Monday, November 1, 2010


Most parents say that they want the best education possible for their children, and that includes the best university education possible. What most of them don’t want is to actually pay for it, and teachers and professors have to endure an almost constant barrage of hostility from people who know nothing about our jobs but who think that we get paid too much. I had this very discussion over an interminably dreary dinner with a group of people not long ago, when one loudmouth parent began the predictable grunting about “you teachers” getting “two month off in the summer”, while blue-collar construction workers like himself were out there every day breaking their backs. (I certainly agree that leaning on a shovel while a machine digs a hole involves all manner of ergonomic compromises not conducive to spinal health.) Anyway, to this my reply was, excuse me, but, I am not a “teacher.” I am a professor. I attended graduate school for eight years to earn an M.A. and a Ph.D. and then earned a tenure-stream position in a job market where perhaps one newly-minted Ph.D. in ten can expect to get one. And, moreover, I don’t get “two months off in the summer”, thank you very much. I get four.

Well, I don’t really get four months “off” in the summer, but it was a pleasure to say nonetheless. But to be fair: my dinner companion never attended university (and not much of high school for that matter) and so he doesn’t really have any conception of what my job entails. His comment was really aimed at “teachers” generally – the kind he knew and loathed as a teenager, those autocratic bastards who expected him to do things like read books and learn French and solve math problems. And, boy, did he ever show them, because he did none of those things.

For years now I’ve put up with this sort of thing in all manner of social settings. And it’s remarkable how often the people who attack our teachers demonstrate that they what they really needed at a younger age was to have paid more attention in school. The first sign you’re dealing with ignoramuses is that they mouth off about things they know nothing about. So it felt good to finally push back a little, and I took a certain pride in saying aloud to all assembled that if they were so concerned about teachers getting their summers off they should write to their MP’s and demand that their kids spend the summer in school, too. You can imagine how that went over. “But that would ruin our vacations!”

Check and mate, I think. The obvious counter-move, though, was for someone to say that the real solution is to pay teachers less, and somebody did raise this point. Again, they want the best education for their children, but not if they have to pay for it.

Well, there’s no way around this. They’re going to have to pay for it, and they’re going to have to pay more, in fact. If parents want to attract qualified people to the field of teaching they’re going to have to make it worth their while, and in a serious way. And if the Ontario government wants to keep insisting that it wants more students to go to university, it’s going to have to compensate the professoriate for the extra seven or eight years they spent, out of the workforce, getting their PhDs, and for the very real gamble they took in choosing to pursue that career path.

And it’s for this reason that I add my very small voice in support of my colleagues at the University of Western Ontario, main campus, who might go on strike this week. The fact that they already get paid more, on average, than most other people, isn’t the issue. The issue is that they deserve to, and that teachers generally deserve to, because there few things are more important than how we educate our young.


Graham Broad said...

This early update brought to you in the spirit of solidarity.

Victoria Loucks said...

This is indeed a very interesting topic and one that comes up not only for teachers but in my field as well which is far removed from the world of academia. It seems like it really boils down to a few specific questions. Do we as a society compensate people base on the perceived value of their skills (ie. teaching children is important) or based on the quantity of people who are able/qualified to perform those tasks. Not everyone can be a neurosurgeon for example but there are many people coming out of teachers college who are qualified to teach English. So many that there are not enough jobs for them.

I don't for a second deny that teachers work hard and that most are very devoted to their students and employers. I also understand that for professors those "4 months off" are likely spent conducting research, publishing, etc.

Also I am not convinced that it is an issue of that people "do not want to pay" for qualified teachers or professors I think there is also an issue here of that the guy making $16/hour digging highways simply can't pay for it and there are more of those people than the teachers making $90,000 + / year.

So the question of what someone's labour is worth to society comes down to do we reward education and effort or do we let the free market decide who is worth what?

ooohhh... I can feel the hate coming my way!