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IamA teacher in the US. The comments in the Reddit Gifts for Teachers blog post makes me feel this is needed. AMA!

Aug 16th 2014 by reddit-teacher • 15 Questions • 223 Points

There seems to be some confusion about teaching in general, and lots of questions regarding the ups and downs of my choice of career. As with most issues, this one is extremely convoluted and hard to grasp from the outside. My spouse and I will be answering questions. We hope to help clear things up with a perspective from the inside. Keep in mind that we live in a pretty liberal state and in a low-income area, so some of our answers may not be the same as other states or even other districts. If other teachers or administrators want to help contribute, please do! The more viewpoints that get contributed the better. We will do our best to help Reddit understand teaching.

Please, don't gift gold to any of our replies or this post. For privacy reasons, this is a throwaway and would be wasted money anyway. If you feel so inclined to spend money as a thank you, donate to the Reddit Gifts for Teachers here: http://redditgifts.com/blog/view/dear-reddit-we-have-lot-teachers-signed-who-really-need-your/

My Proof: Will be sent to the mods.

Sorry, had a minor household emergency. I'm back answering questions now.

I'm still here to answer questions, and likely will be for at least a while longer.

Sorry, it is extremely late. We'll get to more questions tomorrow. For now, goodnight.

Ok. I answered what questions remained. I may answer stragglers, but I cannot guarantee anything. Thank you all for participating!

Q:

Do you believe teachers should be paid more? if so, what is your reasoning behind it.

A:

Short answer: yes.

Here's a breakdown.

My salary is approximately $33,000/year.

  • 1440 hours: Actively teaching at school. This is what's in my contract.
  • 615 hours: Work outside of school. This includes lesson planning, correcting papers, planning and researching units, reading or re-reading texts and textbooks, etc.
  • 150 hours: Summer work. This includes planning for the new year and staying abreast of recent educational research.
  • 150 hours: Extracurricular activity work. I only have one and, because it is not a sport or a major activity, I do not get paid.

Amount spent out of my own pocket on my teaching duties: approximately $1000. This includes supplies for my classroom, educational materials, and materials for my extracurricular. I also end up providing snacks for kids who come to my class hungry because they have no food at home.

33,000 - 1,000 = 32,000 after taking out my own out-of-pocket expenses.

1,440 + 615 + 150 + 150 = 2,355 hours in a year.

32,000 divided by 2,355 = $13.59/hour. That's what I make. Before health insurance, union dues, taxes, etc.

My job is to give kids the tools that they need to succeed in life.

For perspective, I made about the same while working a middle-management retail job before becoming a teacher.


Q:

You should move to Ontario, Canada. 90k per year after something like 10 years in the union.

Do you think 90k is overpaid for a elementary or highschool teacher?

A:

Do I get poutine and season tickets to the Flames in my benefits package? (I'm only half kidding. I live and breathe hockey and poutine is delicious). No, I don't think that's overpaid. Teachers do important work and there's a lot of pressure, stress, and hours outside of school involved.


Q:

What do teachers need the most to help their students?

A:

*Smaller class sizes. My colleagues and I are facing classes of 40+. I teach Language Arts, and I cannot give constructive, solid feedback with that many students in a class. I can spot the errors in their papers, I know what they're doing wrong, but I need to have time to sit down and have a one-on-one to teach them how to fix it. The correcting workload is astronomical... an average of 40 kids times 5 classes equals 200 research papers. To really give good feedback, I would need to spend about 45 minutes with each paper. That's 150 hours. Where do I find the time to do that? We can't serve kids well when we're overloaded.

*Less red tape. Teachers don't get to choose the resources we receive for our classrooms. A chunk of money is earmarked for, say, science textbooks for every student, so the district purchases them. If you asked the science teachers, though, they might say they need to spend the money on just one classroom set of books, new lab equipment, and a portable Chromebook lab. Allocate a certain amount of money to a department and let the teachers decide how to spend it. We are the ones in the trenches; we know what we need to help our kids succeed.

*Less emphasis on standardized tests. Every child comes in to my classroom at a different level, and we are encouraged to "meet them where they're at." This includes differentiating and making accommodations so that our instruction and our assignments are more individually tailored to each student (which is also tough with large populations, by the way). We make some great progress during the year. I had a student jump from an elementary-grade reading level to a middle-grade reading level in one year. We were so proud! But when that student took the state assessment at the end of the year, she was not "at grade level" and, thus, was considered a failure. Then the school is lambasted in the press for its low scores. Not all students do well on tests, either; I have students that can write a brilliant paper and eloquently express their higher-level understanding of the material, but will break down on a test. We are constantly told that students and learning styles are different, and we teach to accommodate them; then we shove a standardized test in their face.

If this was a question about supplies: depends on the school, classroom, grade level, and teacher. My school is out of chairs for students to sit in. I wouldn't mind a few of those.


Q:

If I may piggyback off of this, I'd like to posit something that all teachers (in my experience) agree is a strong contributor to success, and yet it's rarely-to-never discussed: parental support. I'd say "home life," as that seems to be an incredibly strong determinant of success, but if we're being realistic about changeable factors, I'll focus on something a little more specific and reasonably changeable.

Let's say you need a student to stay after for extra help. A lot of students simply need one-on-one time to improve, especially if they have learning disorders that makes the classroom environment counterproductive. Well, seeing as kids are kids, not many will consistently and willingly stay after for extra help (or, as they see it, extra work). Parental support is crucial here, as there's only so much a teacher can do regarding matters outside of the 40 allotted minutes.

Let's say a student is misbehaving or is a general distraction. This not only affects his/her own work but the work of others too. It is entirely possible for that student to improve his/her behavior, but it often takes the support of a parental figure as well. The difference between a parent who defends the kid's misbehavior and one who works with the teacher to improve it is tremendous.

And then there's simply the matter of emphasizing the importance of education. If parents treat school cynically, similar to how one might treat a meaningless/soul-draining job, then their kids develop a similar sentiment toward education. In a parent-teacher conference, 99% of parents will play up the "school is so important" act, but it's not difficult to tell who has instilled in their children a sense of apathy. If you treat education (not even school, but education in general) with the sort of reverence and importance it deserves, students will follow suit.

Parental support.

A:

I agree 100%.


Q:

Does the multiple intelligence theory stand up in the real world?

A:

Yes, it does. I have luck teaching grammar and sentence structure in a very formulaic manner using math metaphors with my logical-mathematical kids, but my kinesthetic kids need to physically move clauses with sentence strips to grasp the concept that complex sentences can have different structures. I usually follow the visual/auditory/kinesthetic learning styles in my classroom, but keeping Gardner's theory in the back of my mind has helped me to reach some struggling students.


Q:

I guess my question doesn't really apply with the Reddit Gifts, but is an appropriate question for a teacher.

As a highschool student (junior in a few weeks) I'm considering teaching as my future field of employment. One issue I'm seeing is the ratio of my future tuition to the average teacher income. With most colleges asking for ~$20,000/year and making being able to make slightly more than that as a teacher is scaring me away.

So my questions are these (may be a bit personal/ignorant of me, so it's okay if you don't feel comfortable answering):

-How is your life style between you and SO based off of your college debt and current income? Is it a comfortable lifestyle?

-What is it teachers do in the summer to stay afloat?

-How bad are the hours compared to a cubicle job for your classroom?

A:
  1. I'll be honest: it's tight. We live in an apartment because our credit scores aren't good enough to get a home loan, thanks to all the college debt (and medical bills, living expenses, etc.) There's no economic mobility for us right now, and I don't know when there will be. We're not poverty-level... we enjoy our share of college sporting events, matinee movies (no one was keeping me away from Captain America 2), and Chipotle. But neither is it 100% financially secure.

  2. My salary is distributed over the whole calendar year, not just the school year. Some teachers take part-time jobs for extra income.

  3. I made a post in response to a user who asked if teachers deserve more pay; in that post, I break down the number of hours I work over a year. I spend much more time with my work than most cubicle-dwellers I know.

I realize that this all sounds discouraging. But let me tell you: even though we're not paid enough, even though we're not respected enough, I could not imagine a more fulfilling or rewarding job. I go to work every morning saying I GET to go to work, not I HAVE to. You will have the opportunity to help kids succeed who might otherwise fail, you will be able to watch minds grow and change and develop, and you will get to make a difference in this world. Yeah, it's tough and you have to make sacrifices. Sometimes I wish I'd stuck to a career path that would have given me a comfortable $60K salary and a nice suburban house. But I don't think I'd be as satisfied, to be quite honest.

If you're interested in education, I'd ask these same questions to your teachers-- especially in the content area you'd like to teach-- to get more opinions. Approach it the same way you did here (thank you for being respectful, by the way) and I'm sure they will be more than happy to provide answers.

Best of luck to you in the upcoming school year!


Q:

Are you represented by a labor union? If so, what do you think of your union or teacher's unions in general?

A:

I am represented by a union. I'm incredibly glad that I am. There have been several instances where the union has gone to bat for myself and other colleagues. It's thanks to them that I have the fair working conditions and the health benefits that I do.


Q:

You say that you teach Language Arts... Do you teach any "banned" books?

A:

I teach A Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, which has been challenged/banned in several schools.


Q:

I loved this reply! :) I'm a future language arts / foreign language teacher. I just wanted to let you know that you're awesome. I'm sure your students really appreciate that you actually care about their background rather than dismissing their experience and culture.

A:

It is too late now. I'll get to your question tomorrow. Thanks.


Q:

How do handle classroom bullying?

A:

I think it's important to explicitly teach your students the behaviors that you expect, and then model those behaviors.

In all of my syllabi, the school's bullying policy is at the top of my "Classroom Expectations" section. I tell them right away what the consequences are, and that my classroom is a no-tolerance zone for that.

When I see or hear it going on, I immediately take the offending student aside or send him/her out to the hallway to wait. Then, I have a conversation with that student about why what they were saying was inappropriate or hurtful. Sometimes, they honestly don't realize that their language or behavior was offensive; it's something they learned to say at home, and they don't think anything's wrong with it. If they are ready to personally apologize to the student whom they were bullying, they can rejoin class; the apology must be genuine, not facetious. If they are not ready to apologize, they are sent to our in-house detention room or to a principal. Before they can come back to class, they must be ready to apologize.

I think the most important thing is to use it as a teachable moment. If you just yell at a kid and tell them they're wrong, they don't learn anything. If you can make them understand /why/ they're wrong, then they've learned something. And that's just as important-- I might say more important-- than any Common Core standard.


Q:

What's your favorite kind of soup?

A:

French Onion. No, I'm not Sean Bean, so I won't go on for an hour about food.


Q:

Do you let the cheese settle to the top and only eat broth for awhile, then eat onions, bread and cheese with soup flavor like I do?

A:

I order it without the cheese. Too gluey and melty.


Q:

While I respect your opinion because you are a teacher, I am disappointed, because gluey and melty is the point.

A:

I respect that. We simply have different learning eating styles.


Q:

I'm a student education reform activist, and I'm interested in what role, if any, you believe students should have in education reform? What direction would you like to see the movement take?

A:

Just as teachers know what we need in order to teach effectively, students know what they need in order to learn effectively, and we need to respect them. I firmly believe they should have a voice. It's their education, after all.

To paraphrase a previous post, I think three things would drastically improve our schools:

*Smaller class sizes

*Letting teachers/departments have more control over where funds go

*Decreasing the focus on standardized testing

I am a big fan of Finland's model. In an ideal world, I'd love to see that here.


Q:

oh god, I was a problem child, I now notice how teachers used to put me isolated, damn.

A:

I have had the same experience as apostrotastrophe with the break room. I have amazing colleagues who are always working together for the benefit of the student.

Yes, we gripe a little bit here and there about students who are constantly disruptive, but it's the behavior we gripe about. Student confidentiality is a MUST, so when I'm having lunch with a teacher friend, it'll be something like "Ugh, I have a student who is CONSTANTLY blurting out in class and doesn't raise her hand. I've moved her in the seating chart three times. She can never stop talking during lecture time. She throws the entire class off... it makes it so difficult." Names aren't brought into the equation.

The great thing is that another colleague will overhear this conversation and say "Hey-- why don't you implement the three strikes rule? Give her three strikes and, on the third, she has to leave class for five minutes and fill out a slip at in-house detention before she can come back."

As the above poster said, it's far more constructive.

Of course, there are a handful teachers who are-- sadly-- mean to their students. They shouldn't be teaching.