Foolish Notions of a Teacher’s Motivations

Yesterday, a comment that began in support of the Khan Academy quickly devolved into an opportunity to bash teachers. Never had I inspired such an incendiary response on my blog. I chalk up the author’s contempt to her own ignorance and blind acceptance of stereotypes. However, there is one generalization about teachers that this person made that I can’t get out of my head because I know there are many others who believe it:

“Teachers don’t give a crap about their students.”

I am quite sure if 100 teachers were polled for the reasons they entered the profession, 100 teachers would respond in their top three with some form of “The opportunity to impact students’ lives in a positive way.” Certainly that was my number one reason for entering. The copious and comfortable salary (joking) would be pretty low on the list.

Unfortunately, when teachers expect certain rights as public employees, they are automatically assumed to have lost any concern for the best interests of their students. How idiotic.

The expectation from this small yet loud group of teacher bashers seems to be that teachers should have to work for a pittance, because what kind of selfish S.O.B. who claims to be in it for the students has the audacity to ask for rights and a salary that can help manage a mortgage, kids, and rising cost of living expenses?

I know personally several educators around the country who make a paltry salary that most would consider insulting for whatever line of work they are in. However, given the logic of the bashers, since these people are only teachers, they should just keep their mouths shut and be glad to have a job considering how awful they are.

It is because of those underpaid educators that I continue to find the notion of merit pay so insulting. There are teachers out there making less than $25,000 per year, and doing so because of their love for their students and their hopes of changing the world for the better. Merit pay assumes that money is a significant motivating factor for teachers. It seems to me that in most cases, this is wildly untrue.

So when people assume that, “Teachers don’t give a crap about their students,” sorry, but I get a little rankled. When people assume that teachers should also work for nothing, I get a little rankled, too.

I think it’s time for people to reconsider their anger.

“Let it rain! Let it rain!” Watch a Jon Stewart segment from March that shows just how awesome it is to live on a teacher’s salary.

A very happy birthday today to my mother. Though she is retired, she has found ways to continue to be an exceptional educator who inspires many with her common sense approach to what is right for students and what is wrong. She’s one of the ones who gives a crap and she has taught me to do the same.


10 responses to “Foolish Notions of a Teacher’s Motivations

  1. Pingback: Foolish Notions of a Teacher’s Motivations | Great Tech Ideas! |

  2. Thanks for standing up for teachers, Matt. The fact that I earn a fair salary means I don’t have to have a second job; I can enjoy the benefits of a family and home; and I have the time I need to care deeply about my students while developing a responsive, student-centered program.

  3. It makes me so sad and angry to hear about all of the awful things that are happening to educators, especially in the States right now and over the past few years. I’m glad that, as much as things are difficult here in Canada, they haven’t gone to the same extreme and hopefully never will. Are educators unionized in the States? I’ve heard about protests and things but I feel like if some of the “reforms” you’re having to put up with were suggested here in Canada our unions would not allow them to go through.

  4. It’s always amazing to me how the people who bash teachers don’t have a clue about what the profession entails. Throughout my career, I got so tired of hearing people tell me that my job is easy, I work until three, I have holidays and summers off, etc.,etc., etc. I invite all of you, who think that you know so much about the profession, to spend a day teaching, if you can last that long. And after that, be grateful to the teachers who have the passion and know how to do what you can’t do.

  5. As with everything, a few bad apples spoil the entire pot. Are there teachers who have given up caring? Absolutely. But they constitute a tiny drop in the bucket. Unfortunately, teacher bashers like to paint the uncaring teacher as the “model” of teachership.

    I can’t tell you how hard my teacher friends and coworkers work … endless undocumented hours before and after work, at home, on weekends, over holidays. Ever grade papers over Christmas? I bet not a single detractor could say they did.

    Teaching is not a profession you can “fake”. You either love it, or you’re gone. That’s why 50% of new teachers leave the profession within 3 years. If you don’t truly love it, you won’t last.

    But non-teachers will never understand. It’s easy to blame the teachers for the faults of society.

    Matt, keep up the amazing work. You’re a true hero … not just in the eyes of your students, but your friends and fellow teachers as well (me included). 🙂

  6. I said nothing about the pay teachers make, nor did I say they make too much money. My comment was based on the effectiveness of teachers, or lack thereof….and this being the reason why people use Khan Academy and other educational resources. However, when responding to my comment about ineffective teachers, all you talk about is money. That MIGHT be the reason people have the impression that teachers aren’t really concerned with their students and act like we have schools to employ teachers instead of school to educate kids.

    And my opinion is not base on ignorance or blind acceptance of stereotypes. My opinion is based on facts..such as, the US education system was ranked #1 in the world in the late 60’s. We are now ranked below the mean. Almost all colleges (with the exception of Ivy schools) have remedial math and reading classes students have to take before taking their college level classes. Even in this horrible economy, we still have 3 million jobs available that are not being filled because applicants lack the basic math and reading skills ( You have programs like Khan Academy that students are flocking to because they aren’t learning the basics in school. I could go on, but I think you get my point…which is the quality of education has declined in this country to horrible levels.

    But since you brought up pay (even though I said nothing about teacher pay) and went on and on about being a martyr, let me point out that the average salary in America is $41,673.83. (you can find the info here: The average salary in NYC for a teacher is $57,354 (I got that info here: I realize it’s not John Stewart, but I also realize The Daily Show is a fake news show that is trying to get the most comedic effect possible. I like John Stewart and I think he is funny. I take his “news” with a grain of salt because it is a COMEDY SHOW.

    Now, a teacher in NYC makes 37% higher salary (this is not including benefits) than the average American.

    The average American works 240 days out of the year. A teacher works 180 days. A teacher works 32% LESS time than the average American.

    As far as a teacher working before and after work…well, that’s not just in the teaching profession. Every professional works more than 40 hours a week.

    So to recap, teachers make 37% MORE money than the average American, but works 32% LESS time.

    The reason why everyone who is not in teaching thinks teachers make plenty of money is because they can add and subtract. They know that their kids teacher is probably making more than them and working 1/3 of the time they do.

    So please spare my your righteous indignation about working for penance.

    • So you cite a CNN article as validation for your claim that the jobs are unfilled because people lack basic skills, yet the article says nothing to that effect. If you’re looking for some extra work, you might consider joining a political campaign and spinning stories that are baseless conjecture for them, rather than waste my and my readers’ time. You are very much in the mold of all those other teacher-haters in that you take facts and distort them to suit your personal agenda. More power to you if you can convince people of your “truth”.

      You perpetuate similar half-truths in your point about NYC teachers. While it is true that the starting and average salaries for a NYC teacher are better than in many parts of the country, people who are living in NYC are also paying a premium for the privilege. You don’t need to know what my monthly expenses are for my home, gas, food, entertainment, or travel, because frankly, it’s not your business. Suffice it to say, my expenses are higher in NYC than they would be in virtually every other city in the country. Of course, you know that, but you don’t feel the need to quantify your statement. That would make you look bad. It would make your arguments look weak.

      I don’t understand where your vile attitude toward teachers stems from, but I can only imagine it’s because you had poor experiences in your own academic career. It doesn’t take much to bash a teacher, only a certain level of cowardice. Even before I entered the profession (I did not originally intend to be a teacher) I had the utmost respect for the dedication showed by most in the field. It is sad that you can’t appreciate it because you are engrossed by the fact that teachers are paid for fewer days of work than you are.

      Since you think the salary and hours are so cushy, why don’t you become a teacher? I’d love to see if you could last to your first paycheck.

      P.S. Your Jon Stewart gripe is more amusing than the show itself. I think I can recognize satire when I see it, but thank you for clarifying.

    • You make some interesting points here and some of them, while based on fact, seem a little misdirected to me. One that you talked about was how most professionals work beyond the 40 hour work week. You said “As far as a teacher working before and after work…well, that’s not just in the teaching profession. Every professional works more than 40 hours a week.”
      This is true. Most professionals work beyond the 40 hours a week, take work home and so forth. The key word here is “professional”. Here you are comparing teachers to professionals and rightly so. Most of us have as much education as health professionals, and lawyers.

      However when you talk about salary, you are comparing teachers to the general public. Yes, SOME teachers (and not all teachers make the same amount depending on where they teach) make more than the national average. They also had to go to school for more than the national average and put in more time and effort than the national average. If you compared salaries of just professionals, as you did when talking about hours worked, you would probably find the numbers look different. We are actually one of the lower paid professions, but yes, we make more than people who work retail or in the service industry or in call centers.

      As for the decline of the Education system, well, we’re all very upset about that but I don’t think that it’s fair to lay the blame solely at the feet of teachers. In fact, I think most teachers, at least the teachers who really care about being teachers (which as was pointed out is generally anyone who lasts more than three years because, let’s face it, it’s a job you have to care about in order to keep going back to) had more say in what happened in their classrooms, rather being told what to teach and how, I think the Education system would be better off. If students came to us with a good meal and lower stress levels from their home lives, our Education system would be better off. There are so many factors that are pulling the system down,

      But perhaps you feel you know better and think that teaching is a nice cushy job where we get more vacation (by the way, I work 195 days a year plus all the extra work I put in on my “vacations”) and work fewer hours and get paid a ton of money. If that’s the case, how come you’re not a teacher? Come try it out some time.

  7. I actually have no problems with how much teachers make. I understand teachers have bills to pay and they need a salary that allows them to pay their bills and have some extra left over. Remember, my original complaint was not about the salaries teachers make. My original complaint was how ineffective our education is and how teachers are not teaching at the level the once did. YOU are the one who brought up the salary.

    Which is what happens when people point out that our schools are failing kids today. Teachers tell you about how hard they work for so little pay. When the reality is, a teachers’ salary is actually good compared to what others make, especially for the amount of time they work.

    It is also the underlying threat that I have a problem with. It’s as if teachers are saying they aren’t going to teach our kids unless we pay them more. Is paying you more going to suddenly produce better outcomes? Because I don’t see that. Why aren’t teachers producing the outcomes now? I would have no problem supporting all teachers making a 6-figure salary, if they produced the results that merited that kind of pay.

    And I don’t hate teachers. Most of my friends are teachers. I also don’t believe they have a cushy job, either. I think your job is just as stressful as everyone else (who don’t get 2 weeks off at Christmas, spring break or a summer break to relax from their stressful job). I also understand that not all of the problems in school are teacher related. I know from listening to my friends that, according to them, there are basically two sets are parents. One set believes their child is the second coming of Albert Einstein and could never make less than an A and will bully the teacher until they “give” them the A. These are also the parents who will send a 5 page email on Monday telling the teacher how many bowel movements little Johnny had over the weekend. (My friends call these “helicopter parents” and according to them, they are a nightmare). Then there is the other extreme of parents that are so uninvolved in their child’s life, they are amazed the parents can even remember the child’s name. And as I stated in my earlier comment, I do not think it is appropriate for a parent to undermine a teacher. I do actually respect teachers. Good teachers. The ones that actually teach my kids and not waste their time on stupid stuff that has no educational value.

    I get angry as a parent when my kids are spending time doing cut and paste projects (in junior high) in place of learning math. I have to spend 3-4 hours in the evening (after working all day myself, and usually have brought work home with me) to teach my kids things their teacher should be teaching them IN SCHOOL. And then to have teachers tell me they work so hard and don’t get paid anything…it is frustrating. They don’t get paid enough to oversee cut and paste projects for junior high kids? Really?

    All these “teacher haters” you talk about don’t really hate teachers. They hate that we have a poor education system and when you want to discuss the low quality of education, all teachers want to do is talk about how much money they don’t make….just like you did.

  8. Let’s get back to what started all of this banter and stick to the point. The premise in the blog , Sal Khan Never Taught Special Ed (or ELLs), is that the Khan Academy does not offer videos that are appropriate for the education of children with disabilities or those who are English Language Learners.

    As has been stated numerous times in the comments, all children, including those in general ed, learn differently and respond better to some strategies as opposed to others. From what I’ve viewed, the Khan Academy does not offer a differentiated approach to teaching. If the videos work for some, whether they be children who are English Language Learners, children in general education or children in special education, that is wonderful. But the reality is that they don’t work for all children.

    The mission of the Khan Academy states, “We’re a not-for-profit with the goal of changing education for the better by providing a free world-class education to anyone anywhere.” Anyone, parent, teacher, relative, friend, etc, who cares about children wants the best for them. If it’s using the videos offered by the Khan Academy, so be it. If it’s realizing that the videos offered by the Khan Academy do not support the learning of the child, so be it. But in order to truly fulfill the above mission, the Khan Academy needs to look at it’s videos with a critical eye and revisit the teaching styles utilized so they are appropriate for all children.

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