Family lured Jerrianne and her husband to South Milwaukee in 2002 from Southern California where she worked as, first, a journalist, then, as a court information officer. She now stays busy with media-relations consulting, playing with her three grandchildren (part of the lure), writing, discovering her new environs, and hoping her garden will produce before the first fall frost.
I can't get that electrician out of my mind. He was so incensed at last week's School Board meeting.
Shameful, he said, that South Milwaukee teachers, on average, make more than the average income of South Milwaukeeans. Shameful that the School Board had signed a new contract with teachers.
I don't remember all the stats he reeled off, backed up with proof, he said, as he waved a sheaf of papers of god knows what along with his assertions. But the upshot was that the School District was paying its teachers way too much in relation to other school districts in the the state. Nevermind that South Milwaukee students' high achievement rates reflect the high quality of teachers the district hires. Or maybe the electrician puts no value on high-achieving students. Warehousing kids to keep them out of parents' hair during the day is OK?
Now, I really, really respect the work electricians do. They and plumbers and roofers do stuff I could and would never, never do or be able to do.
Neither would I be able to do what a teacher does. Even a kindergarten teacher. Or make that, most especially a kindergarten teacher. I've spend time in a kindergarten classroom--as a visitor. Believe me, I would last about 10 minutes if I had to be in charge of just wrangling a classroom of those children--adorable as they are--let alone actually have to teach them something.
But that's not the half of it when it comes to what someone has to do to be a teacher.
Something else that's not the half of it, but is a huge deal is the money they have to spend become and continue to be teachers. Tons of money.
With all due respect to the electrician, the pricetag on the first house he bought, assuming he's bought a house, was more than likely pretty close to the pricetag of a seasoned, skilled teacher's education.
Going to college for four years to earn a bachelor's degree costs about $30,000. And that's at a state school, not a private or prestigious ivy-league variety. And that doesn't count what they might have earned had they worked full-time instead of going to school during those four years. (Although some do hold jobs -- either part or fulltime, to either support their families or pay for their college or both.) And that doesn't count the interest they have to pay if they had to take out a student loan.
But just getting a college degree doesn't qualify someone to be a public school teacher. A private school teacher, perhaps, but not a public school teacher. Public school teachers must be credentialed. That requires more schooling. No matter how much education the aspiring teacher has already had.
My brother attended two years of college at a small exceptionally good liberal arts college. Then he attended the U.S. Naval Academy for four years and graduated as a naval officer. During his 20-year naval career, he earned two master's degrees, one from Pennsylvania State University, the other from the University of Nebraska. After retiring from the Navy, he decided to try his hand at teaching physics at a public high school. He managed to get a provisional teaching certificate on condition that he complete the requirements needed for official certification. It took him two years to complete the coursework, all the while he taught his high school classes. He said during that time his life consisted solely of teaching, grading papers, preparing lesson plans, studying for his certification courses, going to class (the ones he was taking in addition to those he was teaching), eating and getting about half the sleep he needed. In other words, all that fantastic education he got at four excellent schools wasn't good enough for him to be a public school teacher.
Parents of today's students expect, nay demand, good, competent, exceptional teachers. So do school boards and taxpayers. So teachers go back to school and earn master's degrees. The cost of a master's degree in education at a state school is about $15,000.
OK, my electrician friend, the excellent, well-educated teacher you demand has spent about $45,000 on her/his education. That just about equals the average pay a Wisconsin teacher earns in an entire year, which is $46,390 and is almost $20,000 more than s/he will earn his/her first year as a teacher. That's average, meaning its the average of those who've been at it for several years and who have earned--paid for--advanced degrees with beginning for teachers just starting out. The starting salary of a teacher is $25,222 in Wisconsin, which is 49th in the nation--already right down there with Mississippi.
And that $45,000 doesn't include the cost of the coursework and application fee for state certification. Neither does that include the continuing education needed to keep her/his certification current.
Nor does that include the countless unreimbursed and unreimbursable dollars teachers spend out of their own pockets every year on classroom equipment and supplies that their school either can't or won't provide.
My conservative guess is that a teacher invests a good $50,000 into being a teacher. And an electrician?
I'll have to check into what's required for a person to get a state license to be an electrician and what the application fee is for that license. But I know for a certainty that whatever training is involved, it doesn't take four years dedicated to attending classes fulltime. Nor does that training cost a minimum of $30,000.
And we won't even get in to the myth of teachers working only six hours a day and getting three months off during the summer. I'll save that and what a typical day of my sister-in-law, who taught elementary school, was like. Hint: she got no morning or afternoon breaks, so had to arrange a mutual-classroom-watch agreement with a teacher in a neighboring classroom, who also got no morning or afternoon breaks, to watch each other's classrooms in addition to their own a couple of times during the school day so they could each go to the restroom. And the half-hour she got for lunch was often consumed by meetings with parents who either wanted to or could only meet during the noon hour.
But for the real story of what teachers truly make, well, this guy can tell you about that a whole lot better than I can: