Teachers and carpenters: Who has it worse?

We were discussing education, and the other guy raged about how it's all teachers' fault.  They have it easy but just don't do their jobs.  They get paid for working part-time, with three months off every year, as opposed to carpenters, who don't get paid when they don't work.  Carpenters get paid for results, and if that applied to teachers, then education would shape up in a hurry.

He kept at it in that vein until I had to respond.

Teachers don't get paid when they don't work, either.  In most systems, they have the option of getting paid twice a month for the nine months they work or having their paychecks spread out over twelve months.  Most teachers I knew (including me) opted to have it spread out over 12 months.  We weren't getting paid for not working; we were getting paid for work already done.

I'm all for paying public school teachers for results.  That could happen if we could get liberals out of the way.  But people kick up a storm when their kids don't pass, and in the ensuing confrontations, the decision is often taken away from the teacher.  Liberal administrators unfailingly roll over when a parent becomes unpleasant.  Sometimes a kid's failure really is the teacher's fault, but more often, it's because the parents pay no attention to homework or don't work with their kid to encourage him doing well at school.

Carpenters work with dead wood, teachers with live kids.  Unlike dead wood, a live kid needs nurturing — and parental interest is by far the most important part of such nurture.  Teachers can do their part but have no control over what happens, or does not happen, at home.  Carpenters have nothing even remotely like this to contend with.

Also, about 15% (my estimate) of all students have disabilities that interfere with learning.  These kids have to go at a pace they can handle, which in many cases means they have to be held back a year and, later on, maybe another year.  Parents rage and blame the teacher when that happens, but there's more to it than that.  You can easily measure a carpenter's results and tell if he knows what he's doing; you can't always do that with a teacher, especially a teacher working with a special needs student.  Often you can, but just as often, you can't.

Nor do carpenters have to go back to school and take burdensome classes to stay current on carpentry.  Teachers do, and usually they have to pay for such classes themselves.  It's called "continuing education" and is so ridiculous that after a 30-year career, many teachers have three and four master's degrees that contributed nothing to their skill in the classroom or even their subject matter knowledge.

In short, teaching is vastly more complicated than those outside it imagine.  Every good teacher I ever knew (hundreds over the years) took an hour or two's work home most nights and came in early next morning just to keep up.  Drive by any school on the weekend, and those cars in the parking lot belong to the teachers inside, preparing classes for the next week.

The hours can be brutal to meet the nonteaching mandates alone.  Extensive documentation is needed to meet legal demands (to avoid lawsuits) or to comply with legislative requirements.  The stars in a new teacher's eyes quickly dim when the reality slams home just how much effort is involved.  Every year, new requirements pile onto old, and every year, people who once might have gone into teaching go into accounting, or maybe carpentry.

There is plenty to criticize about our system of public education, mainly its twisting and turning to avoid attack as racist, sexist, etc.  But that owes to legislatures and politics and isn't the fault of the teachers who are doing good work in a demanding environment.  Fix the politics, and you fix the education system.  Reduce the politics by getting rid of the Education Department.

But that's a whole 'nother subject.

Richard Jack Rail is a retired soldier and teacher who has authored books on politics; science fiction; and an interesting, enjoyable life.  Email him at caktusjakk@gmail.com.  Visit his web page at jackrailenterprises.com.