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Who we are, why we teach: a portrait of the American teacher.

ON HER BEDROOM WALL, middle school teacher Cindy North has a pastel trait of herself, drawn by the mother of one of her first students.

This student, John had a twin. "The other son was gifted, but John was learning disabled. Their family was poor in money but rich in the things families need," recalls North, who teaches special ed at Maryland's Parkville Middle School. "The last day of school, John presented me with this framed portrait and a note from his mom that said, 'We know that there will be other Johns for Ms. North. We're glad there was a Ms. North for John.'"

That highlighted the end of North's second year of teaching. This year, she returns for her 30th.

Why? With all the talk of shortages and burnout, budget cuts and a never-ending litany of demands--extra duties, prescribed curriculums, higher test scores--what attracts educators like Cindy North to the profession? And what makes them stay?

NEA Today set out to find some answers. This fall, NEA will release Status of the American Public School Teacher 2000-2001, a statistical profile based on a representative sampling of more than 1,400 teachers--both NEA members and nonmembers. NEA Today also has interviewed teachers and paraprofessionals around the country to learn more about their challenges--and what keeps them energized about teaching.

Together, these form a portrait of teachers who face escalating demands but thrive on the teachable moments and the accomplishments of their students--from minor to miraculous.

The scoop on vital stats

WORKING HARDER THAN EVER. Teachers spend over 50 hours each week on all teaching duties. That's the highest since NEA began keeping track in 1961. Remember, too, it's just an average. Fifteen percent of teachers spend 60 hours or more each week on teaching duties--prepping lessons, grading assignments, and contacting parents in addition to their time at the head of the classroom.

The excess number of students in educators' grade books adds to the workload. NEA's study found that teachers in departmentalized settings see an average of 86 students in a day--too many to give the optimum specialized attention kids need. Forty-two percent of teachers see 100 students or more a day. In self-contained settings, class sizes average about 21 students, but 27 percent of teachers report having 25 or more students in their classes. Only about one-third of teachers, meanwhile, say they have the help of a teacher aide to better serve students.

"I wish every teacher had a cap on the number of kids in the classroom," says Adam Hampton, who teaches English Language Development (formerly ESL) at Las Palmas Junior High in Covina, California. "Twenty is fantastic. Once you start going above 25, there's a factory-type mentality, where you're just trying to get through the material. Is it teaching if the kid isn't learning it?"

EXPERIENCED AND HIGHLY QUALIFIED. The average teacher has 15 and a half years of classroom experience, and more hold a master's degree (50%) as their highest degree than a bachelor's (43%). The percentage of teachers with a master's degree has more than doubled since 1961. Five percent of teachers have been certified by the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards, and another 4 percent are working on their board certification.

Only about 3 percent of respondents reported that they were first-year teachers, about one-third the level of newbies reported in the mid-1960s.

What about paraeducators? A separate NEA survey found that three-fourths of paras have at least some college training; 17 percent have a bachelor's degree, and 4 percent have a master's.

PURSUING PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT. Whether it's being required by law, district policy, or personal choice, most teachers are retooling their skills through college coursework and professional development activities. Three out of four get professional development training during the school year attending an average of six and a half days of professional development to improve instruction. (For more on how teachers and education support professionals are gaining, some say, in making professional development more useful, see "More Than Workshop," p. 33.)

Increased training--as well as greater access to computers at school and at home--probably accounts for the fact that men and more teachers are pumping up their lessons with technology. Of teachers who have school access to computers and tin Web, 73 percent say they use the computer regularly for instructional purposes, and 59 percent use the Web to enrich their teaching. That's up sharply from the last NEA survey in 1996.

STILL UNDERPAID. Do the additional credentials and skills add up to higher salaries? Don't count on it. The average teacher earns $44,683--way below other professions requiring similar credentials. (According to the U.S. Department of Labor, for example, accountants average $50,690, architects $59,590, and electrical engineers $68,630.) About 13 percent of teachers make less than $30,000. Despite all this, teachers open their wallets when budgets fall short: teachers on average pay $443 of their own money to meet students' needs, and 8 percent pay more than $1,000 annually out of pocket.

Paraprofessionals face pay inequities as well. Among NEA members, paras average $15.348 a year, according to a report by NEA's Department of ESP Quality. Lisa Romero, a bilingual instructional assistant in Salem, Oregon, says becoming a para-educator was "the best decision I ever made." But the low pay is hard to stomach, especially since class sizes are getting bigger and many paras are facing higher qualification standards compelled by the reauthorized Elementary and Secondary Education Act. "Class sizes and salaries are always a big issue," says Romero. "We're doing more work for the same amount of pay that we were getting three or four years ago." And, unlike the local pay scale for teachers, pay for paras usually does not allow for increased dollars for increased professional training or qualifications.

Sacrifices, rising demands

Low salaries are, by far, the biggest reason for leaving cited by teachers who don't plan to teach until retirement, according to NEA's Status report. Thirty seven percent of teachers who don't plan to continue teaching blame low pay; for teachers under 30, the figure rises to 47 percent.

"I'll tell you flat out that I make $2,000 a month from teaching," says David Quinn, a teacher at Edmonds-Woodway High School in Edmonds, Washington. "That's absurd! Yet I am supposedly one of the most important people in the lives of kids under 18." With the extra baggage that many children come to school with, "70 percent of my job is teaching, and 30 percent is being Dad or Uncle David," he adds. There's more. Washington voters last year approved two ballot initiatives that would have lowered class sizes and given cost-of-living increases to educators. Instead, Gov. Gary Locke and state legislators took an ax to the state budget, slashing education funding $600 million over two years. Many demoralized teachers are leaving teaching or moving to other states where salaries are higher.

Watching colleagues flee because of low pay isn't the only strain on teachers. Standardized testing is gobbling up increasing amounts of class time, forcing many teachers to ditch their most creative, in-depth lessons. According to a new poll by Public Agenda, a nonpartisan, nonprofit public opinion research organization, 88 percent of teachers say the amount of attention their school pays to standardized test results has increased over the past several years. Sixty-one percent agreed that teaching to the test "inevitably stifles real teaching and learning."

"Why do we have so much testing?" asks Tom Berg, who teaches social studies at North Hartford Middle School in Pylesville, Maryland. "Many of the private schools have less testing than we do, but that doesn't seem to hurt their reputation." Kids aren't the only ones being scrutinized--test results are increasingly being used to grade teachers. Twenty percent of teachers surveyed in NEA's Status report said that standardized tests scores were used to evaluate their teaching performance--up from 12 percent in 1996.

The overhauled Elementary and Secondary Education Act, dubbed by some critics as "No Child Left Untested," contains new provisions increasing testing requirements and sanctioning schools that don't raise their scores. That worries teachers who say too much time already is spent preparing kids to take standardized tests. (Fortunately, some NEA members are helping to shape how ESEA will be implemented through collective bargaining at the local level. See "A Place at the Table." below.)

Maryland's North, who teaches emotionally disturbed students, cites heavy paperwork and new curriculum demands as her biggest challenges. And now, her system requires that all middle school students take pre-algebra. "I don't know how a lot of special ed students are going to be able to get through the curriculum and the testing." she worries, "Are we setting them up to drop out?"

Hanging on to 'electric moments'

Such concerns are rooted in teachers' desire to connect with kids, to protect those precious minutes in class so that each child has a shot at those "aha" moments. Teachers savor those moments like images carefully pasted in a scrapbook.

"These electric moments occur, and you never know when they're going to happen," says Berg. "This year, we were talking about Iraq in one of my classes. One of the girls--one of those kids who rarely volunteered information--said, 'What you're saying is true, but the climate there is really different. My dad's over there, and I just got this letter from him.'"

The class grew quiet as she read the letter. All the students asked to see it, and from then on this one-time onlooker became an active class participant, as both teacher and classmates referred to her for updates whenever the subject of the war came up.

"All kids have something to offer, something to give," says Berg. "I'm always amazed at how much kids grow, especially when they take a chance."

"It's the day-to-day rewards and the improvements you see," says Hampton, who teaches students for whom English is not their native language. "Kids will come up to me and say, I'm not failing English anymore!' and they're so excited. I can see growth in every kid who wants to learn, and I can see growth in every school day. So I never regret going to school in the morning; I always look forward to it."

James Whitehurst, a history and sociology teacher at Fallston High School in Maryland, relishes how "every student, every period, every day is something new," he says. "First period's lesson plan may be the same as second period's, but there are 30 new students, all with different personalities and questions. I look forward to my class being the highlight of their day and their wanting to come back."

Washington's David Quinn, formerly a child actor on Sesame Street, also enjoys the spontaneity. "There's a great joy in not knowing where 30 different intellects are going to take you."

The joys of teaching also come from finding out--maybe even years later--that you've had an especially powerful influence on helping a child grow up.

Debbie Munoz, a paraprofessional at Redlands East Valley High School in Redlands, California, took a large pay cut from her job at a jewelry store to work with kids. Intent on distracting a sixth-grade student who insisted on stabbing himself with a pencil, she walked him to the science lab one day to show him the animals they had. The boy began to open up to Munoz, and the stabbing stopped. The boy now attends her high school. "He's secure with himself now," says Munoz. "I have so many success stories, and it has made such a huge impact on my life that I've been able to do this."

It's moments like these that underscore the NEA Status report's conclusion: you'd do it all over again. In spite of low pay and crazy mandates, 60 percent of teachers say that, if they had to go back to the time they were in college--armed with their present knowledge--they'd still choose teaching.

"When I go home every day, I know that what I do matters to society," Janice Voorhies, a teacher at Utah's Bingham High School, wrote in a recent letter to the Deseret News. Voorhies was among dozens of teachers who flooded the paper with personal testimonies after a local columnist asked why teachers stick it out given the conditions they face. The Utah Education Association now plans a campaign around the theme of "Why I Teach" to let the public read these stories. "I am enriched by the countless students who daily share with me their courage, enthusiasm, talent, sometimes off-the-wall humor, and sheer joy for learning," Voorhies continued. "There isn't a better job anywhere."

"A long time ago I taught in Tennessee and Alabama," North reflects. "A lot of those students are probably parents themselves now. I think about the kind of influence I may have had on them, and whether that's being passed on to their children." The desire to mold future, generations--and help children fulfill their own dreams--does not fade easily.

Additional reporting by Cheryl Ross, Josef Sawyec and Tamara Zakim.
What Lights Your Fire?

The reasons you originally decided to become a teacher:

Desire to work with young people         73%

Interest in a subject matter field       36%

Value or significance of education       44%
   in society

Influence of a teacher in elementary     32%
   or secondary school

Note: Table made from pie graph.

What Holds You Back?

The things that keep you from providing the best
Service you're capable of:

Lack of materials, resources,       8%
Lack of funds, decent salary        8%
Lack of time to teach,              7%
   classroom interruptions
Class size                          7%
Lack of preparation/planning        7%
Testing demands/teaching to         4%
   the test
Heavy workload, extra              16%
   paperwork, meetings
Incompetent, uncooperative         14%
   admin/lack of support from
Negative attitudes of public,      12%
   parents, state legislators
Discipline, negative attitudes      9%
   of students
Other                               8%

Note: Table made from pie graph.


Educators influence ESEA with bargaining.


For more than 18 months, teachers, educations support professionals, and school administrators have tried to make sense of the revised Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). The law-renamed the No Child Left Behind Act by the Bush administration--outlines federal requirements For everything from student testing, to teacher and paraprofessional qualifications to school performance and improvement.

Title schools must show steady improvement in their students' standardized test scores or face sanctions. Low-performing schools may have to let students transfer to more successful schools, provide supplemental educational service or restructure. Staff face job transfers or, in some cases, job losses.

Meanwhile, state departments of education must implement their plans for meeting the federal mandates--and find ways to pay for them. The entire process leaves many educators asking. "When do we get a say?"

The answer could come at the bargaining table.

Tucked among ESEA's testing guidelines and threats of school reconstruction rests a critical paragraph on collective bargaining. Here the federal law stipulates that none of the school improvement provisions outlined in ESEA will reduce the rights educators have under collective bargaining or other agreements between employees and their employers.

The negotiations might be challenging, but educators can affect how school districts implement ESEA by bargaining protections into their contracts. And that gives Association members some influence.

That influence is not restricted solely to salary and employment issues either, says Bob Strunk on NEA's Collective Bargaining and Member Advocacy Department Staff.

The laws requirements essentially open the door for educators to have more say on core instructional issues such as class size, professional development, curriculum, and instructional committees.

"Teachers are being held responsible for improvements in the schools, but they have had no input," says Strunk. "This is another opportunity to say, 'if we're going to be held accountable for these things we need to have a voice in how they are put in place.'"

In Michigan, local Associations in almost every school district already are bargaining to address EASEA, says Stan Burnell, bargaining consultant for the Michigan Education Association. In fact, the state Association has developed model contract language on a variety of issues--ranging from involuntary transfers to school improvement committees to increased compensation.

Michigan is not alone. State affiliates in Massachusetts, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin also created language local Associations can use in their negotiations. These six affiliates worked with NEA's Collective Bargaining and Member Advocacy Department on a new guide of model contract language and bargaining and local policy suggestions. NEA unveiled the guide at the Annual Meeting in New Orleans this summer. UniServ directors and state affiliate presidents and executive directors also will receive copies.

So what issues can you take to the bargaining table? Here are a few suggestions. (For more details, talk to your UniServ director. Ask to see a copy of NEA's Bargaining and Local Policy Development Guide for Issues Raised by the ESEA.)


What the law says: By the 2005-06 school year, states must test students in reading and math annually in grades 3-8 and once in grades 10-12. Beginning in 2007, states must test students in science once in elementary, middle, and high school.

What to bargain: Limit the use of student test scores. Make sure student scores do not impact a teacher's or paraeducator's evaluation, discipline, or discharge


What the law says: The student body in each school. as well as students from each of the school's major subgroups--racial and ethnic minorities, English-language learners, low-income, and special education students--must show steady improvement on standardized exams for the school to meet adequate yearly progress (AYP) targets. Title I schools that fail to meet their progress targets face sanctions. States also must impose state sanctions on non-Title I schools. After two failing years, Title I schools must give students the option to move to other public schools. After three years, the schools must offer supplemental educational services, such as tutoring. With continued failures, the schools face outside corrective actions, which could include implementing a new curriculum, replacing staff, extending the school day or year, or complete reconstruction.

What to bargain:

Before bargaining any school improvement issues, review your individual collective bargaining agreement to avoid conflicts with existing rights. No improvement plan should alter or modify existing agreements.

Make sure public school choice plans do not negatively impact transportation and class size. Negotiate class size limits and/or provisions that require the school district to apply for available federal funds, such as Title II money, which districts can use to reduce class sizes.

Limit attempts to out source supplemental educational services. Ensure that Association members provide these services on a voluntary basis determined by seniority. Push for extra compensation for these extra duties.

Provide parameters for layoffs and involuntary transfers that could result from school improvement plans. Limit assignments of teachers outside their certification areas.

Limit the options avail able for reconstituting the school.


What the law says: All teachers of core academic subjects must be "highly qualified" by the 2005-06 school year by having state certification and demonstrating subject competence. Local school districts must use between 5 percent and 10 percent of their Title I money to help current teachers meet the standard.

What to bargain:

Provide teacher input on professional development plans designed to help teachers meet the "highly qualified" standard

Seek school district reimbursement for tuition, certification, and licensure costs.

Establish a salary structure that compensates teachers for extra education and professional development.


What the law says. By January 8, 2006, Title I paraprofessionals who provide instructional support must have at least two years of college, an associate's degree or higher, or pass an assessment that demonstrates their knowledge of and ability to assist with instruction.

What to bargain:

Provide paraeducator input on professional development plans designed to help paras meet the new standards.

Seek school district reimbursement for tuition, training, and testing costs.

Allow Title I paras who do not meet the federal standards by 2006 to transfer to similar non Title I positions for equal pay and hours.

Establish a salary schedule that compensates paras for increased skills, training. and education.


88 percent of teachers say that the amount of attention their school pays to standardized test results has increased over the past several years. 61 percent say teaching to the test "inevitably stifles real teaching and learning."
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Title Annotation:"Status of the American Public School Teacher 2000-2001" research by National Education Association; includes "What Lights Your Fire?" / "What Holds You Back?" tables and related article "A Place at the Table"
Author:O'Neil, John
Publication:NEA Today
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2003
Previous Article:Defending our health benefits.
Next Article:Teachers and ESPs speak up about their professional development needs.

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