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What Teachers REALLY Want
by Kathleen Carpenter

Ask teachers what they REALLY want and certainly the chorus will be, "More money!!" Right? Not really. A recent discussion in the Teachers.Net mailrings (e-mail discussion groups available at http://teachers.net/mailrings) centered on just that topic and many outside the profession may be surprised to learn that "more money" was far down on the list of what teachers wished for as they discussed what they REALLY WANT.

More respect and positive reinforcement for a job well done were mentioned most frequently. One teacher posted, "I think I do my job well and I take pride in what I do. I just wish the general community would give us a few pats on the back occasionally, even a thank you for what we do. Money is not the driving force in my career choice. I'd be doing a lot better [financially] in other fields, but to be recognized as the professional I am would make all the difference."

"I don't want a ticker tape parade every time I walk into the office," another educator explained. "But it becomes defeating when no one says, 'You did a great job on that grant you wrote. We're lucky to have you.'" He continued, "Heck, even when I worked at McDonalds as a kid, I had one manager who said, 'Hey, thanks for your hard work today!' every single day. That means a lot."

Administrative support came up frequently in the discussion, with trust an important component of that support. "Listen to our suggestions about what methods work with our kids. Trust us to know our own weaknesses and let us CHOOSE which workshops we need to attend," is what one educator proposed.

Another teacher asked to be trusted with the key to a nearby restroom to avoid having to travel a long distance through the building to access an unlocked lavatory. And, "I want to be able to access heat and air in my room when I choose to go in and work on my time on weekends and late at night just as any other professional with a Master's Degree would get! Try working in a room with the sun beating against the walls all day w/outside temps at 115!"

Some expressed the desire for more administrative support for dealing with student misbehavior. One pleaded, "When I say a student is having a rough day and needs to be removed for a while for the sake of the class, REMOVE the child! Bring back being sent to the office as a consequence for bad behavior."

One educator described the growing demand for extra-curricular involvement on the part of teachers, taking more time from educators' private lives to serve parent and community needs. "I want administrators to stop thinking of things for us to do at night. Hot chocolate night, Family Night, etc. We have enough to do with our [own] family responsibilities."

Also mentioned frequently was the wish for less paperwork and fewer committee meetings, allowing more time for preparation and teaching. Referred to by one educator as "all that useless tedium that is dumped on us just to fulfill some higher mucky muck's need to feel important," it was deemed busy work imposed upon teachers "just to facilitate someone else's job."

Some lamented the assigning to the school what used to be the family's responsibilities, cutting drastically into the time teachers can spend doing what they feel is their primary responsibility-teaching traditional subjects. "WHEN are we supposed to have time to teach reading, writing, math, social studies, music, art, computers, and science when we have to teach drug ed., alcohol ed., tobacco ed., AIDS ed., etc.???"

Expressing feelings of being overwhelmed by the pressure to cover more than "academics," one teacher posted, "I want to teach but I do not want to raise 24 children each year in addition to my own. The parents must take on their responsibility!!!!!"

One teacher summarized growing displeasure about the trend toward more standardized testing of students. She listed eleven tests she is required to administer each school year in her fourth grade classroom, several of which require hand scoring. This regimen includes the "Terra Nova for two and a half weeks in October."

Materials and facilities were deemed lacking by several teachers who took part in the e-mail group discussion. "I want a computer in my classroom that didn't come from the dinosaur age." "I wish I had access to a telephone during the school day." "I don't want my students to have to try to learn with the roof being re-tarred, a heater that doesn't work during winter, and temperatures indoors of 92 degrees in the spring and summer." And, "I don't want a school that looks like a Hooverville with 32 portables just to find one more place to cram the kids."

Then there was the money issue. It came up in two ways. Some teachers lamented feeling forced to spend their own money in order to provide what their students need and deserve for a quality classroom experience. Others wished for salaries more in line with what other professionals receive.

"I find appalling the amount of my own money I spend to teach the STATE STANDARDS!!!"

One parochial school teacher expressed satisfaction that "the parish is awesome about sending in odds and ends of craft supplies. But that doesn't mean I don't spend huge amounts of money during the year. My kindergarten class hasn't had any type of books bought for them in eleven years. Reading is done with books I have purchased."

On the salary issue there was general agreement that teachers are compared to other professions when the public wants to raise standards for teachers, "but when we try to use the same comparison in relation to salaries we aren't taken seriously."

One person stated she is considering leaving the profession because of the low salary she receives. "I am certified, teaching for five years and I now receive a salary of $20,000. It's not for money that I am in education, however I may have to leave due to unpaid bills and collection agencies."

In spite of the long list of wishes and laments, the discussion revealed an almost universally indomitable spirit and dedication, even when faced with very challenging obstacles. The following post by Becky, pulled from the discussion, summarizes that spirit.

  • I want school to be more important than video games and late night television.
  • I want school to be a safe place for all students and staff.
  • I want parents to read the newsletters I send home every week.
  • I want my students to come to school on time every day.
  • I want people to understand work doesn't end at 3:00 p.m. and that summers off mean a few weeks in July out of the classroom, providing I'm not taking any classes.
  • I want administration and school board members in my class to see what
  • I'm doing and trust me.
  • I want to spend more time with students and less time in committees.
  • I want to be treated like a professional.
  • I want to afford a new car.
  • I want the supplies necessary to teach the curriculum to come from the school, and not my checkbook.
  • I want my town to understand that cutting taxes to save 100 dollars a year hurts the students, not the staff.
  • I want the press to get my side of the story before printing negative information about my school.
  • I want the time to chew my food when I eat lunch.
  • I want to be remembered as the teacher who did everything she could, who taught Jane not only to write, but to think, hope and dream.
  • I want to continue loving teaching, and not turn bitter from neglect.
  • I don't want to pay for someone to take my fingerprints to prove I'm not harmful. Criminals don't have to pay, why should I?
  • I want to be proud of my profession.
  • I want to teach.
 

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