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Jeff Ward: Our Teachers, Daycare Workers Deserve Better

Why is it, when it comes to our children, we suddenly get so cheap?

As is often the case, the seed for this column was sown in the comments following my treatise on PCDES or Parent-Driven Child-Entitlement Syndrome. That’s what I love the most about Patch—the insistent and unflinching reader feedback!

But while it was refreshing to see so many of you agree with me and share similar stories, I was surprised by the ardor of those few who veered off course to attack teachers—and particularly their salaries. I realize anti-educator fervor is in favor these days, but I also think this undercurrent of contempt tends to sweep away more than just teachers.

Most of you’ve already heard the tragic story of former Lincolnshire daycare worker Melissa Calusinski who’s currently standing trial for the murder of 16-month-old Benjamin Kingan. Twenty-two at the time, after the toddler became fussy, Calusinski allegedly threw him to the floor so violently he suffered fatal head injuries.

I’m sure this won’t make me popular, but after reading that news story my first thought was, “This is exactly why I would never entrust my child to the care of an employee making barely more than minimum wage.”

Don’t get me wrong! I understand some parents have no choice, there’s no excuse for abusing a child, and most daycare workers are fine and caring people. But while day care itself is expensive, the average Illinois daycare worker makes $9.25 an hour. That’s comes out to $19,000 a year for a job that would reduce most of us to molten Jello.

What this really means is we’re willing to turn over our children for eight-plus hours a day to what often turns out be a very young woman with no better job prospects. Even an assistant manager at McDonald's pulls down 29 grand a year.

School bus drivers don’t fare much better, either. We insist a $13-an-hour private bus company driver whisk our children off to school and bring them back safely while somehow managing the behavior of up to 60 students at the same time.

All this, while the average yellow-bus driver works about 4.5 hours day for 172 days a year with no benefits. That adds up to $10,000 year, which is $1,000 below the state-of-Illinois-defined poverty line.

Now let’s talk teachers!

After four years of racking up college debt and enduring a vast array of state-required testing—which they get to pay for the privilege of taking—the average Illinois teacher starts off at $37,500 per year. Let’s compare that number to some other vocations that don’t require nearly that amount of schooling.

A first-year city of Wheaton “maintenance specialist” starts at $45,000 and automatically gets bumped to $49,000 in year two. A Glen Ellyn rookie police officer earns 50 grand a year and, considering the recent spate of attacks on teachers, I’m not sure which job is more dangerous.

A fresh-off-the-street CTA bus driver hauls down $60,000, area plumbers come in at $43,000, and a novice truck driver, with his or her meager $1,500 tuition bill, starts off at $38,000 a year. Even a McDonald’s manager makes $39,000 to start.

Some of you argued that teachers don’t deserve more because they work nine months out of the year, put in a short six-hour day, get all kinds of breaks, often reap six-figure salaries in their later years, and then they get 75 percent pensions.

All I can say is, cow cookies!

According to the National Education Association, when you include grading tests and papers, bus/lunchroom/playground duty, and after-school activities, the average teacher puts in a long 10-hour day. When students are on break, they’re participating in district-mandated inservice programs, grading yet more papers and hosting parent conferences.

During their “summer vacation,” often at their own expense, teachers typically keep up with their continuing-education requirements, volunteer to help administrators with curriculum projects and coach sports for a minimal stipend.

It’s true. If a teacher manages to survive the classroom long enough, she or he can make a decent living, but let’s look at some real-world numbers.

In a database study of the Kaneville School District I did in 2009 for a Beacon-News column, out of 330 non-administrative educators, only 12 made more than $80,000. And to get there, that small group averaged 29 years with the district, and each one of them had a master's degree or better.

As far as pensions go, only those teachers who toil for 35 years while putting 9.1 percent of their annual income into a retirement fund can reap a 75 percent pension. According to the Teachers Retirement System website, only 25 percent of educators who retired in the last seven years put in that kind of time.

Not to mention, given our bankrupt state, many of them may never see a dime of that money, and they don’t get Social Security.

Meanwhile, teaching is one of the toughest jobs on the planet. It’s essentially a form of public speaking where you’re expected to engage 25 to 35 children, five days a week, for nine months. Then we expect our teachers, who often spend more time with our children than we do, to somehow raise them for us.

Yes! Tenure needs to be reworked, teachers unions are often out of their minds (see Chicago) and benefits need to be reconsidered. But to put a teacher’s salary in perspective, go back to day care: Nannysitters, a professional babysitting service in Naperville, asks $15 an hour for three children. Take a conservative 24 children per class for six hours a day for 180 days, and it comes out to $129,600 dollars a year.

Here’s what I don’t understand. Why is it, when it comes to the people who care for our most-precious commodity—our children—not only do we nickel and dime these well-meaning folks to death, but God forbid any one of them should make as much as a minor mistake. Then we call for their heads.

I wish I could say I had an answer for this short-sighted phenomenon, but all I can tell you is I find it utterly baffling. A McDonald’s manager with no education makes more than a starting teacher! Why are we then surprised when, on those incredibly rare occasions when it all goes wrong, we end up getting exactly what we paid for?

Kelly H December 02, 2011 at 09:47 PM
Wish that were true! The school and each individual teacher have a legal responsibility to provide a safe environment for students and “care for” them. You'd be surprised how often I have had to intervene - in high school - when students are doing something that could lead to injury for themselves or others. Even simple things that you'd think would be behind high school students - like covering your mouth when you sneeze - are issues I deal with. Not that I'd want to be considered a babysitter or daycare provider (the priorities of my job and a daycare provider's job are different), but a lot of my training to become a teacher did include how to manage and redirect behavior, just like a daycare provider’s should. And arguably there are days when that part of my training comes in handier than a master's degree in my academic subject.
Paul Bryant December 02, 2011 at 10:16 PM
I never said the unions are trying to make a profit. Like every other union, the members pay the dues, but the consumers pay for this indirectly, and for the salaries of the union management, through higher costs.
Mike Sandrolini December 02, 2011 at 10:26 PM
Great column, Jeff; you summed everything up well. Now, how about another Occupy Wall Street column so we can get on your case?! (lol!, just kidding!)
Paul Bryant December 02, 2011 at 10:31 PM
I will not argue experienced vs. new, as I have seen both good and bad on both sides, not just in teaching. But the absurdity of your statements should be obvious - unless your tenured, you can be let go without cause, while an under-performing veteran will ride the system to get their pension and depending on who they know, there will be no ramifications. I know plenty of teachers - don't even bother telling me this doesn't happen. Bad choice of words on my part, but I do not have a problem using tax dollars to pay salaries. Anything else though should not be funded by tax dollars. Did you really just say "modest wages" when referring to Geneva School District salaries?
Paul Bryant December 02, 2011 at 10:31 PM
Poorly worded - of course tax dollars have to be used to pay salaries. Anything else related to teacher benefits - no way!
Bob McQuillan December 02, 2011 at 10:37 PM
I agree, very few teachers complain about their salary & benefits. Since I deal in FACTS & this is the Geneva Patch, lets look at what we pay our teachers. Based on the current teachers contract, here is what they get in 2011-12 school year. With a BA & no experience start is $39,651; with MA it is $46,390. After 17 years a BA makes $60,263; MA $70,506. Raises are guaranteed yearly thru step program. Lane program covers courses taken & additional degrees. Out of classroom stipends are separate. Employee medical & dental premiums are covered 100% with $400 deductible. Family medical (60% paid) & dental (50%) with a $800 deductible. Tenured teachers can take up to a 21/2 year unpaid leave of absence. 10 sick days a year with an unlimited # accumulated. If you don't take Early Retirement with 25 years you 20% of last year salary for insurance premiums. If you retire 3 years early, we pay 100% of the lump sum payment to avoid a discounted retirement payment. Tenure means 3 days of Personal Business Absence with 4 days after 9 years.
Bob McQuillan December 02, 2011 at 11:13 PM
Those with a Master Certificate of the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards receive $3,000 per year from the state. If the state doesn't pay, we do. The GEA President (teachers union) can be paid 15 days to attend to local union issues. Also, up to 70% of the President's school day workload can be used for union duties. We pay up to $100,000 per year for college or graduate level courses for teachers. Insurance costs range between $6,043 and $21,054 yearly per employee depending on the number of family members covered and the plan chosen. By the way, Geneva School Bus Drivers start at $28.00 per hour and max out at $33.44 for the 2011-12 school year. Those are the FACTS and can't be disputed. Geneva is currently in the last year of a three year contract. Administrators have no received a salary increase for the second year in 2011-12 school year. If you are concerned about the District's long-term debt ($325.6 million) and other expenses, attend the December 12th School Board meeting at the former Coultrap Elementary School at 7 pm. A vote is scheduled to be taken on the tax levy for 2011. The levy will be reflected in your property taxes payable on June 1, 2012
Paul Bryant December 02, 2011 at 11:14 PM
Thanks for the FACTS, Bob!
Jamie S. December 03, 2011 at 03:53 AM
Great article and interesting comments. Just one thing...day care providers, esp goood ones do have trainings...even degrees. You are right. They don't get paid enough for all they do. Most would say they do it for the hug, the smiles, etc like I have been doing for the last 15 years. Amazing that some babysitters make more $ then we do :)
MattG December 03, 2011 at 09:14 PM
I love how Mr. Ward throws random facts around as justification of higher salaries. - Teachers go to college and have huge debt from student loans and then make (implied) a low salary. Maybe this is an indication that college tuition is VASTLY out of control instead of teachers making too little. - Public Works employees make lots and lots of money and teacher make about the same. Again, maybe that is an indication that Public Works employees are making too much instead of teachers making too little. The overall ascertion of the article is our kids are precious, they deserve the best, let's pay teachers more so we get better education for our kids. The trouble with Mr. Ward's very simplistic approach is that it is fine blather but doesn't hold up to scrutiny when you look at the facts. There are COUNTLESS examples of private schools throughout the country that get out of the constraints of a public school trap that do FAR better than public schools - AND they cost less. Watch "Waiting for Superman" as an example. The little nexus that Mr. Ward doesn't understand (or perhaps doesn't WANT to understand) is that in most jobs, there are market forces behind pay and workforce supply. Public schools completely remove that paradigm. How many hundreds of teachers apply to teach at Geneva, St. Charles, Batavia and can't get a job. Probably an indication that people think that the pay is pretty darned good.
James Parnell December 03, 2011 at 10:16 PM
Your right Matt private schools do "get out" of the constraints public schools. For example they don't "have to" accept every child that lives within their school district. They do not "have to" provide special education services for children that qualify, which by the way is the most costly per pupil expense that any district can incur. They do not "have to" follow all the state and national testing mandates and COUNTLESS other unfunded mandates that public schools must follow. Until private schools are required to accept all students who apply, like a public school, and follow all the unfunded mandates, like a public school, then you can't fairly compare the two. That would be like comparing any park district basketball team with the same aged club or travel team and saying its a fair comparison because they both play basketball.
Kevin December 04, 2011 at 12:29 AM
If teaching is such an easy, great, well-paying job with tremendous benefits, why aren't any of you doing it?
Nick Beam December 04, 2011 at 02:38 AM
Great comment.
Bob McQuillan December 04, 2011 at 09:04 PM
Kevin, you are either a teacher or you have drunk too much District kool-aid. Bet you also buy into the "it's all for the children" the administration preaches. I haven't said that teaching is an easy job. They do receive tremendous benefits and I'm starting to believe it is a well-paying job. When a Geneva teacher's salary is $53,126 in 2008-09 and increases to $77,407 in 2010-11 (45.7%) without a change in title, that is a well paying job. Think that increase is unusual? Between 2008-09 and 2010-11 school year, 7 teachers received a salary increase of at least 30% and 24 teachers between 29% and 20% increase with no change in title. Again, these are FACTS that are reported to the state of Illinois. There are many reasons why people choose not to become teachers but that doesn't make their profession any less important than teaching. The vast majority of teachers do a very good job but, like every profession, there are those that do a poor job. In other professions if you do a poor job chances are that you will not be employed too long. A poor tenured teacher is almost impossible to dismiss as was the case in Geneva just a couple of years ago. When your salary and benefits are paid for by taxpayers, you are going to be a target in economic downturns. The Geneva teachers are in the last year of a 3 year contract which awarded salary increases every year. If the union doesn't offer major concessions this year, that taxpayer heat will only get worse.
Geneva Non-parent December 05, 2011 at 12:00 AM
Kevin, Most of us will not buy into the fallacy that you must a teacher or that you have drunk some Kool-Aid - as if they are the only two options availiable. Nor will we assume that "it's only for the children" is some flimsy statement to disguise the truly nefarious nature of those who administer education. Bob does bring up an interesting point. Apparently some teachers have had large raises in salary over a short period of time "with no change in title." Rather than assume that's typical or another nefarious plot, maybe a better question would be, "Why did that change occur?" Did responsibilities and duties change "with no change in title?" Assuming that the increase in pay was arbitrary or somehow underhanded just doesn't make sense. A teacher's pay is dictated by very specific criteria. In the private sector can a boss just decide to give some workers raises and not others, but I'm sure Bob can provide you a chart from the District 304 contract that indicates the pay rates. The issue of dismissal of poor teachers is a seperate issue. I imagine there are very few teachers who want to teach along side of bad teachers.
Kevin December 05, 2011 at 12:58 AM
Geneva Non-parent, Teachers with "large raises in salary over a short period of time" could be the result of taking additional classes, getting an advanced degree, or taking on extra curricular activities. When you look up teacheres salaries, those extra curricular salaries are included. If someone coaches for three seasons, or takes on a full year extra curricular duty such as athletic director, or sponsor of student government, that would indicate an increase in salary shown on various websites. There would be no change in title. Teachers don't change titles unless they happen to get an administrative degree and become principals or assistant principals. No one wants to work along side of bad workers, but that is up to the supervisors to take care of. It is not always a union protecting bad teachers. The supervisors need to be willing to go through the work required. I'll pose my challenge to you again Bob. Quit what you are doing and become a teacher. I'm sure you will set a fine example for the students and the slacker teachers you are talking about.
Bob McQuillan December 05, 2011 at 01:24 AM
Geneva Non-Parent Let me clarify what I meant by their" title didn't change." In the three years from 2008-09 through 2010-11, their classroom & teaching assignment did not change. And that is what we are really talking about here - teaching. I was surprised at the percent increases and did ask why to the asst. superintendent of human resources. He didn't explain individual situations but did say that because of the step & lane compensation system double digit percent increases are available from year to year. You read that correctly, a 25+% increase can be received in one year. If anyone wants a copy of the explanation, send me an e-mail at taxfacts@sbcglobal.net. You will need to supply a real e-mail address. If anyone wants to view the step & lane rates, just go to www.geneva304.org and search for the teachers contract. In the private sector a boss can decide to give some workers raises and not others because each individual receives their own evaluation. Unless they are union, then everyone gets the same increase or recently maybe a decrease. Also, I never said that the salary increases were a "nefarious plot", "arbitrary" or "underhanded." What I said is that I am starting to believe that teaching is a well paying job. As to why good teachers would want to teach along side of bad teachers, I have always wonder why that would happen. But I know it does. If they want, maybe those good teachers could provide an answer.
Bob McQuillan December 05, 2011 at 01:50 AM
Kevin says: "No one wants to work along side of bad workers, but that is up to the supervisors to take care of. It is not always a union protecting bad teachers. The supervisors need to be willing to go through the work required." "I'll pose my challenge to you again Bob. Quit what you are doing and become a teacher. I'm sure you will set a fine example for the students and the slacker teachers you are talking about." Based on the above comments, I will assume Kevin is extremely familiar with the teaching profession. First, why wouldn't a supervisor be willing to do the work needed to make sure the children receive the best education possible. Isn't that the role of a supervisor in or outside of teaching - getting the best people possible to work for you. Second, why have you challenged me to quit my job and become a teacher? What would that prove? I have said that teachers get great benefits, are well paid, that in an economic downturn their salaries & benefits will be a target and that not all teachers do a great job. Of those statements, which ones aren't correct? Certainly it can't be the last one because you already have stated that supervisors sometimes don't want to do the work necessary to dismiss a teacher. If I became a teacher only one thing would change - I would do everything necessary to get a bad teacher dismissed. That should be the responsibility of any good teacher because that really is "for the good of the kids."
James Parnell December 05, 2011 at 02:21 AM
"Doing everything necessary to get a bad teacher dismissed is the responsibility of any good teacher" Really Bob? And when would a good teacher have time to do that? Wouldn't one assume that if they are a good teacher they would be doing what they are supposed to be doing...TEACHING KIDS? When would they have time to "drop in" and observe these bad teachers being bad. And wouldn't they be doing the administrators job for them? Is that what happens in private sector jobs, co-workers going around and making sure bad co-workers get fired? Can we assume you have taken on that responsibility where you work? What about the power of parents in pressuring administrators to have poor teachers fired. They have a closer connection to what goes on in a bad teachers classroom by having their children in the classroom, more than a co-worker who they might pass in the hall or share lunch with in the faculty lounge. I will assume your kids have had bad teachers at some point. What did you do to get them fired? Seems like teachers will always fall short of your standards Bob.
Bob McQuillan December 05, 2011 at 05:36 AM
James Love it when people put words in my mouth! If a supervisor isn't doing their job, as described by Kevin, it is the responsibility of the other teachers to bring it to the attention of the principal. Why would any teacher or parent disagree with that? As to my own children, the vast majority of their teachers were very good and very caring individuals. We did have one problem prior to moving to Geneva. We listened to what our son's concerns were and immediately met with the principal. They observed the situation and it turned out that there was a serious problem and it was immediately corrected. Yes, parents do have the responsibility to handle a situation when either children are in danger or the teacher isn't up to par. As far as our experience in Geneva, our children have had excellent experiences with many of their teachers but some have been questionable. As I stated before, this would be true of any school or any business situation. My standards for teachers are no higher than any other parent. To paint me as anti-education and anti-teacher is the easy way out. My own educational background, as well as my wife's and three children, shows that our family values education. We also realize that education must be affordable. My original comment was in response to the writer's opinion that teachers and daycare employees were underpaid. I provided FACTS for people to make their own decision. You can believe anything you wish.
James Parnell December 05, 2011 at 11:49 AM
Bob, Now your putting words in my mouth. I don't see where I stated you were anti-teacher or anti-education. I truly believe that you, like many people, don't have a problem with "how much" teachers get paid as much as you do with "how" they get paid. If all schools were privately funded then we probably wouldn't be having this conversation but this is not the reality of the situation. As for my other point. If a "supervisor" , or in the case of schools, "the principal" is not doing their job it is more likely teachers would voice their concerns about that principal to the central office administration or superintendent. It is the responsibility of the principal to hire and then evaluate all teachers in their building. They are the ones who have time in the day to sit in those classrooms while teaching is taking place and assess good or bad teaching. Teachers are hired to teach and their daily schedule is set up for that. They don't have time to casually drop by another teachers classroom to observe how they teach and then make a case for that teachers dismissal. I am curious if the F.A.C.T.S. group was formed "before" or "after" your kids graduated from the district?
Bob McQuillan December 05, 2011 at 02:31 PM
James Your statement "Seems like teachers will always fall short of your standards Bob" is anti-teacher. Also, never said a teacher should "casually drop by another teachers classroom to observe how they teach and then make a case for that teachers dismissal" those are your words. Discussing the situation with the principal first then, if needed, the superintendent and as a last course the school board would be the right path. Actually, the board approves all hiring. I have attended Geneva School Board meetings since 1999 when our oldest was in high school. My youngest graduated from GHS in 2006 & I continue to attend. FACTS was formed in 2008 when four taxpayers weren't happy about decisions being made on many issues. The FACTS group sends out more than 190 e-mails to local residents, including the school board, on various school related topics. Anyone can be added to the e-mail list by requesting at taxfacts@sbcglobal.net. How school districts are funded is a huge problem in this in this state. In "wealthy" tax paying areas, the state has pretty much stopped funding local districts. I am concerned how every public sector department is funded and that would include what teachers are paid in salary, benefits & retirement. Teachers contribute @ 9% of their salaries to the teachers retirement fund but that amount doesn't cover the average teachers retirement benefits. The state has basically stolen that money for their own use. Guess who will end up paying.
James Parnell December 05, 2011 at 03:31 PM
Again I don't want to beat a dead horse here, but how is a teacher supposed to know if another teacher is good or bad if they are not in that teachers classroom watching them teach? By word of mouth? Lunch room gossip? Inform me Bob. I assume you know enough about the typical day to day schedules and responsibilities of a classroom teacher that you can confidently speak out on this particular issue.
Bob McQuillan December 05, 2011 at 03:50 PM
James If you don't believe that teachers know the abilities, both strengths and weakness, of themselves and other teachers then we will never agree on anything. Do you think teachers work with blinders on? Remember my comment was based on the fact that a "supervisor" (Kevin's term) or principal (your term) isn't doing their job. My experience with Geneva principals at all levels is the opposite, they do their jobs and clearly know what is happening in their school at all times. This will be my last response on this thread - if want the last word, go for it.
Jamie S. December 06, 2011 at 05:32 AM
Wow! :)
Kevin December 06, 2011 at 01:07 PM
Fine, I'll take the last word. If I'm a teacher and am doing my job, teaching my students, how am I supposed to know what is going on in a classroom on the other side of the building? How do I know what teaching is going on? Do I take the word of teenagers? As a teacher friend of mine told me that she tells her parents on open house night, "if you don't believe everything your child says about me, I won't believe everything your child says about you." My point is this: if I'm not in the classroom observing what is going on, what do I have to go on to determine that teaching isn't going on? Rumor? Innuendo? Do I assume that because a teacher teaches differently from the way I do, that they are bad teachers?
Ramona December 08, 2011 at 02:09 AM
I am sick of the arguement that teachers DESERVE higher salaries because they went to college, so what! It is the entitlement mentality that has driven our country to this sad state!! There are thousands of college educated unemployed people. And, anyone who thinks that working in public works or the like is easy and not worth the money, you try it for a while! Also, many of those positions require at least a two year degree or more today. Perhaps you will gain a greater appreciation for those who help the cities and towns keep going.
Djanish October 15, 2012 at 09:20 AM
I am a daycare worker and I believe I should be paid more! I have worked in many schools and believe that I am "teaching" the children I care for many things that will prepare them for life! I have my early childhood degree and am doing the exact same thing or rather I'm doing more because I also have to clean up my own mess ( I can't just leave it for the custodians) that "teachers" are doing yet I'm getting paid a fraction of what they are getting paid because they stayed in school for one more year! Clearly, something is wrong with our world when people are allowing for this to happen!
Bruno Fontana October 15, 2012 at 04:39 PM
Hey Teachers, Day Care Workers, et al...Deal with it, the rest of us have had to since post 2008. There are no guarantees in life, no promises, no yearly raises or bonus for most of us. If someone told you that, they lied-which is another valuable life lesson-trust then verify. I've written this before: no one is demonizing the vocation of an educator, if that’s what you want to do-good for you. But in this sad economic environment to "expect" anything because you went to college is galling. Jeff-it has nothing to do with being cheap. There is no money. It was given away by our State politicians to buy Union Votes…which is the way it’s always been done(sadly).
Robert Jr. October 15, 2012 at 05:25 PM
It would be nice if the Patch would also recognize that the frustration among tax payers has nothing to do with whether the public believes teachers are professional, and deserving of quality pay and benefits. I believe there is a growing awareness among the public that many systems in place since the 1950's need restructuring and that Government/Public employment and laborunion/management tactics also need to be revisited and re-engineered in order to be sustainable into the future. I believe we all see the financial problems that the public sector faces, but everyone wants to kick the necessary sacrifices needed to fix the problem down the road to the next generation. This generation has finally stepped up to say no more. We want to fix the problems today, and we will look at all sources of concern. Let's address the structural issues, so the trash emotional gossip-style rants can give way to intellectually sound and financially stabel solutions long term. Geneva supports teachers, and supports fiscal responsibility. I doubt fiscal irresponsibility is supported, nor are community/teacher tensions desired either.

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