The economic value of a teacher

The ills of public schools are frequently mentioned in the press, on radio and television, on talk shows, public forums, and computer bits. Reporters love to mention drug-related events at a school, school shootings, falling SAT scores, graduation of poor students, failing teachers, poor teacher preparation, poor buildings built at astonishing costs, principals who fail to fire unsuccessful teachers, teachers who are burdened with large numbers of uninspired children, children who misbehave, under funded schools, and so on and on.

Successes are rarely mentioned in the press beyond the selection of a beauty queen, athletic achievements, and scholarship recipients.  Where schools succeed readily is rarely mentioned.

As a school administrator, I received relatively few complaints about   instruction, which ostensibly is what schools are for. On the other hand, l was reminded frequently that the grass was not cut or trimmed, that a teacher was not appropriately dressed, or that the furnace or air conditioning systems were not working properly.

In winter, my telephone would ring when the first snowflake fell, sometimes after midnight. Usually it was a parent or guardian calling to ask if schools would be closed since they needed to know whether or not to hire a baby sitter for the next day.  Schools and teachers allow parents, sometimes both parents, to work, and each may earn more than the caretakers of their children. The key issue with many parents was not “How well will my child be taught?” but how efficiently with my son or daughter be cared for during the day.

Sometimes the police would call me at 1 or 2 a.m. to say they had a special warning from an alert weatherman at Ft. Lee, announcing there would be 6 inches of snow on the ground by daylight, and he would suggest that I close schools immediately. I always waited for daylight to verify the forecast, which was sometimes wrong.

A recent  survey showed that high school students are happy to baby-sit for $5 per hour, whereas an adult with a number of years’ experience as a nanny or sitter, would expect at least $10 per hour. Earnings in this vocation vary according to factors such as childcare needs, age, and what type of baby-sitter parents are comfortable having in their home.

Federal minimum wage, which is also the standard in Virginia, is $7.25 per hour. At this rate, a teacher with 25 students working 180 8-hour days, would be worth $261,000 to parents. At $10 per hour, their value would increase to $360,000.

Teachers must be properly prepared for the subjects they teach by earning a 4-year college degree. In addition, they must take courses periodically to keep their certificates in force, and they certainly need a master’s degree if they wish to advance professionally.

When our older son was between computer jobs, he took a  position teaching math in the PA schools. I advised him as I would all teachers: “Take out a professional liability insurance policy. It only costs a few dollars as a rider on your homeowners policy or through a professional organization. There’s no telling who will sue these days, especially when you’re looking after someone else’s children.”

Along with the responsibility of teaching, school personnel must safeguard children during all school activities. Teachers. administrators, and school nurses have the responsibility to oversee the administration of medicines such as Prosac and Ritilin, to an ever increasing number of pupils.

When I was a school superintendent, the police chief used to tell me annually in August, “We’ll be so glad when you open school. It cuts our work in half!” Not only are schools baby sitters, they are a big deterrent to criminal behavior for which they receive little credit or recognition.

Toward the end of summer, many parents are beginning to wish away the hot days and are looking forward to the opening of school. Now, about half of the 141 school divisions in Virginia have requested waivers that will allow them to begin classes before Labor Day, which is the earliest opening date mandated by the state. This is the so-called Kings Dominion Benefit Law.

In performing baby-sitting services and as a crime preventer, the public schools and their teachers deserve an A+.

When teachers are paid at the level of professional baby sitters, we can  talk more easily about merit pay for those who do an excellent job in instruction as well as providing skilled child care.

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