Tuesday, March 20, 2012

American Teacher Documentary Summary: A Plea for Respect & Evidence for Higher Pay

American Teacher Project Raises Awareness for Teachers
American Teacher reviews the value of a teacher versus how American society treats teachers. Because many teachers - especially in low income areas - are undervalued other aspects of the profession are undermined through pay, classroom conditions, parent-teacher relations and school administration. Teachers from all over the country named the many misconceptions about teachers that society has accepted as truth. One teacher recanted the sentiment of a critic, "Teachers have it easy". Similar negative statements that society shares about teachers delegitimize their pleas for more respect and higher pay. If the majority believe these views, then this explains the discrepancy between the value teachers add to society versus how they are being treated by society.

Ironically in urban and rural areas, where teacher burnout is the most prominent, are the same areas where teachers are the most undervalued and have to deal with the lowest pay, overwhelming amounts of paperwork, safety issues, strained parent relations, the most scorn from society, etc. Since many teachers in urban and rural areas are neglected or mistreated, their personal and professional lives are severely impacted which in turn gives their students less of the teacher's attention and less of a competitive academic edge. 

The societal issues surrounding teachers also highlight other pervasive issues in America and even globally such as class divisions (do urban and rural child deserve less than upper class children and are they given equal opportunity to succeed?), the undervalue of women (teaching is dominated by women, do women deserve to be paid less?), child rights (why is America content with their children learning in poor classroom conditions that are non-conducive to intellectual enrichment?) labor rights ( in fact many other professions are having the same struggles ex. productivity has increased but pay in relation hasn't increased in relation, many work in dangerous and psychological harmful conditions) and complacency (why is America letting social professions deal with the ills of society when these are our family, friends, why are so many dependent on welfare programs when the fathers should be providing for their children?)

A Teacher's Value 
Skillful, passionate and compassionate teachers serve as interventions that can lift students out of poverty and inspire them. Education enlightens the mind, give students a greater awareness about themselves and build networks of knowledge for future achievement. Relevant education also prevents self-destructive behavior which is costly for society, devastates the individual and stunts professional potential and/or personal milestones. American Teacher revealed that just $7,000 in extra earnings for teachers can result in a $40,000 increase in earnings for students as adults. Research confirms that better treatment of teachers results better educated students who have increased job preparedness. The more resources and peace of mind a teacher has, the more she can endow to her students. The New York Times recently revealed that “Having a good fourth-grade teacher makes a student 1.25 percent more likely to go to college, the research suggests, and 1.25 percent less likely to get pregnant as a teenager. Each of the students will go on as an adult to earn, on average, $25,000 more over a lifetime — or about $700,000 in gains for an average size class — all attributable to that ace teacher back in the fourth grade. That’s right: A great teacher is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to each year’s students, just in the extra income they will earn."

Jaime Ridler clearly realized the impact of her role, explaining that the elementary years is a major phase in cognitive development. I agree that this period for intellectual and academic growth is poignant. It could mean the difference between being left behind academically or being competitive with your peers. In the extreme case the difference between being a high school drop-out in jail or trapped in an exploitative job or a student being accepted into an elite university. 

Erik Benner also realizes his role in giving students a solid academic base. He is striving to lay the foundation for the knowledge of history. As trivial as these realizations may appear, many college students are struggling with basic concepts in history which lessens the amount of time left for upper level courses that could propel their understanding of life, boost their transcripts and prepare them for graduate school and/or a cognitive intensive profession. In addition to academics, Benner is a source of guidance and emotional support. He grew up poor and was the only one from his family to graduate college. He wants to reach the "kids who hates his life and is still living in a trailer." Benner states "maybe I can give him hope. I also employ the use of respect, because many are not used to getting respect at home." 

Rhea Jasey tries to work on character development, because emotional intelligence has been proven to enhance academic performance. Colleagues notice that she works toward instilling leadership skills and confidence. She uses any opportunity available to develop healthy relationships with the students and relate to them, even if over lunch. Students are more willing to absorb lessons from teachers they can identify with. 

The Many Duties 
The responsibilities a teacher seem endless. Amanda Lueck recanted breathlessly that she was overwhelmed and burned out. The poor conditions and lack of support can hinder the adequate fulfillment of these multiple roles. She's disappointed that society believes their cellphones are more important than teachers and students. Perhaps it is time to care for people more than technology? Fidler usually works during lunch which often doubles as detention for at risk children. In addition, she also completes other duties outside of her job description that captures time more away from her main responsibilities as a teacher. Rhena Jasey explained that teaching requires juggling multiple roles, "You have to be the counselor, social worker, parent and the friend." All of these responsibilities and roles translate into a 65 hour work week. Unfortunately the pay doesn't match up with the work. 

Degradation of Women & Children 
The vestigial historical degradation of woman still affects teachers to this day. Since teaching is associated with women and children, this career is often viewed as an inferior profession in comparison to male dominated careers such as tech or engineering. American Teacher explains the dilemma. Women were denied access to other jobs, therefore many were over qualified in relation to the pay and conditions. Now that the job market has opened up for women, it is harder to attract the same caliber of women because the outdated pay and conditions are still in place. Also the woman's income was seen as the second income which further embedded the pay disparity.  Since the pay is so slow, teaching isn't necessarily an appealing career for men who are expected to financially to support their families. American Teacher pointed out that the amount of male teachers have dramatically decreased.

Rhena shared a common exchange with her colleagues at Harvard who wondered why she wanted to be a teacher when she could do anything. She was aghast at these comments and replied, "Wouldn't you want a teacher from Harvard to teach your children?" Views expressed such as these is a stark reminder that teaching isn't perceived as an sought after professional for the highly educated even though in reality it's a profession that brings much value. 

The neglect of urban and rural children also explains why the teachers aren't given the best tools to educate them.  Amanda Lueck lamented that, " there weren't any pencils, crayons or anything. It was an eye opener. It was really hard." She was disappointed by the middle school with 40 desks crammed in a small classroom, almost sending a message to the students that they didn't deserve a personal attention or solid education. American Teacher revealed that 90 percent of poor districts are lacking school supplies and support for new teachers. "New teachers are always put into the most difficult situations." The question remains, If you valued children wouldn't you at least want the professionals that interact with them to have enough support? Due to the conditions, 20 percent of urban teachers quit in a year. High turnover is unhealthy especially when many of the students may have unstable home conditions. 

Johnathan Dearman quit after 5 years to pursue real estate. He was considered a pillar at the school. His absence was hard on the school's administration and the students. An insightful comment was made that "knowledge has been flowing out and the school is peddling to stay in place." 45 percent of teachers quit by the 5th year however studies have shown that as turnover rates decrease so does the drop out rate. The longer a teacher stays at a school the more personally invested the teacher is in the well being of the students which fosters a nurturing environment and an ambitious culture. The lack of respect causes the teacher to make many sacrifices that has the potential to dampen the quality of their teaching. Erik Benner had a second job at Circuit City when he could be focusing on his own self-enrichment, working on side projects, honing his creativity or developing more plans for his students so that he could add more value in the classroom.

Why Do They Persevere?
For the teachers that were interviewed, it was a sense of pride in what they did despite how society undervalues them. They had a strong calling to be a teacher and they love guiding students. One teacher visibly relished the thought of turning a non-reader to a reader while another sincerely enjoyed doing science experiments with his students. When asked, "What do you do for a living?" with a coy smile, he replies, "I blow things up." Hopefully as respect increases for teachers, we can apply a fairer standard of treatment.

How you feel about the state of education in your district and/or nation?


Anonymous said...

Good teachers should be rewarded to a reasonable extent.

But, many teachers are so incompetent and lazy that they're making too much as it is.

Less than 10% of all teachers I've ever had even tried, and even fewer were "excellent."

There's also the whole "summers off" making pay less. If you divide their salary by the number of months they work full-time, the pay isn't as dire.

Dianne Heath said...

Poor teachers definitely harm the image of all teachers. I had one teacher call me a "nerd" to publicly embarrass me and then proceeded to try to ruin my future by refusing to enroll me in an AP class (that I was qualified for). I guess that these negative experiences prevent the public from fighting as hard as they should to. Thanks for sharing another perspective :)

Anonymous said...

I agree with the first comment. Maybe instead of rewarding teachers for being "good", there should be more requirements and stricter evaluations before becoming a teacher. Teachers make a very reasonable salary for only working three fourths of the year. Not to mention the many benefits that they receive.
It truly makes me sick that teachers still demand so much as if they're not compensated enough as it is. Especially because of all the lazy, unintelligent teachers out there and the ones sitting back on tenure.