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Obama Wants You To Be A Thankless Teacher

During President Obama's State of the Union address last night he spent a good chunk of it talking the good talk about education. He praised his bipartisan education program, Race to the Top, which, for me, only holds the distinction of "Well, it's not No Child Left Behind, so that's something." But the headliner was when Obama called on for young folks to mobilize, get educated and go out and educate others. Which sounds nice ... in theory. But as my mother, some good friends of mine and many others can attest -- when it comes to respect, teachers are just one step below the grandmother you never remember to call and just one step above the homeless guy who asks you everyday for an exact $1.35 in change.

Translation: Nobody curr 'bout, teechurs.

More after the jump.

Due to a deadly combo of sexism and the tragedy that is the human condition, teaching is a pretty brutal profession. Oh, everyone wants to talk about the ideal situation. You and Mr. Holland's Opus crying copious tears as you free Mr. Clark while finding that annoying Forrester who keeps getting lost while hunting, with much good will, for Bobby Fischer. Then you all get together and sing "The Greatest Love of All" at the top of your lungs and you hug and you cry and you laugh and laugh because no matter what they take from you, school teacher, they can't take away your dignity!

Yeah, all those situations sound great compared to the very unsexy reality, where public school is less Dangerous Minds and more 187

You remember 187, the film where Samuel L. Jackson plays a high school teacher at the school from hell, tries to make a difference and ends up playing Russian Roulette with a student sent to kill him? Um, 1997 spoiler alert! It doesn't end well.

Now, I'm not saying your gang banger students are going to put a hit out on you. That doesn't happen very often. What's much more likely to happen is:

  • You will make low wages. 
  • You will get trapped in a system that rewards banality.
  • You will spend your own money, which barely covers your rent, to buy supplies for your classroom and students because the school budget is so fragile, they can't purchase these things.
  • You will get inaccurate history textbooks from Texas that will teach the Civil Rights Movement as some rabble-rousing by a couple of Communist sympathisers, lead by a sexual deviant.
  • You will be the scapegoat for parents who have no interest in parenting. 
  • You will be the scapegoat when the school under-performs.
  • You will find that your innovative ideas and enthusiasm regarding teaching denigrated by other teachers who are just there for the check and health insurance.
  • You will feel the wrath of educators who can't be fired because they had the good sense to get hired when the district was desperate for teachers and took anyone with a college degree, and now their old, incompetent ass is the Highlander of Lower Learning because they have seniority and can't be fired.
  • You will have to deal with FOX News camping out on your front lawn when Sting song guy gets arrested for getting a cheerleader pregnant.
  • You will get laid off first when the district slashes its budget to pay for the lawsuit the parents brought against the school because of Sting song guy.

So, Obama is encouraging you to join that grand, noble clusterfuck. 

No matter what President Obama or the federal government or Republicans who hate the Department of Education say, our federal government can't really do that much to influence public schools. Right now, we're essentially trying to bribe them into following national standards with mixed results. At the end of the day, state schools are under local control. This means I learned about Darwin in high school. In other states, they don't. Districts pull their funding from property taxes in their surrounding areas. And if you live in a nice area with a lot of money you probably love your schools. If you're broke and you live in a poor area, you probably don't like yours that much ... that is if your school is still open.

And if you have an ounce of creativity and real talent for communicating with children and an actual love of academics, my God, the world will work so hard to murder that right out of you. HOW DARE YOU THINK YOU COULD MAKE A DIFFERENCE!

But you know, if you stick with it and work really hard, you might help a few kids and isn't that what really matters? Money isn't everything! Children are the future! Positivity! Happy thoughts! Not that you can't afford to move out of your parents' house or that you have to bag groceries on the weekends, like my old geometry teacher, who I used to stare at, all confused-like, when I would see him in fresh veggies section the Schnucks, spraying lettuce, and it was just awkward, you know? But hey, Mr. Linderdorf's cats weren't going to feed themselves.

But, no worries. Kidz no kneed 2 learn gud. Verizon has deh iPhones now. Dey do erreythang.


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Reader Comments (22)

Let's at least try to keep things in perspective here. Yes! Obama did have a public cry for teachers but he also asked our legislators to start respecting the teachers. Compensation is also part of the respect he asked for.

January 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSilvertongue62

I'm a teacher, and yes, many of the things you say here is true, but not all... especially the thing about money. Maybe it's because I work for a state school, but I feel I do get paid enough and I have a house and am happy... A friend of mine who used to work in a cubicle just recently became a teacher and he says that despite the lower paycheck he is much happier and feels like he's actually making a difference in this world. So it's not all bad. I get what you're saying, but it's not all that bad.

January 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterElisa @ What the Vita

"took anyone with a college degree, and now their old, incompetent ass is the Highlander of Lower Learning because they have seniority and can't be fired."

are you trying to destroy me?

January 26, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterthelady

@ Elisa



Teachers do get paid better than newspaper reporters at small market papers. I was an education reporter at a small market paper and made a whopping $18,000 a year.

January 26, 2011 | Registered CommenterDanielle Belton

My wife became a teacher "because of all the bad teachers" she had. My brother and sister-in-law are both teachers. My mom was a teacher. My dad was too until he went to the dark side and became a principal. Teaching is basically the family business.

And that's how I know every single one of those things you listed is absolutely true.

January 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKeir

If my son told me he wanted to be a teacher (or a social worker) I would literally slit my throat.

January 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRoslyn Holcomb

great post. hilarious and sad at the same time.

January 26, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterdewfish

Well, Danielle, you know I taught for a year and a half in the catholic school system and only made $19,000 a year. I loved teaching, but it was soooo stressful. I put in extra hours to tutor my students for free, I bought supplies for the classroom because we were only allotted $50 a teacher per school year for supplies all because I cared so much for my students. Even making so little I still loved the teaching. But if you don't have an administration that backs the teachers and parents who will work with you then it really makes teaching harder.

January 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTiffany

Wonderful post here, Danielle. Sad but oh-so true. As I watched Obama's speech, I kept hearing Peggy Lee sing, "Is that all there is?" When he got to the part about encouraging young folks to be teachers, I laughed out loud. I said, "Oh, you got to be shittin' me?"
Lots of tinny, false notes in that speech.

January 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRashod

great piece! it ties into the other things I've read about the teaching profession that would lead me to NEVER become a teacher, at least not here....the only way that i would consider teaching is to do it overseas so that i can at least get the benefit of being in another country.

I thought this was a good piece on the teaching professions:

January 26, 2011 | Unregistered Commentervonnie

Great piece. I couldn't believe my ears when he suggested that young people go into teaching. Uh, if you're poor and ambitious that's a crummy choice.

The New York City Public School system has so much respect for public school teachers that its current Chancellor has no educational experience AT ALL, is a private school graduate, and sent her own kids to private school. The previous Chancellor worked a grand total of two years as a teacher before leaving for law school.

I am so glad to have realized that I should restrict my exposure to the teaching field to watching "Goodbye, Mr. Chips." (The 1939 Robert Donat/Greer Garson version. Wonderful.)

That speech was one broad, empty statement after another.

January 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterReader

Since I am typing through the tears and laughter while blowing my nose with my Teacher pay stub, I will try and pull myself together to contribute to this post.

Teaching is a skilled Art. It is NOT for everyone within an earshot of the SOTU address. Many of us get into the profession because we truly want to help. We do contribute to the larger society and mold this country and shape ideas. However, just like any corporation you have those who think, do, and don’t do. We are no different than any other organization. The difference comes when we are unable to do anything about the people who don’t do. They ruin the reputation of the organization for all of us.

I proudly state I am a teacher to everyone who will listen. However, most people say, “It’s sad what they pay teachers”….I look and think to myself $50.00 an hour ain’t that bad. The summers spent in Florida or the islands have always been good, and since I have control of my classroom environment I don’t have the issues most of these new age videos and Theorists discuss. I have a career that I love! I worked hard to prepare myself for the challenge, and now I have six years under my belt with my curriculum on auto pilot. I spend more time getting to know the students and helping them to become successful, pushing them toward college and supporting and mentoring them the entire way. After they graduate college, they come back to me and I help them with their resume to ensure they are competitive and have the proper grasp of the next steps in life. I am Woman – hear me roar! (Thanks for reading my infomercial)

Question: How much would you pay for my teaching services? If you said I am priceless to the students, then start to lobby for an increase in teacher compensation and know that you will need to come out of pocket for higher taxes, or cut some other service to ensure the money is available. I am not being facetious; I am trying to show how important a quality education is for a child. I am serious about my craft and demand respect for my work.

Question 2: Did you just change your mind when I said you need to pay higher taxes? Very insightful.

I don’t think everyone should be a teacher, HELL NO! I think people who want to be of service in that capacity should step forward and prepare prior to getting into the mix. Obama did make sure to mention that PARENTS need to be the foundation of student learning. He knows what people drop off at the school door and then drive off without ever going in the building……or what walks in the building because the parent is still in bed……

Last night I went to the NFTE (Network For Teaching Entrepreneurship) competitions in DC (No, I was not paid to attend – I went to support another school). It was such a great experience for the students who prepared business plans for competition, wore suits that were two sizes too big, but were eager to highlight their dreams for starting a business. These students were great! They were from all over the DC Metro area. What stood out was that these students, which all come from schools labeled as low socioeconomic status (at least 50% Free and Reduced Lunch), were eager. This is what truly makes the difference. These students were hungry to compete! They wanted to win (Yes, there were cash prizes at stake). The students had some setbacks of course. Many of the more urban schools had students who lacked proper English skills (American born students), and some were just scared to death of looking people directly in the eyes to shake hands. These are things that students can overcome, but since they are already in high school, the time horizon is slowly eclipsing before they need to move forward in life. Did I mention there were only eight parents there for 25 students? The teachers from each school were there, the Entrepreneurs, Mentors, and Judges were there……where were the parents? The event was held from 5:30 – 8:30PM……yep, that’s what I am thinking…….don’t give me any excuses about parents needing to work in order to put food on the table. There are events around the clock for students; parents are usually less than 20% of the attendees. Perfect example of our problem!

If we are to be successful in competing with other countries we need to get to the heart of education. Students need a solid starting point! We can’t keep leaving the first five years of education to parents who are dumb as firewood and not engaged in teaching the child anything before they start Kindergarten. We can’t win like that! We have to begin to have very serious conversations about early childhood development and mandatory parental support.

Thomas Jefferson changed the original script of the Constitution to state “All men are CREATED equal” (God's doing). Prior to that change, the Constitution stated “All men are BORN equal” (Our Nation's doing), which would have meant we would all have started with the same tools, resources, parental support and financial foundation…….go figure.


January 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJustice

Oh, and my mouth dropped open when he invoked the "R" word.


That's so ... 2000.

How about Reinventing a new cliché?

Lord knows, most of the problems are not his fault, but man, please come up with something that passes the laugh test.

January 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterReader


I have no doubt that teaching is a skill or a talent and that not everyone is cut out for it. I also know you get what you pay for. If teaching paid what Goldman Sachs pays, this country would have the best damned teaching in the world.

And I don't blame those Teach for America kids who teach for two years and then apply to be investment bankers or other lucrative jobs. I'd do the same thing. Money equals power in this country. If you're a top exec at a publishing company and dine with the Mayor, you can be Chancellor of the NYC Public School system, the largest public school system in the country with 1.1 million people.

Thank God my education gave me the ability to think critically and ignore ridiculous sentimentality of the type our President was dishing up last night.

I still like and respect the President, but I'd like to have back the hour I sat through the SOTU.

Roslyn Holcomb:

My father was a social worker. Your impression is CORRECT.

Again, I admire people willing to work in difficult situations because they want to make a difference. But sometimes they're just exploited. The idea of hawking martyrdom to our youth given the lack of support of teachers is outrageous.

January 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterReader

Ex-teacher here. I got out as fact as I could! With teacher "bashing" in vogue now, kids may get the opposite message, run, run as fast as you can from a classroom.

January 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterFl Lurker

I was working on something for work and only heard part of the president's speech. I was a teacher for 7 years of my life in the 1990s and it was the hardest job I've ever heard. I don't know of all the solutions but it requires a real cultural change for the good teachers some of us remember back in the day to come back. Even back in the 1990s the respect for teachers was getting shaky. I taught junior high. I viewed in retrospect many problems in the clasroom as "caused" by administration that literally throw baby teachers into the water and hope a few don't drown. If the president did make the lame comments some have suggested I too say let's get real pretty statements and fluffy rhetoric do NOT change matters. I sure wish I knew how to create the good ole days; perhaps, one side effect of this recession may mean some who have chased big bucks but maybe might be better in other professions might consider teaching. I would hope if that is the case there is an infrastructure that supports them otherwise teachers cycle out of the profession on average in about 5 years.

January 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea Williams

the lack of respect for teachers, and the crappy ass parents are contributing reasons why we as a country lag so far behind other nations when it comes to scholastic achievement.

January 27, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterinteresting

@Justice AMEN, AMEN & AMEN AGAIN! I (shhhh..) work in a school in the same jurisdiction as you. It's amazing the level of child neglect our children experience in this area. That makes our jobs so absolutely essential, but it is overwhelming and often heartbreaking.

January 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterColHghts

Yeah, my Dad and I scoffed when Obama said that, too! (Yes, I'm living w/ him now, b/c I have an entry-level IT job and almost NO savings.) I tried as hard as I could for about 3 1/2 yrs to be a NYC teacher. I went to Fordham from 2005-2006 in their MAT prog (it's a DAMN expensive private univ). I worked at a few tutoring centers, volunteered at an youth center, and did V well in my coursework. (I esp LOVED planning lessons and working w/ the younger, such as jr high, kids.) I did student teaching at a TERRIFIC little private jr high w/ wealthy students, then at a small/innovative H.S. in Chelsea w/ poorer kids. I applied to MANY schools, including 2 schools where my friends worked or had worked earlier. STILL, I didn't get a FT job! I ended up subbing for 3 terms, then moving to DC to be near Dad/other relatives. Life is TOUGH for teachers out there, esp in the urban areas. MANY schools in NYC are falling apart, both on the inside and outside. There NEEDS to be reform soon, or we'll be leaving MORE poor kids behind!

January 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEmma

Good points Danielle. I've lost hope in these speeches - State of the Union, Presidential or otherwise. We'll just have to see what action looks like - from government and from ourselves. I'm surprised you haven't commented on the story of the Ohio mom. Or have I missed it.

January 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNia

people have such disdain for educators but wonder why we are severely lacking against other countries in academics.

January 29, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterconfused

Good Post. I agree with your list especially "You will be the scapegoat for parents who have no interest in parenting."- so true. When I was a little girl, I wanted to be a teacher; I started middle school and said hell no. Those kids were so bad at my middle school. I would not have the patience to deal with them. However, I am considering doing workshops (like cpr classes or sewing, etc.) but my students have to be adults. LOL :)

February 4, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterHidi
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