Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Seven Year Itch

When I got the news of a third child on the way, my thoughts turned immediately to paying for three kids. My undergraduate degree is in newspaper journalism, and I left that field behind a long while ago. Lately I've thought that is where I should be, but journalism shares the same problem as teaching: low pay. I never planned or envisioned a life with soon to be three kids, but that is what happened since I came here. As a single man, a teacher's salary was fine enough, but no more.

I've been reading the salary guides for various locations in the states, and the salaries offered for veterans with graduate degrees and experience are scandalously low -- less than here in many cases. And for all our complaining, Saipan is a very cheap place to live with the exception of power. Saipan teacher wages are poor for the long term veteran, but for someone with a few years in and a graduate degree, they are very competitive, and the rents and taxes here are very minimal. Of course, the government here is so unstable, a person can never be sure where the game of financial musical chairs ends. Most people just blow off all the bad news and threats, and I admit, it is easier to live that way, but how many threats do you have to take before you lose the ability to complain when the threat gets carried out. I mean when the Retirement System breaks down completely, and the hospital can't help anyone anymore, can you really say the warning signs weren't there.

Teachers, like soldiers, get a warm and fuzzy public relations, usually, for doing a difficult job with meager pay, though most teachers, at least in the suburbs, don't run the same risk of violence as soldiers, so the soldiers' job is much harder. I don't believe that teachers should take a vow of poverty, and if that is what is expected, I would envision America's education system to continue its long, slow decline.

I have a friend who is my former journalism professor and he is extremely bummed out at the decline in intellectual activity at the university level. Schooling has continually moved in the direction of being grade based. The pursuit of knowledge, even among the better students, seems to be lacking for the singular focus on a grade. School is a grade, and to pass, ideally with a good grade, the mantra. It feels like the day to day classroom activity is viewed as an annoying speed bump to "the grade." I would get feedback from students, and my style doesn't fit everyone equally well as no one's does, that would say things like "the things I learned here blew my mind, but I just don't like school," or "thanks, but nothing can make me read." One famous comment was, "this class was terrible because you made us read and stuff."

The statistics on the number of teachers who quit within the first five years show an enormous movement out of the profession. I'm in year five here, seven overall, and I'm starting to understand why those statistics are what they are. It's a staggeringly difficult job to do well, and the pay just isn't there.

No comments: