Why Teachers Are _Really_ Leaving the Profession

I caught a portion of an interview last night on NPR as I was in my truck, leaving Lowes.

I sat there for a moment, dumbfounded by what I was hearing and entirely outraged by the bullshit that Republican Wisconsin State Senator Glenn Grothman was spouting.

LYDEN: Last week, the Associated Press reported that nearly 5,000 Wisconsin teachers retired since the beginning of the year and that’s more than half of the number from 2010. It’s not a great way to start the year. Could the Republicans who passed this bill have done a better job of talking about it?

GROTHMAN: Well, I’m trying to talk about it right now. I will point out that at least one of the reasons why more teachers are retiring – we have heard anecdotal evidence that some of the worst teachers not waiting around for the inevitable and finally deciding it’s time to retire. And I think some of those teachers who shouldn’t have been there all along realized that without collective bargaining their time is up.

I was kind of riled up by this given that my wife is a former teacher (now an Learning Disabilities Teacher Consultant, but still works in the school system).  I’ve seen the dedication that she put into her work, I’ve seen the long hours grading papers and dealing with parents, I’ve seen results of her labor when parents stop her in stores years later and thank her for transforming her kids, I’ve seen parents specifically request to be placed into her class.

For all of this, she collects a relatively meager paycheck, but it’s her passion and it’s rewarding for her to be involved in the education of children — in one capacity or another.  The low salary is made up for, somewhat, by the benefits that she receives.  Today, she came home with news about our insurance premiums: we’re now required to pay about $280/mo. more for our health insurance plan because of changes enacted by Chris Christie and possibly the entire sum in a few years time.  To be clear, the sum of those premiums for a family of 3 is pretty much more than half of her monthly income — enough to pay the mortgage on a small house.

I don’t want to get into a long discussion on whether tax payers should or should not pay for the benefits of public employees, but at the end of the day, it is my belief that public employees are by-and-large hard working, middle class folk who provide valuable services to the taxpayers that are often hard to put a price tag on.  A good teacher can set a child on a path for success and help produce members of our society that contribute to our prosperity instead of being a drain on it.

But how can we possibly entice highly qualified candidates to these important jobs when as a society, we decide to strip these individuals of the benefits which largely make up for the otherwise less then illustrious labor of love?  Even those with a passion for teaching and helping transform kids will have to do a double take now and consider alternative career paths as we the movement against labor and the public sector continues to erode the middle class in America.

So I say to Glenn Grothman: the reason that teachers are retiring from the profession or quitting out-right is because society has created an environment where it’s become untenable to put in the long hours and dedication required to be a good teacher for the already low salaries.  As the benefits that used to make up for the low wages continue to be eroded, the financial calculus will surely force more teachers — especially the smartest and most qualified — to reconsider their career choices for more profitable alternatives.

Post script: I think this is another case of Republicans driving the public sector to fail (by creating a dis-incentive for the most qualified, most skilled applicants) so that they can later point to the failure of the public sector!  Well, no shit, Holmes!  If you set the system up for failure, of course it’ll fail.  Instead of the worst teachers leaving the profession, it’s the best teachers that will leave the profession for better paying opportunities because these individuals are the ones that have the highest qualifications, the highest levels of professional ethics, and the highest ability to translate their skills outside of the classroom.

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