The Teacher Myth – and what does that have to do with Brian Sandoval?

I crammed a lot into this post. I hope it’s worth your while.

Hooboy. So much willful ignorance out there, it isn’t even funny.

Humans are predisposed to glom onto anything that confirms their pre-held beliefs.

For example: Let’s talk about teachers. Boy oh boy, has it become fashionable to beat up on our “lazy” and “overpaid” teachers. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard something like the following, I’d be rich. 

Teachers are overpaid for their level of education. They get to teach with “just” a certificate. Plus, they get summers off. They only work from what, 8 in the morning until like, 3 in the afternoon? What are they grumbling about?

Let’s break it down, shall we?

They only work from what, 8 in the morning until like, 3 in the afternoon . . .  


It was not rare to see the majority of the teachers still in their classrooms at 5pm, planning, tutoring, counseling a troubled student, grading papers, coaching a student for a contest, typing up a college recommendation, preparing for the next day’s lessons.

Many of these teacher’s regular routine was running home only long enough to grab a quick supper before going back to the school to take tickets for a basketball game, or to work a fund raiser, or to teach an evening SAT prep course, or to help with the play or a music concert.

On top of these schedules, teachers are also required to attend numerous meetings and in-services, in addition to taking graduate courses to keep their certifications updated. This is all in addition to teaching approximately seven classes per day, and up to 150 or more students per day in their content areas. Teachers cannot grade papers or plan while they are teaching, so at the end of one of these days, they often have a few hours of grading and planning to then do before they go to sleep.

Plus, they get summers off.

Rough draft of a lesson plan.

Wrong again. Just because YOU as a student got two months away from the classroom, doesn’t mean your teachers were at summer camp too. Have you ever had to give a presentation? Even a short 15-30 minute one for a group at work. How much prep time did you put into your 30 minute presentation?   What if you have to give that same presentation for multiple groups over many years? You’d need to make sure your information is up-to-date so that the next time you make your presentation it’s fresh. None of that, once-the-presentation-is-in-the-can-you’re-all-set stuff. Now, imagine doing that 5 days a week, ten months a year.

The Myth of Having Summers Off

“So, you’re a teacher, huh?” says the umpteenth Joe Know-It-All. I know the tone, and I know what’s coming next: “Must be nice having summers off,” he sneers. I don’t know what mythical job this guy thinks I have, but I have never had a summer off.

And I’m not sure who these teachers are who are supposedly lying around all summer sipping sangrias without a thought of prepping for the year before them. But I’m not one of them. In fact, is there really a “them”?

Bottom line is that every year since entering teaching, I have seen some of the busiest summer months of my life.

This is for many reasons:

  • I work summer school. Hey, who doesn’t need the moolah? And it’s not just about the hours I spend with students; it’s also the hours I need to spend prepping for them. I develop the lesson plans and set up my learning environment for a whole new slew of students that I’ll have for only a month or so.
  • I attend or lead department and curriculum meetings scheduled during July and August.
  • I develop and improve the curriculum that may, or may not, have worked over the school year. Summer is the only chunk of time to reflect and tweak those lessons.
  • I build a library of new lessons, because, let’s face it, I sure as heck don’t have a lot of time to do that during a year packed full of high-energy, tightly paced, overscheduled days.
  • I learn the new technology or new curriculum programs I’ve been given. Once again, summer is the only time to learn them. Case in point: my interactive whiteboard. I received mine in the fall, right at the start of school. I have been learning it as I go, but what with that little full-time gig I have that’s called teaching, I have had time to explore only the tip of the iceberg. Summer will, hopefully, be my chance to revisit the training modules, explore the online assistance, create better flip charts, and further integrate the board.
  • I train new teachers.
  • I explore my own professional development. After all, those units also bump me along on the pay scale. And currently, my only option to get a raise is by spending my own money first, right?
  • I lick my wounds. It’s true. By the end of the year, teachers are limping toward “vacation.” And do the math: If you teach summer school, you have only the weekend between the end of school and the beginning of summer school to take a breath. By the end of summer school, you have only three weeks or so until the start of the new school year. And those weeks are filled moving your students’ desks from the pile in the middle of the room, putting up your bulletin boards, shoving shelves back into place, and planning, prepping, preparing, and scabbing over.

Much more at the link, and the comments section confirms this teacher’s experience. Go read.

They get to teach with “just” a certificate. 

That “certificate” requires at least a Bachelor’s degree and many credit hours of additional courses and student teaching.  Here is just a bit. For the full impact, click on the link and read it all.

All 50 States and the District of Columbia require public school teachers to be licensed. Licensure is not required for teachers in most private schools. [Bluelyon note: keep that in mind when someone starts making noises about vouchers to use tax dollars to send kids to private schools] Usually licensure is granted by the State Board of Education or a licensure advisory committee. Teachers may be licensed to teach the early childhood grades (usually preschool through grade 3); the elementary grades (grades 1 through 6 or 8); the middle grades (grades 5 through 8); a secondary-education subject area (usually grades 7 through 12); or a special subject, such as reading or music (usually grades kindergarten through 12).

Requirements for regular licenses to teach kindergarten through grade 12 vary by State. However, all States require general education teachers to have a bachelor’s degree and to have completed an approved teacher training program with a prescribed number of subject and education credits, as well as supervised practice teaching. Some States also require technology training and the attainment of a minimum grade point average. A number of States require that teachers obtain a master’s degree in education within a specified period after they begin teaching.

Almost all States require applicants for a teacher’s license to be tested for competency in basic skills, such as reading and writing, and in teaching. Almost all also require teachers to exhibit proficiency in their subject. Many school systems are presently moving toward implementing performance-based systems for licensure, which usually require teachers to demonstrate satisfactory teaching performance over an extended period in order to obtain a provisional license, in addition to passing an examination in their subject. Most States require teachers to complete a minimum number of hours of continuing education to renew their license. Many States have reciprocity agreements that make it easier for teachers licensed in one State to become licensed in another.

"The Age of the Milky Way" Teacher Workshop 2008

Teachers are overpaid for their level of education.

This is really where I laugh out loud. I’ve considered becoming a teacher. But in addition to the debt I would likely incur, just for schooling, what kind of pay would I be looking at after completing 5+ years of college education?  Understand that “median” means half of all teachers make less than these salaries for time served.

Compare that with say, an accountant with a Master’s Degree:

Compare your salary: Get a free Salary Report

Let’s break that down to an hourly rate, shall we?

Here’s a link showing starting salaries for teachers for all fifty states. In Nevada, the starting salary for a public school teacher is $27,957.   Given a forty hour work week, that averages out to $13.44 per hour. Before taxes.  I would have to take a substantial pay cut to become a teacher in Nevada. Oh yeah, there are health insurance benefits on top of that. But that’s not money in my pocket for making house or car payments, or for buying groceries, or clothes, or paying my utility bills, or phone, or buying gas, or paying for car insurance, etc.

And yet, teachers are the among people Brian Sandoval is asking to give up 5% of their pay, demanding that they pay 25% of the cost of their PERS contribution out of what remains, and when all is said and done, Brian Sandoval doesn’t guarantee that these sacrifices will allow them  to keep their jobs. And to add insult to injury, Sandoval insists that seniority should no longer be considered when determining lay-offs.

Sweetie brought home a poorly scanned copy of the letter Brian Sandoval sent to all of Nevada’s School Superintendents. I cannot find it online, so it is transcribed below:

Dear Superintendents:

          Last week in my State of the State Address, I outlined my vision for education reform and spoke frankly about my concerns for our children. I also unveiled a state budget that contains redutions to education spending. While neither of these messages is easy to hear, I continue to believe they go hand-in-hand. Major reforms are necessary to improve our schools. Budgetary contstraints dictate that we change the way we do business.

          As you know, the proposed Executive Budget reduces K-12 spending by 9.29 percent from the current Fiscal Year 2011 spending levels. I am sure that by now you have each calculated the level of impact on yoru respective districts; I hope you will approach these reductions in the categories as we have envisioned them:

  1. Salaries – Negotiating a 5 percent reduction for all employees.
  2. Benefits – Negotiating contract provisions that require all employees to share 25 percent of the cost of their PERS contribution.
  3. Operations – Additional reductions to operations, and, as a last resort, reductions in force.

         I recognize that the negotiated items will be difficult. I have also heard you say universally that you need support from the State at the negotiation table. I intend to provide it. The salary and benefit provisions I have proposed amount to nearly 70 percent of the total budget reductions; these provisions would also go a long way toward restoring parity between school district employees and state employees.

          My budget also contains a shift away from categorical spending to a Block Grant Program, and the implementation of a pilot program to spend $20 million in the second year of the biennium on a “Pay for Performance” Program. This week you will also meet with my staff to discuss how you would like to structure the Block Grant Program and “Pay for Performance” Programs. It is my intention that both bills ultimately reflect your recommendations. Another issue you have expressed is the desire for local control and flexibility in dealing with funding and other issues; these bills provide us the best opportunity to make this a reality. The Block Grant concept in particular is based on local control. When you meet to discuss these bills, staff from the Budget Office will also discuss our proplosl to used funds from certain districts debt service accounts to offset lost local revenue in the coming biennium.

          I hope the school districts also will be able to support much of the reform I have outlined. In the near future, three bills will be introduced by my office:

  • End teacher tenure, establish a four-tiered evaluation system, and declare that seniority should not be used in determining lay-offs.
  • End social promotion in the third grade based on reading CRT scores, require open enrollment, and make changes to school accountablity reports based on student growth.
  • Propose a Constitutional amendment allowing the Legislature to establish a voucher program based on student financial need.

          In addition, Senator Barbara Cegasvke will introduce a bill to create a Charter School Institute based on legislation introduced in 2009.

          I will continue to keep you apprised of budget conversations and the progress of our bill drafting. Many debates will take place and I am committed to bringing national figures like Michelle Rhee [BL: oh, gawd, no] and Jeb Bush [BL: make that double: oh, gawd, no] to our state to keep our conversations focused on students and the best practices of other jurisdictions. We will not always agree on the issues but I trust we can maintain a tone of civil discourse and cooperation in areas where we find agreement.


Brian Sandoval

CC: Nevada Association of School Boards

For in depth coverage of Michelle Rhee, check out Bob Somerby’s Daily Howler. In recent days, he’s begun a series about Michelle Rhee’s “miracle” in Baltimore (One, Two, Three, Four). But he has done extensive writing on her (just search his site using Rhee)

From Part Three:

At any rate, Rhee has boasted, bragged and bellowed about her success with 70 students whom she taught for two straight years, in their second- and third-grade years. If we can trust this study’s data, only 56 “two-year” third-graders were tested at Harlem Park that year—and their performance on the CTBS doesn’t begin to resemble the claim bruited by Rhee through the years.

How well did those 56 students perform? In reading, those 56 children achieved a “normal curve equivalent” of 45—the rough equivalent, the study says, of perhaps the 42nd percentile. In short: As a group, those 56 third-graders scored below the national norm. There is no sign that any significant number of kids scored at or above the 90th percentile. And although this UMBC study has some obvious shaky elements, might we make an observation—an observation which is blindingly obvious?

And this is who Brian Sandoval wants to bring in to “fix” our education system?

From Part Four:

Did Rhee believe her miracle tale? We have no way of knowing. Did she believe that second tall tale, in which “her outstanding success in the classroom earned her acclaim on Good Morning America and The Home Show, as well as in the Wall Street Journal and the Hartford Courant?” We can’t answer that question either. (That tale also was false.)

But one thing is abundantly clear, and it was clear in 2007: It’s very, very hard to believe that Michelle Rhee’s miracle tale is actually true—that anything like her ballyhooed miracle occurred at Harlem Park. And something else is abundantly clear, which explains why this nonsense matters:

Rhee’s tale has played a leading role in shaping current notions of “educational reform.” The “reform” ideas which our “journalists” pimp derive from Rhee’s sacred, false tale.

No, Rhee didn’t produce the miracle about which she has bragged, bellowed and boasted as she has climbed the corporate ladder, stuffing barrels of bucks in her pants and becoming a big, famous player. This may reflect somewhat badly on Rhee as a person—but many climbers “embellish” their resumes, as we all surely know.

But the more significant part of this tale is the way Rhee’s miracle tale has helped shape current ideas of “reform.”

[ . . . ]

Note what Rhee said about the reason for her vast success. She didn’t engineer that miracle because she was super-smart. More specifically, she didn’t engineer that miracle because she was “a great teacher.” She didn’t succeed because “she found unconventional but effective ways to teach reading and math,” the explanation Jay Mathews offered when he told Rhee’s miracle tale one month later. Sorry! In the tale that was told to Thomas, Rhee had produced her astounding results because she was willing to work hard. The key to Rhee’s success was “sweat,” Thomas quoted her saying.

The inexperienced teacher had simply worked hard! She had stood in front of those children “every single day;” while there, she’d been willing to “teach them!” This of course implies the claim—the ugly, simple-minded, remarkable claim—which lies at the heart of Rhee’s “reform” ideas:

Why do lovely, deserving, low-income kids lag behind national norms in the classroom? It happens because their teachers are lazy—too lazy to stand up and teach them! Because their teachers—who are “shitty,” as Rhee told Mathews—refuse to do their jobs!

Truly, that’s a remarkable claim, but the claim has a long provenance. For whatever reason, elites have always been drawn to this claim; this dates at least to the 1960s, when the nation’s movers and shakers began to wonder what could be done to improve inner-city schools. On Monday, we’ll offer a quick review of this history. For today, let’s reflect on the way this remarkable claim has affected ideas of “reform.”

Why don’t poverty children meet national norms? It’s because their teachers are lazy! This idea is remarkably simple-minded—but it makes life remarkably easy for a big public figure like Rhee. How sweet it is! As educational reformers, she and her colleagues don’t have to come up with “effective ways to teach reading and math;” they simply have to threaten the teachers! After all, those teachers would produce huge success if they’d simply get off their asses and teach, the way Rhee did, back in the day.

If public school teachers would just get to work, they’d produce miracles too!

What a life! Michelle Rhee’s simple-minded idea makes life easy for “educational experts” and for “education reformers.” The teachers already know what to do! All the “reformers” have to do is threaten them, fire and bribe them! This approach has lay at the heart of Rhee’s ministry, in which she has produced almost no ideas about how to succeed in the classroom.

America’s teachers just won’t do their jobs! Has a major movement ever been built on such a simple-minded idea? But Michelle Rhee’s simple-minded idea of reform has always been built on her miracle tale—a miracle tale in which she worked amazingly hard, a tale which never happened.

No, she didn’t produce those results. Why then have so many elites worked so hard to believe her?

And don’t even get me started on Jeb Bush.

Jeb Bush, when he was governor of Florida from 1999 to 2007, brought sweeping changes to his state’s public schools, using a recipe of supporting vouchers, enthusing about for-profit charter schools and developing aggressive testing and school grading systems.

Since leaving office, Bush’s education policies have spread beyond Florida. In state capitals across the country, numerous lawmakers say they are determined to follow the ambitious and often polarizing education blueprint fashioned by Bush, a Republican.

Bush himself has become a national spokesperson for privatizing education, promoting the same education elixir. Bush is now the leader of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, a national organization that seeks to explain and expand his Florida initiatives. To date, his foundation has worked with elected officials and organizations in at least 16 states. It was at Bush’s Washington, D.C., conference in November that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie declared war on his state’s teacher unions and where five state school heads forged joint plans borrowed from Bush.

Ironically, Bush’s home state’s education record isn’t so hot. While the state has made gains in 4th-grade math and reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the state’s 8th-grade scores lag behind national averages in math and are just slightly ahead in reading. Florida also lags behind national averages in high school graduation rates.

And, I’m outta here.

Got a house to clean, and Elton John in concert tonight.

8 thoughts on “The Teacher Myth – and what does that have to do with Brian Sandoval?

  1. One last question before you bolt, what is Florida’s ranking nationally? I am not a big Bush fan, they always get us into more wars and with lies to boot. Oh, and thank you for the long and very thought out post.


    1. Here’s something to look at(pdf):

      But the fact remains that other results documented in the assessment by Education Week in Florida’s latest ranking aren’t superlative. They are, rather, deeply disturbing.

      Three grades included in the report make the case:

      * Student achievement (scores on national standardized tests): D-minus.
      * Funding per student (compared to the national average): F.
      * College readiness: F.

      The assessment notes that Florida’s high-school graduation rate is 45th in the country and that the state ranks below the national average in the percentage of young adults with a degree or enrolled in college. Furthermore, studies conducted by Florida’s officials have found that more than half of students entering two-year or four-year colleges in Florida require remediation in mathematics, reading, and/or writing.


  2. Very well researched and documented. As the attack on education continues at the hands of Republicans, we need more info like this. Thank you.


  3. Great post. It’s good to see that you don’t have to be a teacher to notice the recent attacks on public education make little sense. It’s insulting and demeaning to call teachers underworked and overpaid. Why would we want to derail a profession that we absolutely rely on? We rely on teachers to treat our children well, so let’s make sure our children won’t ever respect them? That doesn’t make sense.
    It Just Got Interesting


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