked a teacher for his or her service, like you thank the military?”
There have been 17 shootings in 2018 alone in classrooms, the highest number during any year since at least 1999 according to a Washington Post data base. The debate is raging here in Texas and across the nation about arming teachers in the schools. If I had been approached to carry a gun and be prepared to use it, I would have changed majors so fast it would make your head spin.
An Indiana Middle School teacher (my teaching level), Jason Seaman, was just released from the hospital after being shot 4 times defending his class from a young student who entered with a hand gun and opened fire. Jason Seaman played for Southern Illinois University’s Salukis’ football team from 2007 to 2010 and is 29 years old. He was a defensive end, tallying 88 tackles and 8 sacks with 2 forced fumbles in 47 games. He was a three-sport athlete in Mahomet, Illinois. He ran at the shooter and pinned him to the wall and immobilized him, despite being shot in the abdomen, hip and forearm.
As a student witness, Ethan Stonebraker, described it: “Immediately, Mr. Seaman was yelling and running right at him and tackled him to the ground. I was trying to stay crouched behind the back table, but also see what’s going on and that’s when Mr. Seaman was running right at him with his arms in front of him, and then he just tackled him against the wall. Then they were on the ground after Mr. Seamans swatted the gun from him an Mr. Seamans just laid on the shooter so he couldn’t do anything else.”
During my teaching years, I was aged 24 to 40. I had played intramural basketball as a point guard who was small and quick, and I had been a cheerleader for 2 years. I once ran out of my own non-air-conditioned classroom when a horde of ground bees invaded through our windows [which had no screens], in the heat of August, followed by most of my class. I was also told I was “too small” to be a lifeguard when in high school, despite having passed all of the coursework. I am 5′ 2″ and weighed about 130 pounds when I was a junior high school teacher. I know nothing about tackling young males who might assault me or my class, either with or without a weapon, and soon learned that, if I had contentious students who were going to throw punches at each other (which happened), I should quickly summon Mr. Pyevich or Mr. White, whose classrooms were on my left and on my right.
How effective do you think I would have been in a shoot-out? Why should my good friend Karen Schootman’s daughter now have to run drills for her classes to decide where they will hide and how they will barricade themselves against shooters when they come in armed to the teeth and start shooting innocent students and teachers? GET IT TOGETHER, PEOPLE. WE NEED GUN CONTROL LAWS LIKE EVERY OTHER CIVILIZED NATION!
And, yes, the cream of the crop does NOT seem to go into teaching any more. (Do you wonder why?) I even quit an Honorary Educators’ group (Delta Kappa Gamma) that was encouraging youngsters to go into teaching, because how could I, in good conscience, tell them this is a “good” job today?
Mr. Seamans, after his shooting, released this statement: “I want to let everyone know that I was injured but I am doing great. To all students, you are all wonderful and I thank you for your support. You are the reason I teach.”
Ella Whistler, the 13-year-old girl shot in the head by the attacker, is still in critical but stable condition in the hospital.
A small footnote to the screed above: at least 10 states have laws allowing teachers to carry guns on K-12 campuses and 17 states have considered bills to arm school staff since the Parkland shooting. Mississippi, for one, has been interested in this “solution.” But here’s where it gets interesting:insurance firms balk at selling policies to schools if educators are armed. The Pro-Gun NRA (which has been infiltrated by Russians) says this is because the insurance providers are notorious liberals, trying to turn this into a political decision.
The Associate Executive Director for the Kansas Association of School Boards, Mark Tallman, said: “I don’t think insurance companies are notorious anti-gun liberals. We think they’ve got good reasons for not doing it.” The 2007 Virginia Tech shooting where a student gunman killed 32 people and wounded 17 more cost at least $50 million in security upgrades and lawsuit settlement costs. And all this at a time when federal money is being directed away from education and into militaristic pursuits and Betsy DeVos—the most incompetent and unqualified Secretary of Education in history—is running the show.
In 2014, a sixth grade teacher in Utah mistakenly shot a school toilet. As I said in a previous post, I have known teachers who should not be allowed to operate a pencil sharpener in their classrooms, let alone come in packing a gun!
And so it goes. Comments welcome.