Teachers Fight Back

Defend and Support School Teachers of America


with 9 comments

I hope everyone saw the news conference concerning the school shooting in Ohio. The coach who chased the shooter away was given a few moments to speak. I hope everyone heard the emotion in the coach’s voice as he spoke about not being a hero and wishing he could have done more.

I wish people could understand that there are teacher heroes at work every day in almost every school in this country. These teachers might not be heroes on the scale of this coach, but they do smaller heroic things all the time. These teachers embrace their students as if they were their own children. They help them fight drugs, gang influences, abusive parents, emotional trauma, miserable home lives, poverty, social problems, and teach them how to cope with whatever problems they are having. These teachers have an emotional connection with their students. They are close to being the competent parent that these kids are missing. They are important role models and pass on many important values that these students will come to embrace.

The concept of merit pay for teachers is basically flawed because of the above mentioned teacher roles as well as many others. How can we possibly base a teacher’s pay solely on the test scores of their students? I could see test scores being a part of a teacher’s evaluation, but how in the world do we determine what  the value is of all the other things that a teacher does for students? It’s impossible to attach a value to how a teacher influences the lives of their students.

There are school critics who want teachers to be evaluated as if the school was like a business.  They are sure we would have much more successful schools if only school employees were motivated in the same way that successful business people are. To those critics I would say, “you have no idea what motivates a teacher”.  Listen to the voice of that coach as he was speaking today. Does that give you some idea of what motivates most teachers?

Written by alkleen

March 1, 2012 at 8:37 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

9 Responses

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  1. My formal education includes both engineering and business, and my career was spent mostly in leadership roles in computer engineering groups. In regard to the evaluation of employees, many of the same issues arise with engineers as with teachers.

    The top management of the organization are not always engineers. Very often, CEOs rise from the ranks of sales or finance, both disciplines in which monetary measures are primary. Sales folks think that because they are motivated by commissions, that engineers should be motivated by money as well. They’re wrong in most cases.

    Most of the engineering folks I worked with were far more motivated by the ‘coolness factor’ of what they got to work on. Helping develop a new technology that would impress one’s peers, and be viewed as magic by everyone else is a great reward. Getting to be the inventor of a new thing is the ultimate reward. Sales folk brag about where they have golf membership. Engineers brag about how many patents they hold.

    One of the most memorable classes I took in business school was on compensation theory. A key thought from the profession was: “If you try to use money to motivate people who are not in fact motivated by money, the outcome will be both ineffective (or worse) and expensive.”

    Similar challenge in trying to evaluate engineers. Innovation rarely happens on a schedule, nor does the apparent effort expended relate very well to the ultimate impact on the organization. An efficiency consultant brought in by Henry Ford supposedly told Ford that his whole HQ organization seemed pretty efficient except for one guy he found every day with his feet propped up on the desk, staring out the window. The consultant said he should be fired. Ford informed him that this was the guy who came up with the idea for the assembly line, and that he needed to have those kinds of ideas only every once in a while to make it worth keeping him on the team. Then Ford fired the consultant.

    I don’t know how to evaluate or motivate teachers. I’m pretty sure that for the good ones, money isn’t the best motivator, and test scores aren’t the best measure. Oh sure, they should be compensated well enough to enjoy a nice lifestyle (and I consider getting summers off part of that compensation). And test scores should play a part, but only if we can isolate each teachers’ contribution from all the other contributory factors.

    I suspect motivation comes from a mixture of more professional latitude, less bureaucratic crap, and more supportive parents. Evaluation is tougher. Given the opportunity to spend a fair amount of time in the classroom with a teacher (not just the drive-by announced observations), I think most people would agree qualitatively on which teachers are effective and which are not. The challenge is figuring out a way to objectively measure effectiveness, because we also want to use this measure to weed out the ineffective teachers, and that can’t be left to subjective measures – a large reason we have teachers’ unions in the first place.

    I hear lots of criticism from teachers about what’s wrong about how the evaluation/compensation conversation is going. But I don’t hear much leadership from the teachers about what they want….

    Paul Lambert

    March 5, 2012 at 10:46 am

    • Thanks for your informative reply. Interesting thoughts.
      I need to comment on the “summers off” compensation. When I was teaching almost all teachers worked a job in the summer as the salary was so low. Most never had a “summer off”. Today’s teachers make much more money, but their summers are very brief compared to what happened in the past. Most teachers today don’t finish with school until mid June. They take courses and attend worksops in the summer. Class preparation starts in the beginning of August. Their “summer off” consists of six weeks at the most compared to almost three months when I was teaching. Six weeks of vacation is standard for almost any worker in Europe. (I know, those crazy socialists).


      March 5, 2012 at 8:48 pm

  2. Our teachers are done June 6th this year, and don’t return until Aug 15th. Certainly some of them take classes over the summer, and spend some time doing class prep. I think this tends to happen early in their careers. Most of the teachers I know who have reached the middle of their careers and finished their education pretty much take that whole span of time off.

    Note that I went back to school as well, as did many of my peers. I couldn’t take time off – I went at nights and on weekends. On more than a few vacations, the books I took to read were for some course I was taking.

    I’m managed folks in Europe, and you’re right about their employment policies. It was all pretty weird for Americans. The Bavarians got 42 days of vacation (8+ weeks), plus all kind of state holidays. In France, it was illegal to ask an employee to work more than 30 hours/week. Both policies caused us to have a larger staff than anywhere else in the world. We kept minimum staffing in those countries, and did as much work as we could in the US.

    The Dutch had some of the strangest rules. Our company gave stock options to everyone – ten of thousands of employees – and there were a stories of secretaries and janitors paying cash for nice homes, or putting their kids through college with the profits from their options.

    One year, when I went to Amsterdam to tell the team there about their annual stock option grants (one of the best meetings of the year in most places in the world), they asked if I could take them back. You see, in the Netherlands a law was enacted where an employee receiving a stock option would be required to immediately pay a national income tax based on the projected value of the options in three years. At the time our stock was selling for about $50, but had tripled in the span of three years. So if we gave a 1,000 shares of $50 options to a Dutch employee, they were required to pay a tax as though we had given them $150,000 in cash right then. The team leader there told me he would have to take out a loan to pay the tax obligation, which was around 80% as I recall. They preferred to not get options at all.

    Before you lament that teachers never have that kind of income opportunity – here’s the rest of the story:

    Our company had no defined-benefit retirement plan, only a 401(k) plan to which the company contributed nothing. However employees could buy the company stock in their 401(k), which many did, and for a while there were thousands of paper millionaires who figured they would retire to a beach somewhere.

    Then the company crashed when the dot com bubble popped. Stock options became worthless, 401(k) accounts were wiped out, and thousands lost their jobs. Triple whammy.

    There were some bad decisions made by the top leaders of this company, and a few of them went to prison because of it. Meanwhile thousands of innocent employees had been wiped out.

    This is one of the most extreme stories, but the wave of pain extended all across the economy. A few folks got crazy rich (I’m certainly not one of them), and millions were deeply wounded. There has been no recovery for most of us, and this zero-percent interest rate environment which was created to bail out folks who had overextended their credit is killing those of us for whom interest is retirement income, not a way to buy a new boat.

    This is the lens through which taxpayers are viewing – with no small amount of envy – the high degree of job security and sweet pensions enjoyed by teachers. The conversation isn’t about fairness – it’s about widespread economic pain and the accompanying high emotion.

    The teachers unions need to acknowledge this, and help find solutions that temper these emotions, else our public education system is in dire straits.

    Paul Lambert

    March 7, 2012 at 9:49 am

    • Maybe people who are envious of teachers’ job security and pensions need to be reminded of how our capitalist system works. The value of something is whatever people are willing to pay for it. Most economically disadvantaged sports fans don’t stop being fans because the players make millions of dollars. The fans don’t expect the players to feel guilty about raking in the millions. The fans might be slightly envious, but that’s about as far as it goes. I haven’t heard many ordinary people complain about the baseball players union.
      I don’t think most economically disadvantaged people are the ones who are critical of teachers and teacher unions. It might be hard to prove, but I think most of the recent teacher bashing has come from people who are anything but economically disadvantaged. If teachers didn’t have unions and weren’t paid with tax money, I don’t think we would be talking about any of this. There is a certain group of people in this country who have an ulterior political motive for disbanding teacher unions. I don’t think the salary and pensions are what concerns these people.
      I sympathize with people who pay outrageous property taxes, have lost much of the value of their home, lost their job and or pension, and are having a tough time making ends meet. We’ve had other recessions and tough times, but I don’t ever remember people attacking teacher salaries, pensions and unions during those times. Why now? Is it because this is the first time in history that teachers are adequately paid and have good benefits? When teachers were making those incredibly low salaries and almost no benefits, everyone was fine with the profession. This is why I see a huge hypocrisy in all of this. Since the first one room school houses we were told to value teachers and teaching. Everyone has always acknowledged the importance of the job. Now that teachers are making their highest salaries and best benefits, all of a sudden it’s too much. Again, the value of something is whatever people are willing to pay for it. People who now say pay and benefits are too high for teachers, need to admit that they don’t think the job of a teacher is very valuable. That’s fine, I would have no problem with that. I just want them to stop the hypocrisy of saying how important the job of teaching is and then complain about teacher salary and benefits.
      Your experiences with Europeans is interesting. What do you think of the socialist policies of some of those countries? I wouldn’t describe Germany as socialist. I think one of the reasons Germany has avoided the problems of so many others is the mentality of the German people when it comes to spending. Most German people do not and never have lived beyond their means. They have never had the “I see it, I buy it” mentality of this generation of younger Americans. Frugality is an ethnic trait of Germans. LOL I think it saved them from the current crisis.


      March 7, 2012 at 7:55 pm

  3. There’s a huge difference between teachers’ unions and the unions of professional athletes: No one is forcing me to buy tickets to professional sporting events. Players get big salaries because it can be supported by ticket sales, advertising revenue, merchandising, etc. And it’s the team owner who ultimately decides what to offer a player, not the fans. If the owner makes a bad business decision, it doesn’t cost me money.

    Likewise, the auto workers’ union (UAW) is different, because if they drive up the price of cars higher than what I’m willing to pay, then I can either buy my car from a competitor or not buy a car at all.

    Public sector unions pervert the capitalist system in that the government forces us to fund a service in which they carve out a monopoly, and then it allows workers to unionize and potentially go on strike, denying the taxpayers a service for which there is no alternative.

    If free-market supply and demand were allowed to work, teachers would get paid much less than they are now simply because there are so many unemployed teachers. Our school district gets at least 100 applications for every open spot. Someone should start telling all these kids entering education that they have a one-in-a-boatload chance of getting a job when they graduate. Might as well get a degree in Sanskrit Literature in terms of employment opportunities.

    I’ve advised teachers on many occasions that if they want to be paid like engineers, then they need to make it as hard to get into and graduate from colleges of education as it is to get into and graduate from colleges of engineering. The weeding out should occur before the students are admitted, not after they graduate and try to find a job. Engineers tend to be paid well not just because of the value they bring to employers, but also because there aren’t so many of them. That means employers have to compete for candidates, which drives up salaries.

    Not so much the case with most school districts. But the unions can keep salaries up in spite of a glut of candidates. That’s true only because the public school districts have no real competition (ie – no other kind of school system can levy taxes).

    I’d have no problems with public sector unions if the taxpayers could take their business – and their tax dollars – elsewhere. In the case of public education, I can send my kids to private school, but I can’t take my tax dollars with me. That’s a problem.

    I value teachers. You’ve heard me say that one of my kids is a teacher. In fact, many members of my family are teachers. But I also value my mailman, the guys who drive the snowplows, the folks who slaughter and butcher the animals I eat, and the techs who work on my car. Our society is comprised of many specialists, and we are dependent on each other. We have to be careful about trying to assign value to these roles – each has has a purpose, and our society would be diminished without any one of them.

    As for the Germans, I think they are as a society more willing to align to the common good. Not that they can’t be world-class complainers, but they complain while following the rules rather than go the selfish and sometimes disobedient route as would a majority of Americans. Of course that’s a generalization, and therefore false in specific cases. But I think it’s a fair characterization.

    The example I love to use: the subway system in Munich (the “U-bahn”) has no turnstiles or gates of any kind. You buy a ticket (or a “strippencard” for multiple trips), and then just get on a train. I asked a Munchener friend why people don’t just get on trains without buying tickets, and he said “because it’s against the law.” ‘Nuff said.

    I’d like to see that work in NYC….

    Paul Lambert

    March 7, 2012 at 9:27 pm

  4. As for European socialism – I think forms of government succeed when they match the characteristics of a society. I tend to see communism and socialism as philisophies on the path toward the ultimate form of democracy – a government which is fully dedicated to the common good of the all people. It’s espoused in the New Testament when it is reported that the early disciples “sold everything and shared according to need.” The only problem is that no one has been able to pull it off at a national level. As Orwell wrote: “all animals are equal, except pigs are more equal than others.” Eventually some power-hungry, greedy bastards convert “flat” societies into a dictatorship.

    Maybe some Europeans are more willing to tolerate socialist governments because their need for individual liberty isn’t as great as it is for (many, most?) Americans. By the way Shorto’s book “Island at the Center of the World” makes a pretty compelling case for saying that American culture is more a product of the “anything goes as long as it doesn’t interfere with commerce” nature of the Dutch who settled New Amsterdam than it is the stuck-up, class-conscious ways of the British who settled Philadelphia. We think of ourselves as offspring of the British only because they managed to boot the Dutch out of America, and the winners get to write the history. But it was our Dutch-inspired culture of economic liberty which caused us to later boot out the British.

    Paul Lambert

    March 7, 2012 at 9:46 pm

    • I will have to take a look at that book.
      I wonder which of our two main political parties comes closest to being “fully dedicated to the common good of all people”. LOL
      I just saw the HBO movie “Game Change”. If the movie was even a remotely true portrayal of Sarah Palin’s lack of historical knowledge, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least. When history was taken out of our schools and turned into “social studies”, it resulted in a whole generation of people with inadequate historical knowledge and perspective.


      March 11, 2012 at 4:18 pm

      • I’ve had it with the party system. Grew up in a Democratic family, became a Reagan Republican, and now pretty am pretty much disgusted by the whole freak show. Went Independent a couple of years ago.

        Gotta admit absolutely hating history in high school, and I made sure to never take a history course in college. I think that’s because I struggle with memorization, and that seemed to be what history was about back then. But on this point, I don’t remember anything in my history books talking about the Dutch contribution to American culture. Nor was there much about the Spanish influence, and for those lamenting Latino immigration, we should remember that the longest continuously-inhabited city in the USA was founded by the Spaniards, not the English. Which is worse, being ignorant but open-minded, or to be filled with propaganda?

        The whole thing about those who don’t learn history are doomed to repeat certainly seems true. Not much happening on Planet Earth these days that hasn’t happened before.

        Another interesting book I recently finished: “Paris 1919” by MacMillan. All about the restructuring of Europe following WWI. For all practical purposes, the post-WWI map of Europe was drawn by Clemencou, Lloyd-George and Wilson. There was no Poland at the end of WWI, for example, and the dipomat who plead for the creation of a Polish nation was Paderewski, the great pianist. Many stories like that.

        Also very much enjoy the Stephen Ambrose histories. “Nothing Like It in the World” about the building of the transcontinental railroad is one of my favorites. “Undaunted Courage” about Lewis and Clark is another. I have “Citizen Soldier” about WWII on my Kindle, saved as vacation reading. Ambrose is another of those writers like Shorto and MacMillan who explore past the superficial stuff, and dig into the true motivations of the key actors. Spoiler alert: It’s always money, power, or sex, and often all three.

        Paul Lambert

        March 11, 2012 at 4:57 pm

      • Best book ever written about World War l is “The Guns of August” by Barbara Tuchman,(I believe that’s the spelling of her name). It’s an oldie but a goodie. I read a biography about Meriwether Lewis, very interesting. I love biographies of historical figures. Read any biography of Teddy Roosevelt and you can’t go wrong. A fascinating man. Love biographies of the Founding Fathers. Read at least two on every early president and also Hamilton, Franklin, Patrick Henry, etc. When you study the intentions of the Founding Fathers, it’s clear that some of our wonderful “rights” were so much easier to maintain when we were primarily a rural country and had a low population. For example,the right to bear arms can be a problem when you live in a city of four million people,(with one in four having a psychological problem), not so when you were Davy Crockett or Buffalo Bill. Hope I didn’t offend the NRA. I don’t want to take your guns away. Just putting something in perspective.


        March 13, 2012 at 9:21 pm

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