“Parents should get half of the teachers’ salaries. So much of what the kids are doing online is independent work, and the teachers are nowhere to be found!” Have you heard this sentiment going around?
If you haven’t, consider yourself lucky. I heard it this weekend while I was waiting in the grocery store checkout line. I’ve read it online. It seems like everywhere we look, teachers are getting criticized, and this is the latest: we are paying teachers too much, and they are working less. There’s no question that everyone is stressed and anxious, but why are teachers getting the blame when they are working harder than ever?
This pandemic has made it even clearer to me that our society doesn’t value teachers (or understand what we do and how hard we work). Not to mention the double standard here. Many people are working remotely due to COVID-19. Doctors are seeing patients virtually, and yet, I haven’t heard anyone argue that they should get half of their pay for remote work. Where is all this anger coming from, and why are teachers the target? Let’s talk about why arguing that teachers should get paid half as much is wrong and has to stop.
Teachers are working more, not less
Schools haven’t changed much in the past fifty years. Teachers report to school before the first bell, they’re in their classrooms, and they don’t leave until all the kids are gone. (Sometimes much later. Coaches, I see you!) Never mind that this schedule doesn’t give teachers much time to plan lessons, grade work, eat lunch, or use the bathroom. Leaving school to go to an annual physical or to get their car serviced actually creates more work for teachers because they have to write sub plans. Many teachers won’t take a sick day because they know it means another teacher has to cover for them.
When COVID-19 closed schools, we had to rethink schedules. Many students are learning remotely online or in a hybrid model. Now, all of a sudden, a teacher’s day looks different, and people are uncomfortable with that. They wonder what teachers are doing when students are working independently. They are questioning if teachers are working and why they are getting paid the same amount as they did before. Many districts are requiring teachers to report to school to teach online even though their students are learning at home (which is insulting and makes no sense). Teachers don’t just work when they are in a school building, and they never have.
When you’re a teacher, you do so much more than teach.
I wonder if the woman I heard in the grocery store knows that teachers are constantly working even when their students aren’t in front of them. They prepare and write lesson plans. They grade students’ work. This part of the job has almost always happened at home after hours and on weekends. And guess what, there’s no overtime pay. So stop saying that teachers should get paid less.
Start recognizing that teachers should get paid more because the invisible work that they have always done has doubled this year. They might not be teaching face-to-face for as many hours, but the planning, set-up, and grading takes so much more time. So next time you wonder what a teacher is doing when students are working independently, picture a teacher sitting at her kitchen table filming a mini-lesson. Try to visualize a teacher opening up 50 Google documents and typing meaningful comments in each one. Stop picturing a teacher kicking back and watching TV while you are trying to help your kid with his school work. That’s not happening.
Less instruction doesn’t mean less work
So why do some people think teachers are working less? Let’s look at Spokane Public schools, a district of 30,000 students, as an example. The district’s agreement with the union says high school teachers will teach three periods a day remotely, four days a week, for 12 hours of instruction. Before COVID-19, teachers taught five periods a day, at least four days a week, or a minimum of 20 hours of weekly instruction. Because students are “receiving less face-to-face instruction,” there is a misconception that teachers are doing less work. If students aren’t getting a full day of school, then why are teachers getting paid a full salary? Wrong. Teachers do more than teach.
Asynchronous instruction isn’t a break. It’s work.
Assuming that independent work means no teacher involvement is wrong. It doesn’t mean that teachers tell students to go read a book and ignore them for an hour. Let’s look at an example. A fourth-grade teacher meets with students all morning online. During the afternoon, students will work on math and writing independently.
For math, the students go into Google Classroom, where the teacher has created a video mini-lesson. After students watch the video, they play a math game in Kahoot to practice the skill they just learned. The teacher had to create the game beforehand. Then, the students complete a set of math problems, which they submit. The teacher will give each student individual feedback on their Math. This takes time.
For writing, the students go into their digital Writer’s Notebook in Google Classroom. The teacher created a set of Google slides for each student so they have digital notebooks. This takes time. The students read feedback that their teacher left in their notebooks. There are 100 of them. So you can only imagine how much time it took the teacher to give each student feedback. Next, the students open a shared Google doc where they will create three new leads for personal narratives. The teacher will give everyone feedback on their leads. This takes time.
So if you think that teachers aren’t working when students are doing independent work, you’re wrong.
New technology, little training, and bigger classes mean more work
Measuring teachers’ worth by the hours they spend in face-to-face instruction is wrong. To say that teachers are only working when they are teaching is wrong. To ignore the impact that teaching in an entirely new way with entirely new systems with very little training has had on a teacher’s workload is wrong.
Teachers had to create entirely new systems for organizing and delivering lessons. Anytime you do something new, it is going to take more time. Ask teachers how their workload now compares to last year, and they will say it is much higher. Many teachers report that they are working 60+ hours a week. A lot of teachers are teaching online and in person at the same time. Why you would even consider that a teacher should get paid less while doing that is maddening. Other teachers have much larger classes than usual, which means more time spent grading and giving students feedback on their work.
So here is what I’d like to say to the woman in the line at the grocery store: I am sorry that you are frustrated. I am a working mom, and I am frustrated too. This is really hard. I know how it feels to jump from a work meeting to helping a kid with their online schooling. But blaming teachers isn’t the answer. We don’t need to be paid for helping our kids with school. We are their first teachers, after all. Maybe it’s time for us to step up and start working like a teacher.
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