The world that teachers inhabit is far removed from the real one

October 26, 2005|By ARI KAUFMAN

As I leave the teaching profession and begin to work in the "real world," I am constantly reminded that teaching and this real world are mutually exclusive.

For years, we have all heard the clichM-i, "Those who can, do; those who can't do, teach." That's not necessarily accurate, as many teachers are fine educators and realize they have one of the most noble jobs in society. But another clichM-i - "Teaching is not the real world" - appears more plausible.

I resigned from teaching after less than three years. I spent time, money and effort for two years after college commuting, writing papers, observing, student teaching, subbing, filling out papers and other bureaucratic gobbledygook to earn the state-mandated credentials. None of that was really necessary or helpful, aside from the hands-on experiences of teaching.

I never once thought of what a Marilyn Burns class management textbook said when, simultaneously, two kids burst out fighting, a third with an attention deficit hyperactivity disorder erupted in a corner and a fourth had to go to the lavatory - all while I was trying to review for the school district-generated math assessment.

Teaching is hard work. It's annoying work, with too few rewards. But a day of teaching is in such stark contrast to the rest of modern society that the explanations and examples would read like a Senate filibuster.

A recent New York Post article said that when all aspects of various careers are considered, teachers earn more money per hour than almost any job in the country. Despite that claim, you would be hard-pressed to support the notion that teachers wrongfully complain about their lack of pay. Since they vehemently reject performance-based pay, the most fervent complaints should come from those working the hardest and having the most impact on kids. Often, these are new teachers, as I was. Of course, that put me at the bottom of the pay scale.

Unfortunately, more often than not, economics deters arguments for raises in the salaries of educators. You don't need to be John Maynard Keynes to deduce that teachers produce nothing that can be financially measured in our capitalist society. And when teachers unions refuse to allow student test scores on those district-generated assessments to be used to evaluate one's teaching ability, where will this money come from?

In most of society, much as a good performance leads to better pay and bonuses, your job is in jeopardy if you don't produce. Workers can be fired or demoted, regardless of tenure. In teaching, reach Day 1 of Year 3 and you are safe until you retire after 30 years with a fat pension and perpetual health benefits. This is simply not the case in any job not emanating from the government. Even firefighters and police officers have their salaries altered based on their performances.

Autonomy is another word that is prevalent in teaching, even though most teachers would tell you they have none. Surely there are times when an administrator will walk through a room and tell you the positives and negatives of your work. But those moments of accountability are fewer and farther between the longer you are in education. Reach tenure - even at age 24 - and you can pretty much lock your classroom doors and be with 25 children (and no adults) for the next six hours. Many teachers take part in this exercise in complete autonomy. If not, they just plan to be at their desk, "grading papers," when these announced visits are made by the "boss."

Six-hour work days, 16 weeks of vacation a year plus 10 "personal" days and all holidays off, the ability to wear jeans and T-shirts to work, the lack of outside interference, the opportunity to have an impact upon impressionable youths, etc. - these perks are the hallmarks of teaching.

But I resigned because I felt the profession was sinking into a downtrodden, defeatist state. The abundance of job perks were ignored, with the teachers spending time instead enraged at society for undercompensating them. I found it overwhelmingly hypocritical. If educators truly loved their profession (which many, like me, did), they'd focus on the benefits of their job and not be occupied by fighting the powers-that-be for more money.

For all too many, teaching is about the paycheck more than their students. I just couldn't accept that.

Ari Kaufman is a former Los Angeles teacher. He lives in Potomac.

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