What Do Teachers Mean By “We’re Professionals!”?

Scratch any discussion with or about teachers, and sooner or later you’ll come across some variation of:

“We’re professionals, and we deserve to be treated and paid like we are!”

So what exactly do they mean by “we are professionals”?  Especially when the statement is meant to cut off debate.

I can think of one way teachers are not professionals: unions.  Professionals, as traditionally understood,  do not form trade unions. Professional associations, lobbying organizations, yes.  Trade unions, no. To me, that alone voids any argument based on “we’re professionals”.

(And yes, I know that not every state allows closed shops.  But does anyone doubt that teachers in those states would form a union in a nanosecond if they were allowed to?)

Let’s ponder this. Maybe they mean they’ve had years of specialized training. Well, so has a master carpenter, or a master mason. I don’t think they mean to be compared to these tradesmen. Scratch this one.

Perhaps they mean that since their jobs require a college degree, that automatically makes them “professionals”. I think we’re getting a little closer here. A college degree has the aura of respectability and being the ticket to the good life.

Except for the fact that in 21st century America, the college degree is the equivalent of a high-school diploma 50 years ago: certification of basic literacy.  There are many companies where receptionists and file clerks are required to have a 4-year degree.  This can’t be it, not really.  But we’re on the right path now, I think.

I turned to the source, as were.  I asked an exceptional teacher was his colleagues mean when they say “we are professionals”.  His thought is that teachers are put in a leadership role right at the start of their careers, and are not prepared for the unavoidable criticisms.  They then feel they’re being treated unprofessionally.  He also cites increased workloads caused by federal and state mandates with no commensurate increase in pay.

I feel I’ve been going in circles with this question.  Perhaps it boils down to “what is a professional in today’s society?”  Is a professional simply a white-collar worker with a four-year degree?  And if so, why is he entitled to greater respect and courtesy member skilled tradesman?

If this case, the teachers need to come to grips with reality: a degree in “education” earns no respect, largely because of how schools of education select and train their students.  We will take a look at that in the next article.

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Hard Truths: On Our Teachers

I’ve posted a number of items on Facebook, LinkedIn, etc., on what I call “hard truths.”  Generally these have to do with education and policies surrounding our schools.  The most recent items concern how we, as a society, select and train our teachers.  They run counter to these commonly accepted beliefs:

  1. Teachers forgo more lucrative careers or positions to serve the community by educating our children.
  2. Teachers, especially in secondary schools, are masters of the subjects they teach.
  3. Teachers are professionals, on a par with doctors, lawyers, and others in the professions, traditionally understood.
  4. Advanced degrees in education equate to better, more effective teachers.
  5. The certification process for teachers is rigorous, and insures that only highly qualified candidates become teachers.  (In other words, “national board certification” is a hallmark of competence, even excellence.)

Over the next few articles, I will examine each of these “myths” and compare them to the reality, or hard truth, behind each.

Disclaimer:  I will be discussing teachers in the aggregate, focusing on the “fat part” of the normal distribution.  There will always be exceptional teachers, and my kids have had their share.  We call them “exceptional” because they are the exceptions.  I’m going to talk about those generally within one standard distribution of the mean.  In other words, the majority of teachers.  Let’s be adults; this isn’t Lake Wobegon where “all the teachers are above average.”

Hard truths.

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57% Increase? You’ve Gotta Be Kidding!

57%.  That’s the number making my jaw drop.

My daughter is thinking about going to NC State.  I saw a link in the NY Times website to a brief profile of NC State. So I clicked on it.  While the profile hasn’t been updated in quite a while (not since 2008, I’d guess), it did show the “Tuition and Fees” for 2008: $5,274 for a North Carolina resident.

I then made the mistake of checking the tuition and fees for A.D. 2013: $8,296.

If my arithmetic is correct (and I know it is), that’s an increase of 57.3% over the past 5 years! The increase in the CPI over those same 5 five years was 8.2%.  The tuition at NCSU increased 7 times the rate of inflation!  (If the tuition merely matched the overall inflation rate, it would be $5,706 for 2013-2014.)

How can this rise possibly be justified? Is any of the following remotely true?

  • Is the economy 57% better in than in 2008?
  • Are 57% more students being graduated than in 2008?
  • Are 57% more graduates finding jobs (and if so, are those job in the fields they studied, or are they working at Starbucks)?
  • Are starting salaries for graduates 57% higher than in 2008?
  • Are students learning 57% more than in 2008?
  • Is the average NC State parent earning 57% more than in 2008?
  • Would a recent graduate be willing to pay 57% more for the education he or she received?

I think we can agree that the answer to all these questions is a resounding “No”.  So how can this be justified, or at least explained?  I have some theories, none of them flattering to the UNC administration or our governments. That’s a topic for another rant.

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On Chronic Pain

Here’s the thing you need to know: the pain never really goes away.  It may be muted, submerged under the Tramadol or other pain medication.  It may be a “good” day, and the pain is just at the edge of your consciousness, just in your peripheral vision.  You don’t always see it, but it’s there.

You may look “normal” and completely functional.  Until you lift a book off the desk and wince at the throbbing in your hands.  Or you cringe when someone shakes your hand.  Or they hear the crack of your joints in the meeting when you pick up a marker.

And all the time your pain, your constant companion, is right beside you.

You wish the condition were more visible, more obvious.  But the pain is internal, not external.  You don’t get to turn it off.  The pain may shift from a throbbing ache to a burning in the joints, and then to a strangling tightness.  Or it may only be there when you move.  But you can’t turn it off.

All the pain medications, all NSAIDS and the DMARDS, all they do is help turn it down.  They help keep you functional, working and feeling like your old self, before you had to ask your son to open the door because you can no longer turn the knob.  Before you volunteered to do the dishes every night because you get a few precious moments of relief in the hot water.  But the medications wear off, or you can’t take a large enough dose because you have to drive to the office, and that’s when you know your companion is still there, no matter what you do.

Your companion robs you of your rest.  Most nights are a bit uncomfortable, just enough so you’re on the edge of waking.  But turning over some nights causes a jolt of pain that makes you wake with a gasp.  You then face a choice: take the maximum dose of pain medication, get a semi-drugged sleep, and work through a fog the next day.  Or go without the medication, get no sleep at all, and work through a fog next day.

Even if you get some rest, the pain brings fatigue, crushing at times.  You know when a flare-up is coming by the complete, bone deep weariness, where you don’t have the strength to get up.  But you need to move, to live, so you choose: do you clean the kitchen, or do you do the laundry?  You can’t do both.  Do you play with your son, or you go for a walk with your wife?  You can’t do both.  Sometimes you don’t even get that choice:  you can’t do either one.  You only get to spend time with your constant companion, your pain.

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The Music of My Grandparents

I planned to continue my rant about teachers, educrats, &c., but I’m having a flare up of arthritis (erosive osteoarthritis of the hands, with possible psoriatic arthritis on top).  I was going to give it a miss. As you can imagine, typing is difficult and painful right now.

But then I clicked on a YouTube video (via Facebook) of The Beaton Sisters playing at the Celtic Colours Festival in Cape Breton.  My dad came from Cape Breton, and his family’s root in CB go back to the early 1800s. The music took me back to some records my grandmother you listen to.

I followed another link to Natalie MacMaster playing Cape Breton style fiddle at TED. She played with her husband Donnell Leahy. Try to deny that they are not the equal of any violin player in any symphony in the world!

This is the music of my people, preserved and extended from the 18th to the 21st centuries. I must make it to the Celtic Colours Festival one year. I’ll take my brothers and we’ll remember our childhood trips to Cape Breton, and regret that we didn’t embrace it with Dad and our aunts, uncles, and grandparents while they were still here. Would that we could all gather at St. Annes for one great ceilidh!



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The Teachers Have Their Hands In Our Pockets

Here we go again.  The teachers say they aren’t paid enough, and that shows how little we value public education. They claim they’re worth more than the pittance we pay them.  They have advanced degrees, and they don’t make as much as other professionals with equivalent degrees. And so on.

Cry me a river.

This post on the Charlotte Observer website got my blood up. Let’s overlook the fact that the “reporter” outright lied in her headline and lede.  (The chart she talks up actually purports to rank the inflation-adjusted change in teacher salaries.)  Look at the comments! Complaining about not getting cost of living raises, having to take work home, working more than 40 hours a week.

What world do these people live in?

Most of the people I know in the private sector do the exact same things!  If they’re blessed enough to have a full-time job, that is.  As I write this, it is Wednesday night.  I have already worked 33 hours this week.  That’s just at the office.  I’ve put in another 5 hours at home.  I’m not alone in this. I got my first raise in years, and I’m still not making what I was 7 years ago when the recession took hold. But I’m not demanding that the state use force to take my neighbor’s property and give it to me.

Then the comments about how the so-called “best and brightest” are leaving the “profession”.  Here’s a fact: the real “best and brightest” are not teaching.  They’re in the hard sciences, engineering, business.  They want nothing to do with education.

Here’s another little publicized fact: high-school seniors who state they want to major in education have the lowest mean aggregate scores on the SAT. (Go to the College Board’s website and look it up.) Let that sink in: the average student in education has SAT scores that couldn’t get him or her into any other field of study.  And these are the “best and brightest”?

(I know there are teachers who score high, &c.  Please don’t hold up this teacher or that one as an archetype for the field. Familiarize yourself with the concept of “the mean”.)

I haven’t even examined the grammar and style, if any, of the comments.  Suffice it to say they do not reflect well on the teachers who wrote them.

I’m going to write more on this…there’s just too much that remains to be said. But I’ve gone on long enough for now.


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Keeping On Track

So, I’ve committed to daily meditation sessions.  Mind you , I’ve done this before.  More than once.  But after a few days maybe a week or two, I’ll miss a day.  And then another.

And then I say “Ah, the hell with it.  I’m not seeing any benefits anyway.”

Daily practice is essential to reap the benefits of meditation (or so I’ve heard).  This seems to be the key to getting the benefits of any activity.  How do we stay on track?

One evening I checked out a story on Lifehacker:  “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Mediocre People“.  The article was quite good, and by that I mean thought-provoking.  I found the author’s website and after some futzing around (kind of like what I’m doing this paragraph), I found a link to a site called “The Daily Practice“.

The site embodies two things: James Aultucher’s “daily practice” and Jerry Seinfeld’s productivity tip “don’t break the chain!”  Basically, you state your goals, enter them, and check them off  as you do them.  The big thing it does is give you a visual of the chain you’re not breaking.  You can also have the site send you a reminder to do something (like, oh I don’t know, meditate).  Check it out for yourself.

The second thing I use is an application called “Insight Timer”.  You can set it up for meditation sessions, track them, etc.  The free version of the app also has some guided meditations.  (I need those at this stage of development.)  It is available for the iPhone, iPad, Android, and Kindle.

I’ve only been using these for a few days.  In fact, I’m at the stage where usually miss a day or two and then quit.  I know that some point, though, I will break the chain.  What then?

I have to go back see exactly what Jerry says, if anything, but I think it’s probably along lines of “Start a new chain.  Don’t break this one.”

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Meditation on Meditation

I’ve meditated off and on for the past year. Typically, I’ll go for 10 to 15 min. a day and keep it up for five days. Maybe a week.

Than life intrudes.  I’ll miss a day, then another, and say “the Hell with this!”

It doesn’t help matters that, to my understanding, the benefits of meditation come through long-term practice (or at least longer-term than a work week!).

What exactly are the benefits I expect?  I know for a fact that I feel refreshed after I’m done.  But that’s a short term effect.  Listening to long-time practitioners and proponents of meditation (e.g. Howard Stern, Rob Long) talk about their experience, I expect to be able to truly focus my mind and to shut out external stimuli.  I also looked to be centered and find calm in stressful situations.

Again, I suspect I’ll need to string together more than five sessions to see these benefits.  But how to stay on track?

I think I’ve found a couple of tools to help me.  More about those in my next post.  (Hint: One is a Kindle/iPhone app.  The other is a website.)

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The world is moving too fast for part time punditry

I drafted a nice piece on the end of self-government in these United States. (I was expanding on a previous blog post I wrote in the immediate aftermath of the SCOTUS decisions on CA Proposition 8 and the Federal Defense of Marriage Act.)  I had my quotes, analysis, and outline of how gay marriage would come to North Carolina.  I needed to give it one more edit, polish it up before publishing.  No rush…I figured I had at least six months to a year before the liberals got the ball moving.

I had less than three weeks.

The ACLU is suing North Carolina on the issue of gay adoption.  Last week they filed to amend the suit to include a challenge to the state’s marriage amendment.  The one that defines marriage in North Carolina as a union between one man and one woman.  The one the voters approved by a 2-1 margin.  The ACLU cited Mr. Justice Kennedy’s “animus” language as a basis for amending the lawsuit.

North Carolina’s Attorney General, Roy Cooper, said he will not fight to keep the suit restriced to adoption.  His reason?  “These issues will be litigated anyway”, so why not save some time and money by combining them?

Well, how about the fact that the issues are not related, and the ACLU is using this as an opportunity to paint 2/3 of North Carolinians as bigots who hate gay people?

Depending on the judge, I’d say the ACLU has about a 60% chance of winning.  Then what?  Can the people of North Carolina count on Mr. Cooper to do his sworn duty and defend the duly enacted laws of North Carolina and our Constitution?  Or is he itching for higher, perhaps national office, and will need to conform to the received wisdom of the Democrat party?

Mene, mene, tekel, upharsim.  The writing is on the wall.  Our only hope for continued self-governance is an Article V amendment convention.  Messrs. Horn, Tucker and Arp, are you up to it?

Otherwise it’s time to repeal Article 1, Section 4 of the North Carolina Constitution and allow us to secede.

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A Nice Juxtaposition

On my drive home this evening, I was listening to Performance Today on the local classical public radio station (WDAV).  “Les Preludes” by Franz Liszt was on.  The traffic came to a stop, and another SUV came up alongside.  We both had our windows open.  I could hear the rap (or hip-hop, if you will) blasting from his speakers.

And there we had a perfect juxtaposition to illustrate the decline of Western culture.  Don’t get me wrong: I enjoy rock music, blues, bluegrass, and jazz.  But all of those genres have actual musicians, and they create actual music.  It’s downhill from Liszt to Led Zeppelin; Liszt to Lil Wayne is falling off a cliff.

I note in passing that this also illustrates the decline of Western civilization, but increased by an order of magnitude.

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