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Old 11-14-2012, 03:44 PM   #1
johnjohn320
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Default The Hours Teachers Work, and other thoughts on American elementary education

I am a professional pianist, but like most musicians, only a certain percentage of my income comes from concertizing. Much of my work also involves teaching in some capacity: I teach several music courses at a University, and I hold a faculty position at a Performing Arts School teaching talented young pianists of varying ages and levels of development.

My sister is an elementary school teacher, as are some old acquaintances from high school and college. One thing I've often heard them repeat is how deceptively long the hours they work are; that the school day itself is but a fraction of the time they put into their jobs every day. They are also quick to remind the rest of us that no, there is no such thing as "summers off" for them, as they are still working in other capacities during those months to further their careers and abilities. Until the past few years, I always believed this. However, certain observations are trying to change my mind.

As part of my faculty job at the aforementioned Arts School, I make weekly trips to various elementary and middle schools in the area and around the state. I go there essentially to provide "after-school enrichment" programs to kids who, most often, have parents that are still at work and cannot be at home with them immediately after the school day. I teach piano lessons, give small concerts, play musical games, etc, with the kids. I enjoy it immensely. I have noticed however, that not once have I ever observed teachers staying in the building for more than an hour after the school day ends. Never. I pass many of them walking out as I walk in (which is mere minutes after the dismissal bell). I generally provide my services until 5:45 or 6 pm (3 hours after school gets out), and when I leave, there is never a single teacher or administrator left in the building. Indeed, the only living souls to be found on the premises by that time are myself, the kids I've been teaching, custodial staff, and the "after-care providers" (who are not themselves teachers at the school). The near-empty parking lot confirms that they aren't hiding in a tucked away conference room somewhere-they've left, meaning that their day at the office lasted from 8ish am (if they arrived somewhat early) until 3pm. Now, of course it's possible that every teacher at every school I've worked at simply brings mountains of work home with them in the evenings, but somehow that seems doubtful.

Now, about summers: My sister used to work summers, pursuing her graduate degree and occasionally working summer programs. However, she hasn't done this for years. Of the other elementary school teachers I know, very few maintain any sort of professional summer commitments, and seldom do those last all three months. For that matter, I haven't known any teachers to truly work very much over the 3-week winter breaks, spring breaks, etc.

It made me think back to my own elementary and high school education. I went to public schools, though "good" ones in a decent town, etc. Still, I took many classes with teachers who admitted that they themselves had only taught themselves the material from our textbook that previous summer. I took classes with teachers who spoke openly of their plans (in conversation with students who were expressing the same) to "do absolutely nothing" with their summer vacations. I had at least one teacher lecture us about how she'd rather be home playing with her own kids than being in that classroom with us.

So, it completely sounds like I'm teacher-bashing, which I don't intend to be, and I've no doubt I will receive replies here from elementary educators or their spouses correcting my own anecdotal evidence with their own (which is fair). Let me be clear here: I think teaching young children is an incredibly noble profession. I believe that education is one of the most, if not the most, important investments we can make as a nation. I feel that we should be paying our teachers well, providing incentives for some of the best and brightest to pursue the field of education as a profession. I just sometimes feel as though, based on my observations, along with our continually declining standing in the world elementary education-wise, that we've goofed this up somewhere along the way. To be frank, I don't feel that our best and brightest are teaching. With (of course) many, many exceptions, I feel that many of our teachers are not thrilled about their jobs, and it shows. Am I wrong? All thoughts welcome.
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Old 11-14-2012, 03:49 PM   #2
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My wife is a teacher, and a good one, and the myth of teacher's working long hours is just that a myth.
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Old 11-14-2012, 04:03 PM   #3
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My wife is a teacher, and a good one, and the myth of teacher's working long hours is just that a myth.
My girlfriend is a teacher, a good one, and works on lesson plans, grading, etc for a couple of hours after she gets home. Every day.

Not saying there aren't teachers that don't have to do work after they come home, and I'm not saying there aren't teachers that have it worse than my girlfriend. I think you're gonna find out, OP, that every teacher has a different load -- just like with every other profession.

That said, the one common complaint I see among most teachers is that parents and the students are getting worse. Kids act like asshats in class, and what happens when they get written up by the teach?

"Oh, my Johnny would never do something like that!"

If I acted like a douche in class and got in trouble for it? My parents put me in the doghouse. No questions.

Last edited by Ryun; 11-14-2012 at 04:05 PM.
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Old 11-14-2012, 04:03 PM   #4
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i couldn't imagine being a teacher. it would be like groundhog's day...every year teaching from the same textbook, same material, etc.
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Old 11-14-2012, 04:09 PM   #5
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I've never heard a teacher claim they don't get summers off (unless they were actually working at the school in the summer). Only that they don't get paid for it. They don't -- some schools pay or let you choose to be paid your ~9 month salary over a 12 month period but you have to actually work summer school to make close to a 12 month equivalent.

Also, I have never heard a teacher claim that they work long hours AT THE SCHOOL. Why would you do that when you can do your additional work at home?
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Old 11-14-2012, 04:14 PM   #6
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My girlfriend is a teacher, a good one, and works on lesson plans, grading, etc for a couple of hours after she gets home. Every day.

Not saying there aren't teachers that don't have to do work after they come home, and I'm not saying there aren't teachers that have it worse than my girlfriend. I think you're gonna find out, OP, that every teacher has a different load -- just like with every other profession.

That said, the one common complaint I see among most teachers is that parents and the students are getting worse. Kids act like asshats in class, and what happens when they get written up by the teach?

"Oh, my Johnny would never do something like that!"

If I acted like a douche in class and got in trouble for it? My parents put me in the doghouse. No questions.
You are correct, it does depend on the teacher and the subject matter (i.e. some subjects take less time to grade assignments/tests because they are well suited for multiple choice exams like math and science).

In any event, a couple of hours after class on average sounds like a reasonable estimate. However, my friends mom teaching music/drama/performing arts and is always complaining about the "long hours." Her teacher friends also complain that they stay until five, get home and have dinner, and then back to work until 9 or 10...yeah right. If you need 5-6 hours EVERYDAY to prepare and grade, you're not doing it right.
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Old 11-14-2012, 04:14 PM   #7
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My girlfriend is a teacher, a good one, and works on lesson plans, grading, etc for a couple of hours after she gets home. Every day.
I think a lot of teachers just have OCD and do a lot of busy work and don't work very efficiently.

Now, my wife is a math teacher, and the lessons don't change from year to year so I don't think she does much lesson planning.

Also she has a lot of "prep" time during the day, doesn't teach her first class until 9:30, and school gets out at 3:30, so when you exclude lunch time, she teaches like 5 hours a day. another 2-3 hours or so for "prep" grading papers, etc... and she doesn't have a lot of work to bring home.

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Old 11-14-2012, 04:16 PM   #8
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My wife is a teacher, and a good one, and the myth of teacher's working long hours is just that a myth.
Right on.

It is an isn't a myth. The first year or two you teach, especially a new subject, you WILL be working hard and long hours. Why? As a teacher you have to know the material well enough to teach it to others. As well as develop tests, lessons, and assignments. Usually. I say that because many places have even all THAT part already done for teachers. It's all standardized now in many places. So as a teacher all you need to know is how to answer questions from students during the course of a lesson while teaching. Which means as a teacher you need to have studied the material before hand.

Once you KNOW the material well enough before hand to teach and field any questions on a subject then you are ready to teach indefinitely upon that subject. Of course there are going to be minor changes to the material over the years as well as book versions which may change lesson plans up some.

But as a whole, if you know the subject, have your lessons planned out well, have all your tests and assignments ready to go, then the ONLY thing you spend time on while teaching is the time spent in class and the time grading papers. That's it. Even time spent grading papers can be delegated to teacher aids, student teachers, and others. Then the occasional PTA meeting and staff meetings are done as well, but all professional jobs have something similar to that as well.

The biggest problem with being a teacher is babysitting the bad apples. That's where the stress from their environment mostly comes from. Or from the very YOUNG grades, like kinder through 3rd grade. Kids are more interested in being kids at that age than learning as well as typically act upon those urges more. So time spent during a school day for a particularly stressful class environment (as in a class with a lot of unruly kids) can feel like a LONG ass day.


As a whole, the myth that teachers spend far more time being a teacher than the normal classroom hours is just that. A myth.
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Old 11-14-2012, 04:29 PM   #9
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Now, my wife is a math teacher, and the lessons don't change from year to year so I don't think she does much lesson planning.
I had a feeling your wife's lesson plans were fairly static but I didn't want to make any assumptions. My girlfriend teaches science and has been teaching for about 4 years now. Every year, she's had to teach new curriculum. She's certified for general science, biology, chemistry, and environmental science so they like to switch her around.

She is a bit OCD sometimes though.

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Old 11-14-2012, 04:40 PM   #10
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I think it will depend a lot on the grade and subject matter of the teachings.

I'd imagine for example, high school English teachers probably have hundreds of pages of papers to read and grade every week.

High school physics or math teachers have many problems to grade.

Also, while lesson plans may be somewhat standardized, they really need to conform to the needs of the class, so, that Physics AP class may take a LOT of extra planning for each lab or each session.

Then, there's also parent teacher conferences, teachers having to deal with admins, and other occasional after hours or before hours obligations.

In General, I think most teachers probably put in 2000 hours or less in a year, but, I am certain a large number of middle and high school teachers put in a LOT more hours.
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Old 11-14-2012, 04:49 PM   #11
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I think it will depend a lot on the grade and subject matter of the teachings.

I'd imagine for example, high school English teachers probably have hundreds of pages of papers to read and grade every week.

High school physics or math teachers have many problems to grade.

Also, while lesson plans may be somewhat standardized, they really need to conform to the needs of the class, so, that Physics AP class may take a LOT of extra planning for each lab or each session.

Then, there's also parent teacher conferences, teachers having to deal with admins, and other occasional after hours or before hours obligations.

In General, I think most teachers probably put in 2000 hours or less in a year, but, I am certain a large number of middle and high school teachers put in a LOT more hours.


In many school districts teachers are given prep time for all those things during their contract hours. It's not like they can just make teachers work longer, they sign contracts and all those things have to fall within those hours so they can't just keep teachers late etc.

Prep time however on their own outside of their contractual obligations are a different matter and during testing/end of school year the hours are pretty bad.

Teachers put up with a lot of shit, especially with kids and how horrid parents are today. That is a different topic and I don't want to sidetrack too much from what the OP stated, but of all the shit they go through hours and the amount of time they actually work in a given year are hardly bad compared to every other profession out there. Working a few weeks of maybe long hours out of the year and only working 8 months out of the year isn't too damn bad.
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Old 11-14-2012, 04:57 PM   #12
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I think it will depend a lot on the grade and subject matter of the teachings.

I'd imagine for example, high school English teachers probably have hundreds of pages of papers to read and grade every week.

High school physics or math teachers have many problems to grade.

Also, while lesson plans may be somewhat standardized, they really need to conform to the needs of the class, so, that Physics AP class may take a LOT of extra planning for each lab or each session.

Then, there's also parent teacher conferences, teachers having to deal with admins, and other occasional after hours or before hours obligations.

In General, I think most teachers probably put in 2000 hours or less in a year, but, I am certain a large number of middle and high school teachers put in a LOT more hours.

Agreed with English but I would imagine grading physics and math problems go pretty fast after you have seen about five of them...there really is one right answer in most cases. I remember my AP Physics class had 20 students and each of our tests were 7-10 questions (not multiple choice)...I can't imagine that taking more than a couple of minutes per test once the teacher know what to look for.

As far as planning goes, it may be tough for the first year or two but then it's all the same year after year. The College Boards determines the subject matters to be covered on the AP exam so it's no big secret.

The issue about other obligations is present in most other jobs...I have to attend calendar meeting, client meets, training seminars, etc...it's part of the job. There is nothing that makes it unique to the teaching profession.
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Old 11-14-2012, 04:58 PM   #13
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My girlfriend is a teacher, a good one, and works on lesson plans, grading, etc for a couple of hours after she gets home. Every day.
.
If that's the case, then she's a fairly new teacher.

Teachers with more than a couple years under their belt already have their entire lesson plan finished - they use the previous one with a few tweaks. Likewise, experienced teachers know how to create time in their day to do a large part of their grading during the day.

How do I know? Because I work very closely with 5 teacher who are all top-notch. It's just a matter of organization and experience. Oh... and they absolutely love their summers off, and anyone who tells you they don't get summers off is lying. The bad teachers do even less work.

The flip side of that is that teachers don't get to take vacation during the year when they need it. Which would suck....

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Old 11-14-2012, 05:09 PM   #14
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I think it will depend a lot on the grade and subject matter of the teachings.

I'd imagine for example, high school English teachers probably have hundreds of pages of papers to read and grade every week.

High school physics or math teachers have many problems to grade.

Also, while lesson plans may be somewhat standardized, they really need to conform to the needs of the class, so, that Physics AP class may take a LOT of extra planning for each lab or each session.

Then, there's also parent teacher conferences, teachers having to deal with admins, and other occasional after hours or before hours obligations.

In General, I think most teachers probably put in 2000 hours or less in a year, but, I am certain a large number of middle and high school teachers put in a LOT more hours.

Only the teachers that want to make it harder on themselves or ENJOY spending more time on their job are going to. I know several programmers that work 80+ a week because they rather do that than anything else. However, they complain like old sailors as if they are doing it because they have a whip lash at their back or something despite that not being the case. They are just anti-socials that rather spend time at work than anywhere else and complain loudly otherwise to make it not seem so.

I've known College Major English teachers that hardly every spend much time outside the class on their job. Hell, I was drinking buds with one from UTSA here. Dude was a bit of a womanizer though and liked to smoke a bit as well. Not talking cigs here. Still he was an English teacher with tenure at a major school on a "subject" that grades written papers more often than multiple choice style work. Trust me, he didn't miss happy hour at the bar much while I knew him.

All I'm saying is that teaching does NOT require more hours devoted to it outside any other major profession. Anyone telling you that is lying, in their first year or two teaching, or having to deal with more miscreants than students. The latter are glorified babysitters instead of teachers though.
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Old 11-14-2012, 05:54 PM   #15
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That said, the one common complaint I see among most teachers is that parents and the students are getting worse. Kids act like asshats in class, and what happens when they get written up by the teach?

"Oh, my Johnny would never do something like that!"
Would a nanny cam in the classroom (run by the teacher) be an option?
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Old 11-14-2012, 06:16 PM   #16
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I think a lot of teachers just have OCD and do a lot of busy work and don't work very efficiently.

Now, my wife is a math teacher, and the lessons don't change from year to year so I don't think she does much lesson planning.

Also she has a lot of "prep" time during the day, doesn't teach her first class until 9:30, and school gets out at 3:30, so when you exclude lunch time, she teaches like 5 hours a day. another 2-3 hours or so for "prep" grading papers, etc... and she doesn't have a lot of work to bring home.
My wife is a teacher. Her 3rd grade students scored very well on the state standardized testing. The principal... having a 4th grade with weak scores moved her up one grade. So now she has to work everynight on new lesson plans. But the material is only slightly more advanced you say... but she is required to have a lesson plan written out that follows state standards. So all the work she did last year after getting moved up from 2nd grade is now filed away in some PDF's. She gets 20 minutes for lunch. her planning period is barely 40 minutes and because of her results last year the principal expects her to mentor the other teachers. So her planning period is usually interupted. There are no teaching assistants and has no time to enter grades into the parent accessible grade book. So she has to do that at night.

So when discussing whether teachers have it rough... YMMV depending on the teacher and school district.
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Old 11-14-2012, 06:31 PM   #17
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My wife is a teacher. Her 3rd grade students scored very well on the state standardized testing. The principal... having a 4th grade with weak scores moved her up one grade. So now she has to work everynight on new lesson plans. But the material is only slightly more advanced you say... but she is required to have a lesson plan written out that follows state standards. So all the work she did last year after getting moved up from 2nd grade is now filed away in some PDF's. She gets 20 minutes for lunch. her planning period is barely 40 minutes and because of her results last year the principal expects her to mentor the other teachers. So her planning period is usually interupted. There are no teaching assistants and has no time to enter grades into the parent accessible grade book. So she has to do that at night.

So when discussing whether teachers have it rough... YMMV depending on the teacher and school district.
Of course that's always going to be a huge factor but do you really think she is going to have it nearly as tough when she teaches 4th grade next year? or the year after that? My gripe with teachers (and I say this with the disclaimer that I'm a defense attorney who defends school districts in employment cases) is that they act like the challenges they face is exclusive to their field.

I'll give you an example: 85% of my work revolves about employment and labor litigation. However, I recently started getting cases from school districts regarding Title II and Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Acts (essentially equal access based on handicaps). These are highly technical cases that are determined by how steep a ramp is or how low a bathroom sink is. It easily took me twice as long to do any comparable tasks in the arena as compared to the employment context...but now that I'm better acclimated, it's taking much less time (still more though).

I'm sure a lot of other people can share similar experiences regarding their own fields/positions.
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Old 11-14-2012, 06:44 PM   #18
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Complete myth -

The most difficult years are your first few years teaching as you have to develop a lesson plan - after that you generally just tweak it as you have it all figured out.

Grading papers at the elementary level is often done by parental volunteers M/C Tests are usually graded by TA's in the HS level.

You have breaks during the day, you get a massive amount of holiday, great benefits, protected by the Union.

Once you have your Masters - you are done - no need for more schooling other than the occasional refresher class of what 40-hrs of continuing ed a year?

Veterans Day, Columbus Day - Long Thanksgiving break, 2-weeks Xmas, 1 week Winter Break, 1-week Spring break + sick days + PTO days.

Rough Life - if you take number of hours worked per year and divide by their wage I guarantee its eye opening and might surprising for most folks.


Those of us who are not teachers earn a salary, are required to work a ton of OT, get 3-weeks vacation a year, required to do 80-hrs of Continuing ed every two years no on Company time and dont do as much bitching as teachers.

We all need to Unionize.
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Old 11-14-2012, 07:00 PM   #19
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Agreed with English but I would imagine grading physics and math problems go pretty fast after you have seen about five of them...there really is one right answer in most cases. I remember my AP Physics class had 20 students and each of our tests were 7-10 questions (not multiple choice)...I can't imagine that taking more than a couple of minutes per test once the teacher know what to look for.

As far as planning goes, it may be tough for the first year or two but then it's all the same year after year. The College Boards determines the subject matters to be covered on the AP exam so it's no big secret.

The issue about other obligations is present in most other jobs...I have to attend calendar meeting, client meets, training seminars, etc...it's part of the job. There is nothing that makes it unique to the teaching profession.
The amount of time varies immensely, particularly if a student is to receive partial credit. Imagine just one problem from a calculus exam is to find the length of the curve from x=1 to x=2 on the curve f(x)=x^2 by hand. I can glance at the final answer - perfect! Next! If that was the only problem on a quiz, and every student gets that problem correct, then it would take me about 1 minute to grade an entire class. However, if a student makes an error on, oh, about the 1st line, it might take 5 minutes just to grade that one problem. edit: p.s., that's a fun problem to do by hand with no end table formulas - just the most basic integral formulas and techniques.

Ditto geometry proofs. I tell the kids, "just stick a 1 in there and call it angle 1, don't waste your time with '<DFE" (Particularly since in a more complicated shape, any one particular angle may be able to be named in a dozen different ways correctly - it's easier on them, and MUCH easier on me to see at a glance where they're talking about.) But no, after spending a couple of days making sure they all realize that the middle letter (when you use three letters) is the vertex, they insist on torturing me with their new found knowledge over and over and over. A perfect geometry proof might take 30 seconds to look at. A proof worth 8 points out of 10 might take a minute. A proof worth 5 points (following a rubric) might take 3 minutes, and then the time goes down again (0's are the easiest to grade, though I'm glad they're rare.) I gave two geometry classes, same size classes (within 1 student) the same test last Thursday. One class took a hair over an hour to correct. The other class to almost 2 1/2 hours to correct - a one hour difference due to different ability levels of the students. *I don't just put a check mark, I leave comments all over the place on exams. Sometimes, when a student gets a problem correct the lonnnnnnng way, I might show the solution a much shorter way. E.g., a recent trig identity test in pre-calculus, one somewhat difficult question could be solved quickly (2 lines) by using one particular trick - or, as one student did it - it might take as many as 20 lines, each of which I have to check for correctness. Amazing how well students can and will hide that they don't know how to do a problem, but know the answer - they work forward & backwards, and meet in the middle. Often, there are 2 or 3 errors that cancel each other out.

Physics?? Those are pretty easy to correct. Maybe 5-10 minutes per exam, tops.

We team grade (requirement) the state exams. A group of 4 teachers (several of who don't want to be there a minute longer than necessary) typically take about 3-4 hours to grade about a dozen to 15 problems for 80 students. That's 16 man hours for 1200 problems, a little better than 1 minute per problem.

It would be a lot quicker if we approached grading with an "I don't give a shit, I just want to get this over with as quickly as possible. That doesn't look perfectly the way I showed them, so I'll mark it wrong without considering what the student actually did."
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Old 11-14-2012, 07:28 PM   #20
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and I'm not saying that teaching is easy, or they don't have to put up with a lot of shit, because they do. My wife is in high school and her students are pretty bad, and it's not an easy job. But it's not trail-blazing in the old west either.

It's a job, she's compensated pretty well for it. It offers a lot of security, and all in all is a fair deal. But she works about a 40 hour work week, sometimes less, sometimes more.

that being said, it does drive me (and her) nuts when people put teachers up on pedestals and lavish so much praise on them.
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Old 11-14-2012, 07:32 PM   #21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jadow View Post
and I'm not saying that teaching is easy, or they don't have to put up with a lot of shit, because they do. My wife is in high school and her students are pretty bad, and it's not an easy job. But it's not trail-blazing in the old west either.

It's a job, she's compensated pretty well for it. It offers a lot of security, and all in all is a fair deal. But she works about a 40 hour work week, sometimes less, sometimes more.

that being said, it does drive me (and her) nuts when people put teachers up on pedestals and lavish so much praise on them.
I wish my wife had those type of benefits.

Also: http://forums.anandtech.com/showthread.php?t=2185449
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Old 11-14-2012, 07:39 PM   #22
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My wife is on her second year of teaching, and she works about 11 hours a day right now. Mainly because she still has to jump through some hoops with the school administration to ensure that she's good at the job and so on. Once she irons out her lesson plans, and is no longer being asked to do extra lesson plans and stuff to show to the Principal things will calm down a lot.
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Old 11-14-2012, 07:44 PM   #23
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teaching is definitely something that gets easier and pays a lot more over time.

My wife is in her 9th year, got her masters, and is making around 55k per year (this includes summer school that she teaches for about 6 weeks in summer).

When I first met her she was in her 5th year teaching and making mid 30's in salary, but a few years + masters salary bump, really pumped up her earnings.
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Old 11-14-2012, 07:49 PM   #24
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It gets easier if you teach the same thing. But the reality in a lot of places is that you get your classes shifted around with no say, or state/district requirements change so often (in conjunction w/ the previous scenario) that you never really settle into a groove. I suspect Math is slightly more immune to these factors than other subjects, but effective math teachers are at a premium anyway so there's no sense in arguing they deserve less.
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Old 11-14-2012, 07:50 PM   #25
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Like any job, it depends. You have some that will only do the minimum and other's that put in the time and effort. School system is also a big factor.

My friend is a high school English teach in a very competitive school system. Between classes, she has to monitor the hallways or cafeteria. After school, she meets with students and at night she meets with parents, some who can't believe Johnny only received an A- and won't get into Harvard without the A. Some of these parents are very confrontational and abusive. Then after all of that, she's grading papers, writing up individual student reports for parents, etc...

I'm sure there are school systems where parents don't care and teachers who spend most of their time trying to get their students to behave.

In the corporate work place, you have folks that are highly paid that don't do crap and coworkers who bust their asses.
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