Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Does Pay Prove Worth? Teachers Race to the Bottom

The first time I thought about becoming a public school teacher, I was deterred by the thought of paying for a whole semester of school, and not being able to make any money during that time period, while working for free as a student teacher.

The second time I thought about it, I had a slightly longer view. The 13 weeks didn't seem quite as long, and plus my husband was working. I was more interested in putting to rest the question of whether I should be a public school teacher.

At the time, I asked a friend who was an Ann Arbor school teacher, if I should pursue teaching certification. "No," she said definitively. "I am a born teacher, but teachers are not valued in any way."

I didn't take her advice then (13 years ago!), but afterwards I thought maybe I should have.

Student teachers work for free. So, too, do their supervising (mentor) teachers, who get something like $100 for each teacher they take on.

I thought of all this today, listening to a story on NPR about how North Carolina teachers have had their pay cut; have no right to organize; and don't get rewarded for time as a teacher or masters-level education.

Then I opened up and saw Kellie Woodhouse's article about how the majority of the full-time lecturers at EMU's School of Education have been laid off for the fall of 2014. These lecturers are unionized--and although part-time lecturers were recently able to unionize, I have to believe a part of this is a way for EMU to break the union. It could also be revenge for the fact that the union rightfully opposed EMU's involvement in the Education Achievement Authority--for very good reasons!--and asked local school districts' unions to not place EMU student teachers.

Full-time lecturers cost more too, so in that way EMU's action is part of the same Race to the Bottom that we see in North Carolina, and here in Michigan as well--where teachers have had to give up compensation year after year.

I didn't listen to my friend, and paid for the "opportunity" to be a student teacher. [I hope, sometime soon, to blog a little bit about that experience.]

Teacher certification, and other school of education programs that award teachers higher degrees (additional coursework is often a requirement of certification) have been a cash cow for education schools for many years. But that is changing.

According to Woodhouse's article, the number of people who are studying to be teachers has dropped dramatically at EMU.

"In 2008-09 undergraduates were enrolled in 40,089 credit hours, a number that shrunk to 30,743 credit hours in 2012-13, according to the 2013 EMU data book."

Honestly, I'm surprised that it hasn't dropped more.

If anybody asks me, I give them the same advice my friend gave me. "Don't do it!" I say. "I'm a born teacher, but teachers are devalued every day."

Some of them might take my advice.  Many of the others can be found substitute teaching around town for the princely sum of $75/day--an amount that has remained the same locally for at least 13 years.

*Coincidentally, the number 13 shows up several times in this short piece. What do you make of that?

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  1. Sad but true! I would never, ever encourage anyone to go into the teaching profession. Some joke that soon teachers will be working for free!

  2. Timing is everything. As recently as 8-10 years ago, while private sector employment was crumbling, teachers still enjoyed defined benefit pensions and excellent health insurance. Unpaid student teaching was the one big rip-off of those halcyon years--but the demand for teachers was so great that many states had alternative certification programs. Now almost all college students are exploited as unpaid interns for the private sector. So the pendulum swings. I hope one day a rising tide will lift all boats in our troubled economic waters.