A Prof Responds to a Teacher

Last night I listened to a teacher complain to a panel of state representatives .  “Eric” asked:

“why the legislature continually adds more requirements and duties to teachers while simultaneously cutting our pay. Other state employees who have had their pay cut are receiving comp time to mitigate the loss of income. My workload has increased by approximately 20% in the past two years and it continually goes up as time goes on. I feel that Rep. Carlyle did not answer my question.

Specifically I mentioned the law passed by the legislature last year increasing instructional hours from 1000 to 1080 per school year. This is the equivalent of two additional uncompensated work weeks.”


I “feel your pain.”   I wonder, though if your question makes any real sense now? With people fighting over dollars to feed the indigent, are work rules really that important?  Do work rules help our children?  Do they improve your ability to teach?

When did we fall into the trap of paying teachers on an hourly basis?  Hourly pay makes sense when there is a direct correlation between how many hours a movie ticket booth is open, how many burgers McD’s turns out or how far a pilot flies an airplane.  Can hourly wages make sense in any profession where the intensity of work and effort made outside of formal hours is paramount?

This model of paying K-12 teachers is  a game of chicken.  The American public, through its politicians, has come to treat the public schools as a grim necessity .. like the need for a police force to deal with other people’s problems or sewer workers to keep the drains flowing.  They, the public, want services for the lowest possible price.  They do not want to see the jails or the sewers or the schools.

The unions’ classical answer has been to address pay on a per hour basis and negotiate work rules .  Opposition to charter schools and merit pay reflects a belief, probably a correct belief, that “the system” is not going to reward hard work with good pay.

The result?  The game of chicken drives families with means out of the public school system.  Losing those families means losing political clout.  The schools look more and more like a device to deal with the needs of the poor .. a charity.

At the University level we are not paid on an hourly basis at all.  We are expected to work 24/7 at our professions.  Measures of success for promotion are very, very tough.

There is a price to pay for this model too.  While in many fields the pay is very good, low paid faculty, esp. at the lecturers and teaching assistant levels, are exploited.  Highly educated oung faculty with PhD’s in less remunerative subject areas .. the humanities especially … compete for jobs that may pay less than  the level of McDonald’s.  Many of these jobs leave the young faculty little time out of their 24/7 workday to pursue the professional learning, “research,”  that is necessary to the argument that a college experience is more than a download from Wikipedia.

The worst situation is in community colleges.  Many community college faculty work in a model all too similar to the model that employers used in sweat shops before the ILGWU showed up.

The scary thing is that this game of chicken is coming to our level as well.  Currently the UW takes 30% of its students from the community colleges. The end result is that even at one of the world’s premier universities, the foundation of a university education is being turned into something that is losing all potential for feeding the intellectual needs of our best students.

Moreover, the UW is beginning to look like a K-12 system in another way.  Where once governance meant that faculty became deans and presidents, our leadership is becoming highly paid administrators who often have little of no experience in any academic field.  Like some big corporations, the public university begins to look as if its main purpose is to pay administrators, please investors,  and field a football team.  Our recent President, Mark Emmert, is an example. Like many K-12 administrators, Emmert got his $1,000,000/yr Husky Prexy  job through a career spent not in teaching or research, but administration. Now he has moved on to running the NCAA and we are hoping that the Search Committee finds a new president with personal achievements that rival the best of our workers .. the faculty of the UW!

If this trend continues,  those parent who can will send their offspring to private schools and the higher education system will come, like the K-12 system, to be viewed as something for the lower classes.

cross posted at THE-Ave.US

cross posted at Publicola

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