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I had the opportunity to travel to St. Paul recently and chat with some of our local legislators regarding education issues. It was my first time doing this, but it was a great experience to have the people who create our laws take some time to listen to the people those laws affect.

An area of concern that I and other teachers from the area shared with the politicians was in regards to attracting teachers and teacher retention. There is a teacher shortage all over the state, especially in subjects like math, science, and special education.  NRHEG has had a difficult time filling some of these spots recently, and we are in the same boat as many other districts.

Part of the problem is money. People with a math or science degree can make more outside of education, so why would they want to teach?

Okay, I’ve heard it all before. Teachers get their summers off, they get other breaks during the year, and they work shorter days than other private-sector employees.

You’re right. We do work fewer days than many people, 186 contracted days here vs. an average person with four weeks of vacation working about 240 days. We get a week or so off at Christmas and usually a mini-break around Easter. If the weather terrorists don’t attack, there are some other scattered days to create three-day weekends, but not many. There are a number of days kids aren’t in school but teachers are.

We have an eight-hour workday with a half hour lunch. But we also take a lot home with us many nights. There are times I leave school when I’m able, but I’ve got some solid work ahead of me doing some correcting. There are times I prefer doing that at home, which is why I trade my desk at school for my kitchen table. That way I can do the laundry, cook supper, or other chores at the same time.

So are we overpaid? According to the National Education Association, the average starting teacher in Minnesota makes about $34,000. The average teacher overall brings in about $52,000. There’s been a big to-do made lately about St. Paul teachers averaging $75,000 yearly. I can tell you this much: there’s not a teacher in our area making anything close to that! Of course, we haven’t had nearly 50 teachers attacked by students this year either like the St. Paul district has. I’ll take less money for less of that, thank you very much.

I came into this profession with my eyes wide open. I never expected to become rich as a teacher. When I attained my Master’s degree, I moved over on our salary schedule to a point where I make a good wage. Not great, but not anything to be sour grapes about. This is an area where teachers have some control over their salaries; if we further our education, we get an increase in pay. It costs plenty to get those credits, but that change in salary is for the rest of our careers.

There are other issues though. When I started teaching 20 years ago, I got to do just that: teach. I had a nice level of freedom over my curriculum, taught my classes every day, went home to do some correcting some evenings, and that was that.

Today, however, the school has become more of a community resource center. I’m not just a teacher. Some days I have to be a counselor, a nurse, a police officer, and even a parent (not just to my own child!). How so?

We’re constantly on the look-out for the deteriorating mental health of so many students based on outside factors; we have to listen closely and try to keep track of which kids are having issues, but without knowing too much because of privacy concerns. I get to diagnose injuries at recess and when kids mess around in the halls and get hurt. Some teachers have to break up fights and deal with other illegal activities. And some kids just need someone to talk to because they receive either no attention or all negative attention at home and don’t have great parent figures in their lives.

Now throw the heightened expectations placed on teachers by the government in addition to all that. Who would want to do this job, even with all that supposed time off? If you’re starting college and thinking about teaching, would it be worth it? Many young people are saying no. They see what the state requires of teachers and what the salary is and say, “No, thank you.”

As we told our legislators, salary isn’t the only factor here. The state needs to take some of this burden off teachers and give money to schools to hire more support staff such as counselors, therapists, and nurses. That way the people who love to teach (like me) can go back to doing that and doing it well. Get rid of all the other items on our plates and the meat and potatoes that are left will be especially good. And that will be attractive to people entering the profession, which is what we need most of all.

Word of the Week: This week’s word is yerk, which means a sudden movement, as in, “The teacher spied a yerk in the hall during class, which meant another fight had erupted.” Impress your friends and confuse your enemies!

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