Would you take a job that pays less than comparable positions, requires you to supervise unruly individuals without the authority to discipline them and results in your being blamed when other people don’t take care of their responsibilities? And yet, that’s what teachers do, because they want to make sure that our children get the education they need to succeed in life. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Nevada’s teachers for all they do to help our students under very challenging conditions.
Teachers entering Nevada’s public school system right out of college are paid a little more than $34,000 a year, and according to the National Education Association, the average salary for all Nevada teachers is about $50,000. Hardly a get-rich-quick profession. A 2010 report by the Economic Policy Institute revealed that public school teachers earn about 12 percent less than comparable workers.
In addition, most teachers use part of that skimpy pay to purchase classroom supplies and teaching materials out of their own pockets – printer paper, arts and crafts supplies, pencils, glue, and other necessities. In Clark County, the Public Education Foundation estimates that teachers spend an average of $1,600 each year on classroom materials. Those at schools with a high percentage of poor students may spend even more of their own salary to make up for families who can’t afford to buy school supplies.
Some people complain that teachers don’t have full-time jobs because they don’t have to work on holidays and summer vacations. Ask any teacher how many hours he or she works during the week, and you’ll be amazed at the answer. Besides correcting papers, creating lesson plans, counseling students and holding parent-teacher conferences, teachers have to contend with a mountain of administrative paperwork, much of it after regular school hours. And those summer “vacations” are often spent taking college classes so they can earn a little more money, or working at temporary jobs so they can make ends meet.
The current educational system puts teachers in a no-win situation. They are expected to maintain discipline in the classroom, but they are not allowed to punish students who disrupt class or disrespect them. When I was in school, any student who got in trouble would get punished twice: once by the teacher and once by the parents. Today’s parents are likely to howl in protest and threaten to sue the school district if anyone accuses their child of acting out.
If students receive poor grades on standardized tests, it’s teachers who get the blame. But test scores are often a reflection of underlying issues over which teachers have no control. With nearly 20 percent of Nevada students living below the federal poverty level, and more than 25 percent speaking English as a second language (or not speaking English at all), some students have challenges that are very difficult to overcome. And many parents with the education and resources to help their children don’t take the time to make sure their kids do assigned homework and study for tests. Although they don’t give any outward indication that they care about their child’s education, they expect the child to spontaneously develop a love of learning, a work ethic and a commitment to excellence. These qualities should be learned in the home, and if they aren’t, don’t blame the teacher if the student doesn’t succeed.
Of the many reforms that have been proposed for Nevada’s educational system, one of the most important is to provide teachers with incentives in the form of merit pay. Instead of following union policies of unlimited tenure, we need to identify and reward the best teachers, while removing those who are ineffective.
National Teacher Appreciation Day isn’t celebrated until May, but there’s no time like the present to let teachers know that we appreciate their dedication and commitment to Nevada’s children.
Originally published in Nevada Business Magazine: