Monday, November 28, 2005

Booknote: Teachers Have It Easy

Title: Teachers Have It Easy: The Big Sacrifices and Small Salaries of America's Teachers
Authors: Daniel Moulthrop, Nínive Clements Calegari, and Dave Eggers
Publication Information: New York: New Press, 2005
ISBN: 1-56584-955-8
Genre: Nonfiction
Subgenre: Education
Pages: 355, including notes
Similar book: Brian Crosby's The $100,000 Teacher. I have read this book (before I started blogging). Crosby does not pull punches, and he is very strong on the concept of accountability. His arguments are compelling and well-made for teachers being paid as any other professional.

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Teachers Have It Easy is one of the most engaging and infuriating books I have read in a while. No, I am not furious at the authors. I am furious at the revelations of how the teachers of America are treated so poorly (to put it politely). Read this book and find out why many teachers hold down second jobs. Read the story of the brilliant teacher, loved by the school and his students, who left to sell real estate. He did not leave because he disliked teaching. On the contrary, he loves teaching, but he could not afford to stay in teaching. This book shows the shameful way in which teachers are treated.

In the introduction, the authors debunk seven myths about teachers and their pay. For example, the ever popular "teachers get the summers off." As a former public school teacher, I know this is far from the truth. However, I will let the authors speak on the topic. When it comes to summers:

  • "In order to maintain their credentials or move up the salary schedule, 23 percent of teachers must attend classes during the summer, an expense for which they are reimbursed meagerly, if at all."
  • "As much as 42 percent of teachers teach summer school or work a different, non-teaching job."
  • "Much harder to track are the hours teachers spend writing and revising curriculum for the upcoming year" (7).
The first four chapters allow the teachers to tell their stories. After that, the authors look at what truly makes effective teaching. Chapter 7 is a very insightful. Entitled "A Day in the Life," the chapter is set up as a table, hour by hour, comparing a teacher's typical day with that of a pharmaceutical sales representative. For his day, the sales representative would get $391.30; the teacher would be paid $256.00. Let's just say the chapter makes an excellent illustration of the authors' arguments.

The authors also analyze why teachers leave the profession. At the end of the book, they look at some reforms that have worked. To balance, they also explain why other short term popular reforms, like hiring teachers from places like the Phillipines to fill shortages, are doomed to fail. The chapter on reforms can actually be scanned because the authors provide a good three page summary at the end. So, for readers more interested in the basic mechanics of the programs rather than the drama behind the implementation of the reforms, the summary is good enough.

Overall, the book is highly recommended for anyone interested in education and teachers. In fact, this book should be required reading for any student or career changer considering a career in teaching public schools. The result may be that more people may choose not to go into teaching, but in my humble opinion, that may actually be a good thing. Maybe the nation needs a substantial drain of good people who can teach before people finally put their money where their mouth is. And if the argument of paying well for various reasons such as getting a better education for children and decent treatment of teachers do not convince readers, the authors also consider the economic consequences of not paying to have the best teachers possible and simply allowing the best and brightest to choose other careers. The authors do not say that better pay and better teachers are the panacea, but they demonstrate in a well-rounded argument that "spending money to find, keep, and support the best teachers is simply the most effective investment they can make in the future of their children, their communities, and their country" (287).

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