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25 February 2015


The debates rage all over the web. Will the new standards save our public school systems or ruin them? One teacher assures me that the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) will not dictate curriculum. 

"These Standards do not dictate curriculum or teaching methods. For example, just because topic A appears before topic B in the standards for a given grade, it does not necessarily mean that topic A must be taught before topic B. A teacher might prefer to teach topic B before topic A, or might choose to highlight connections by teaching topic A and topic B at the same time. Or, a teacher might prefer to teach a topic of his or her own choosing that leads, as a byproduct, to students reaching the standards for topics A and B."—training materials for teaching to the CCSS

My freedom to teach topic A before or after topic B still says I must teach topic A and topic B. Giving me the "freedom" to rearrange the order doesn't mean much. And it isn't even the problem. I am an English teacher. I've been teaching what I find in the CCSS for more than 25 years. 

Too much is left out of these standards because it can't be easily tested, would be my complaint. The tiny group who created the CCSS did, in fact, ask the National Counsel of Teachers of English what they thought about the proposed Standards for Language Arts, and the NCTE had suggestions, which were completely ignored. I was also in a group invited to attend a presentation and to comment on the CCSS. The extent of my allowed comment was did I find the new standards useful or the best thing I'd ever seen? Then my name was entered on the role of those whose input was sought.

That said, I don't actually have much quarrel with national standards. I find the CCSS inadequate but heading in the right direction as a goal for instruction. Here's what I resent most: in my 12-week spring term, I will lose an entire week to testing with the SBAC. That's just in my subject area. An entire portfolio assignment will be abandoned for lack of time—gathering work samples from the year and reflection on personal process, strengths and weaknesses in writing and reading. Plus, beyond that lost week while every computer in my school is being used for testing juniors, I must find time for the students who are absent during that week or need more than the estimated 4.5 hours for the LA portion of the test. Further, others will be tracking down the students who are not taking a junior English class in the spring (we have a 3-term schedule) and delivering that test to them—non-English teachers—which means they will be pulled from other classes for testing. The math and LA portions are estimated to require 8.5 hours total, but of course, this will vary considerably. Some students will miss more than 8.5 hours of instruction in order to complete the SBAC. 

The students will be judged and so will my school and each teacher. Is this a CCSS issue, a testing issue, an administrative issue, or just the way it has to be? I don't have an easy answer.

For the entire school year I have been advised to teach specific testing strategies. Multiple choice tests, once we leave school, are relatively rare. I might need to take one for a new driver's license if I move out of state. I might have to take one to complete a licensing process, such as becoming a journeyman electrician. But what we call "real life" rarely comes down to choosing the best answer out of A, B, C, or D, or in the case of some SBAC questions, selecting the best of four sentences I can highlight in a written passage. Personally, I am an excellent test-taker, but not everyone is, and not every student cares how they do, all of which makes the tests even more stressful for some of us and less reliable for everyone. There is a cost to lost instruction time and a cost in dollars to purchase use of the test and materials (testing isn't cheap). What do we gain? I'm not sure. 

Students in my state have already been required to meet certain standards in order to graduate, so there is no real gain there. Many students already take the Compass or SAT, which have their flaws but also have had years to address these flaws, inconsistencies, and bias in their scores. The SBAC is still mostly unknown, still being fine-tuned, and likely to have flaws for years while designers work out the bugs. When I was given the opportunity to look at a sample test, for example, the most notable observation I had was that my randomly chosen first question had no correct answer. This happens in standardized tests sometimes, but it was disheartening to me as a teacher because I know from personal experience how distressing it is to read a question and then not find the answer among the displayed options.

I am a good teacher, certainly not the best, but my students, coming from a high-poverty and small rural school district, have gone on to great universities all over the nation and to jobs and careers they were well-prepared for. 

The problem with our education system isn't that we don't have the right test, it's that most public school students (more than half in a recent study) suffer the enormous disadvantage of poverty and we will not see improvement so long as wealthier parents can buy a superior education for their children and then whine about taxes paid to support the education of the disadvantaged. 

Will the new standards save our public school systems or ruin them? Probably neither. Probably they will do what such top-down measures have succeeded in doing over the past few decades: Not a whole lot. 

My quarrel with these new tests is not about what they test, but about what it costs—in lost teaching time in order to make time for testing, in lost skills that are not easily tested or tested at all, and in student anxiety, tax dollars, and authentic education—when we assume a test can improve a system that isn't suffering from lack of accountability, but from a raft of other issues including poverty, disrespect, and lack of hope. And these problems cannot be corrected or even addressed by a test.

22 February 2015


Brain Pickings discusses Mary Oliver's book, Long Life, which I have on my to-read shelf but haven't gotten to yet. The issue is habit: 

"In the shapeliness of a life, habit plays its sovereign role... Most people take action by habit in small things more often than in important things, for it’s the simple matters that get done readily, while the more somber and interesting, taking more effort and being more complex, often must wait for another day. Thus, we could improve ourselves quite well by habit, by its judicious assistance, but it’s more likely that habits rule us."—Mary Oliver in Long Life

Oliver is talking about how to live a long and meaningful life, but somehow the post brought me to exams. Somehow her words turned into testing strategy. College exams are sometimes multiple choice, but I don't think that was often true in my experience. I was a good test-taker, but I don't have advice about multiple choice tests. I do know how to explain strategies for an essay test. 

Generally, I am a person who does the hard work before the easy—the main course before the dessert. But in a stressful situation, which is what a test is, I do the easier things first and last. 

Some students begin writing immediately while others are slow burners and want to think first. In college exams there is rarely time for thinking first in the exam period. That thinking needs to happen before the exam and then during the exam it must focus. I have advised my students on how to begin an essay exam: brainstorm and then allow habit to take over. 
  • Head the paper. 
  • Use a previously identified statistic or quotation to open as a hook—there should always be something, some clever bit the student has attached to and can dredge up in service of a hook. Exam questions rarely come out of thin air. They either draw directly from instruction or demand the reader make an extension to something new from instruction—either way, the student should have socked away useful tidbits. 
  • Explain the subject—the text's plot or the controversy or the obvious contrast about to be compared. 
  • I have sometimes left a blank line at the end of the first paragraph to accommodate a clear thesis, once I figure out what my thesis is. 
This completion of the beginning of my paper almost by rote is "stalling" based on habit, a way to build my paper before I fully know what my paper will be about—I use every moment in a limited time frame. The question is complex and I need time to ponder it, but in an exam situation I rarely have time to think about the question the way I would like. So, instead, I rely on habit to get me started, to begin writing—there is what has become predictable or habitual. The habit carries me along for a half page of writing, the entire first paragraph. In the mean time, my mind is considering the next paragraph and the one after. 

The easy thing at the end? Read over the essay for errors and add in that missing thesis if I've left a blank, or make corrections throughout the paper based on what my essay as a whole has accomplished by the end.  

I allow the habit of the five paragraph essay, followed hundreds of times by the time I started college, to carry me past uncertainty to more solid focus. It is work, of course, and I am no more eager for this sort of work than my students, but—like playing the French horn or basketball—practice may not make perfect, but it does tend to improve the skill. The habit of looking for flaws and improving, too, is a good one. 

The academic essay structure of explain-support-support-support-exception-conclusion becomes so thoroughly established as a habit that the writer does not have to think about it, but can focus on the harder task—answering the question completely and intelligibly. And carrying the structure too, is easier when there is a baseline foundation to vary from. 

We use this strategy all the time, relying on what we know to get us through what we cannot control. 

My grandfather worked for the circus and my father, as a result, had some first-hand circus experience. He told me that the people who worked the big cats—lions and tigers, and worse, leopards—had to work them every single day whether there was an audience or not. Habit was safety. The danger was when something went wrong—a stool fell over and the lion didn't have anything to jump to. At that moment, the trainer was at risk, because the habit was disrupted and anything could happen. That "anything" is not in the control of the trainer, which means it is in the control of the cat—a dangerous situation. 

I've watched enough circus acts myself to have observed this and recognize how agitated the cat becomes, how quickly the trainer restores the rhythm of habit

The writing process is not a simple matter of putting down what we think, repeating the same circus routine over an over. Writing merely uses the predictable to get to the performance. It is the performance we are after and not only for our reader (our audience) but for ourselves. In writing we clarify our thoughts. We figure out our opinions as we record them. We think so much faster than we can write and in so much variety that putting the words on the page, those choices we make on the fly in a testing situation, become the clearest representation of our ideas. 

A famous line, "How can I tell what I think till I see what I say?" has been attributed to everyone from Richard Hugo to Winston Churchil and W.H. Auden. But it was E. M. Forster: 

"Another distinguished critic has agreed with Gide*—that old lady in the anecdote who was accused by her niece of being illogical. For some time she could not be brought to understand what logic was, and when she grasped its true nature she was not so much angry as contemptuous. 'Logic! Good gracious! What rubbish!' she exclaimed. 'How can I tell what I think till I see what I say?' Her nieces, educated young women, thought that she was passée; she was really more up-to-date than they were."—E. M. Forster in Aspects of the Novel [1927]

Sometimes we do not know what we think until we write it down. 

Real life too is far less predictable than a circus act or an essay test, but we are all creatures of habit, and developing a strategy, a pattern of predictable behavior to get us started and carry us along in an exam, is a habit useful to any student. There will be disruptions—we expect to be tested on the lecture and the question comes from the text, or vice versa—but we are more comfortable when we feel some small measure of control. The habit of structure in an essay is control. 

Habit, then, allows the greater risk and reward of discovery. By accessing a habituation structure, we can focus on meaning, on not only what we know, but what we can imagine and explain and thus share.

* "André Paul Guillaume Gide ( 22 November 1869–19 February 1951) was a French author and winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1947 'for his comprehensive and artistically significant writings, in which human problems and conditions have been presented with a fearless love of truth and keen psychological insight.' "—Wikipedia He is perhaps most famous for his personal journals and the impact they made upon his fiction and other writings. 

19 February 2015


All my life there has been sporadic pressure to shift over to the metric system. This isn't new. Congress authorized the metric system in 1866. Officially, we have been a metric nation, at least so far as length and mass are concerned, since 1893. Honest. But we are still using yards and quarts and the imperial pound. We've been fighting the "new" system for over a hundred years. 

About metrification, I, for one, will never accept Celsius. When we used to run dogs in Canadian field trials, the temperature was sometimes an issue. What is the temperature? I would ask and get some meaningless number. An hour later, when it was ten times hotter, I'd ask the temperature and it would be one degree hotter. It seemed to me that the difference between hot, too hot, and sweltering was too few degrees. 

Pretty much no one uses Kelvin, which is even more logical than Celsius, I'm told. But I'm still stuck on Fahrenheit. A body temp of 99° F, for example, is a fever for me, less than half a degree over normal. That temp's not even a quarter degree at 37.222° C. A fever of three degrees Celsius (37° to 40°) takes me from normal body temp to I-need-to-be-at-the-hospital-because-I-am-dilerious (104° F). But having raised children, I want more space between normal and a fever because that space makes a lot of difference to my body and the health of people I care about. 

It's logical and methodical—0° is freezing, how can I not love that? But in the end, what matters is whatever we are used to.  

I have used metric for weights and measures for going on fifty years and I'm usually fine with the system, and though I do not usually convert to inches or pounds, I do have to think about it. In fact, for a long time I advocated for the metric system.  

Metric weights work for me because the first time I bought yarn for weaving it was in 100 gram skeins, ordered by the kilo from Sweden. I've been knitting and weaving for decades. I measure my finished work in inches, however, never centimeters.

Picas and points make sense to me because I used those measures pretty much daily for years. Pennyweights and points and carats make sense too. Nautical miles are longer that land miles, and I looked it up so I know one degree of meridian latitude is 111.2 km or 69 miles, but, hmm, this would vary wouldn't it, depending on where and whether measured with or at right angles? Clearly I have never sailed. 

On a good day, I can eyeball an acre. I can run in miles or kilometers. My favorite race distance would be a 10k, if I were running. I think about speed, however, in terms of minutes per mile, not how many minutes per kilometer. In the car I think of miles per gallon, U.S. gallons, not Imperial, not liters. I've bought fuel using all sorts of alternative measures.

There is no viable option for measuring time. It's all days and hours and minutes. Shouldn't there be something more rational than months of odd lengths and 24-hour days? A science fiction novel, The Rite of Passage, is among several offering an alternative, years of twelve 30-day months with a 5-day holiday at Year End. The author did something interesting with the hours as well. Isn't there some way to measure the passage of time that is more exacting and methodical, some factoring of ten? The French tried it a couple hundred years ago, apparently, with ten hour days in Revolutionary decimal time. The Chinese had a similar system dating many centuries earlier. Today scientists record using a decimal system of time. This does not fly in real life. Even the scientists who use the system probably still want eight hours of sleep at night. We want our days divided evenly into sleep, work, leisure, perhaps? Our private clock does not factor in multiples of ten. 

On the other hand, why ten? I spent months in sixth grade figuring everything in base five. There is nothing essential or inherently logical about base ten. It's merely what we are used to. (And how many fingers we have on one hand or both together.) One of my sons suggests a binary system. Don't even talk to me about how easy binary is to factor. I do not want to know.  

The abacus is also a mystery to me, and so are the measurements peculiar to many skills and professions. The ten point pain scale medical professionals use these days makes no sense to me. I once claimed my worst foot pain was a 10 and was told smugly that "we reserve 10 for experiences like childbirth." Having been through unmedicated childbirth twice, I figured I knew more than he did about childbirth pain, and since my feet had hurt bad enough to put me sobbing on the ground, that was another ten. But no. I could see he wasn't going to buy that. "Okay," I said. "A nine." 

It seems a relative measure. 

How to measure happiness or job satisfaction? Can I create a ten point scale for that? How to measure success or other factors that matter. If I can measure pain, why not joy? Some twenty-four point system of suffering and sweet?  Looking at the chart, where would you place your best joy?

18 February 2015


Accepting her Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993.
Street art depicting Toni 
Morrison in Vitoria, Spain.
I meant to put up a post every day this month for African History Month, but my husband and I have both been fighting colds or the flu—who knows—so I only put up a half dozen posts and the ones stashed as drafts never were made live. 


Today is Toni Morrison's 84th birthday and I cannot allow this day to pass without celebrating our only living Nobel Laureate in Literature. 

"Toni Morrison (born Chloe Ardelia Wofford; February 18, 1931) is an American novelist, editor, and professor. Her novels are known for their epic themes, vivid dialogue, and richly detailed characters. Among her best known novels are The Bluest Eye, SulaSong of Solomon, and Beloved. She was also commissioned to write the libretto for a new opera, Margaret Garner, first performed in 2005. She won the Pulitzer Prize and the American Book Award in 1988 for Beloved and the Nobel Prize in 1993. On May 29, 2012, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom."Wikipedia

She has won pretty much every prize it is possible for an American writer to win. She wrote the introduction to the Oxford edition of Huck Finn. I have not yet seen the new novel, God Help the Child, or made it through Jazz, but I have read the other nine books of fiction and her essays, each one at least once. I have taught The Bluest Eye every year since reading a excerpt to a regular English class in the early 90s and students insisted I photocopy the entire novel for them. (We have legal copies now.) Three students went out and bought the novel from a local bookstore, the day after we began reading it. 

In 2008.

17 February 2015


I don't remember the words he used. Does it matter? He had her pinned against a wall in Senior Court, an area of the school that was built over and became the new library about twenty years ago. I was only a substitute teacher then, when a boy put his hands on either side of his girlfriend's head and talked to her in a way that made her shrivel and sink like a tender plant in the desert sun. Did he love her? Does it matter? Eventually she huddled on the concrete under her feet, his fists still pressing the wall on either side of her face, his voice still a long angry tirade, beating her down. 

I could not get him off her. I could not get him to look at me or do more than tell me to go away. I had to find a counselor, who eventually talked him down, the girl crying on the ground. I was so afraid he would hit her that I almost missed that he was hitting her with every word. 

There was the girl who missed three days of my class just before a yearbook plant deadline. What happened? I asked her when she returned. My father beat shit out of me, she said and swept her bangs off her purple forehead to show me. 

Her husband moved her from Longview, Washington to southern Oregon, and when she made friends with the neighbors, he moved her further out of town, six miles from a paved road. And left her there all day during the week with four kids and no car. 

I know plenty of stories about abusive high school students. I've seen these relationships many times. Sometimes I wonder if their lives don't all end six miles down a dirt road. 

I warn my students that girls date stupidly in high school. Maybe boys do too. I am not sure. But I am certain about one thing: these abusive relationships do not improve. They do not get better. These boys do not become better people because they "love" her. No matter how careful and determined and loving she is, the relationship does not give her what she deserves. These relationship teach her that she deserves less and less. Her love doesn't make him better, it does not heal him, or compell him to be a better man. These men do not reform. They do not discover how to be kind. They do not know how to give. 

What they offer is abuse. 

Abuse is not a synonym for passion or love. Abuse is not about sex or affection, it is about power. Do not give him power over. Everything that is provocative isn't enjoyable. How is it that we do not know the difference? How have we so perverted our self image that we find it attractive?

"I sat in the theatre and looked around me at hundreds of women, buying into this so-called ‘sexy love story’ and I felt sick. If an entire theatre of women three times your age couldn’t see how damaging this plot line is, how on earth are teenage girls and boys supposed to?"Scary Mommy in "A Letter to My Children"

What a mess we are that we find a story of forced kisses turning into love to be believable. No, that does not happen in real life. In real life forcing kisses turns into date rape. That turns into a lifetime of regret and self-blame and suffering. 

It seems we still need to learn better. 

The novel about an abusive relationship has sold 100 million copies. This is what we read? Does it make a difference" Yes, I'd say, it makes a terrible difference. The movie broke the record gross for its opening. 

Yes, gross. Didn't anyone ever warn us about doing something because everybody is doing it? Aren't we getting a little old to need to be told that? Aren't some things just obvious? 

We don't need to read the book or see the film to know it stinks. As Kristen Lamb says in her blog post, "I didn’t have to eat the chicken I forgot in my fridge to know it would probably make me sick." 

(Oh, I know I am supposed to be more open-minded than I am, but no S&M, no mingling of suffering with sex, not even with consent, not even with safe words. Not for me. And even the S&M "community" is upset about where this all seems to be going. My senses are not so confused about what I want and what hurts.) 

Years ago in a writing class, we talked about sex. I commented that the word "erotic" was usually applied to situations where something humiliating was done to a woman. That's not erotic, I said. A man in the class wondered aloud what women found erotic. He said he didn't know. I brought in film clips to illustrate. Dirty Dancing was one of the films I excerpted, The Big Easy and The Scent of Green Papaya. There were about seventeen film clips, none longer than ten or twenty seconds. No pumping and thumping. No nudity, in fact. There were no chains. No handcuffs. No pain. Sex, oh yes, but without suffering. Pleasure without pain. I know the difference. 

16 February 2015


Picasso with his Afghan Hound
—designated barkers, both of them!

The dog was named Kabul, of course.
For almost thirty years my husband and I had five or six or even seven Afghan Hounds at home. They were generally well-mannered, bathed and groomed regularly, and they were not allowed to run about the neighborhood. They were also not allowed to make too much noise—our neighbors were already alarmed by their numbers. We brought them in at night or if they started barking and couldn't be hushed. 

Usually there was always one self-appointed alarm-dog who was the one watchful of intruders. Manny was the original "designated barker." If the garbage man came down the road, or the meter reader was next door, he was the only one who barked. The next level, if we failed to pay attention, was for them all to bark, depending on how serious the dogs regarded the violation of their space. When there was a rash of burglaries, our house and the homes of immediate neighbors were about the only ones untouched. I have no idea how the position was filled, but the day after Manny died, Snowbird became the designated barker—no one told her to do it, but the meter reader arrived and she was on point. After her, it was Bosco who zealously guarded our home. 

None of these dogs were the pack leaders, just the one to bark first and to take the heat when I rushed out to shut them up. The neighbors, despite the burglaries, did not appreciate our designated barkers. Too much noise sometimes. 

In human society we might also have a problem with the ones who bark too much. The squeaky wheels get the grease, they say, and many assume the ones who seem most certain and who proclaim their opinions loudest must have all the answers. Maybe not.

A Fortune magazine article asks for balance, for granting more respect to the quieter among us: "Women Shouldn't Have to Lead Like Men to Be Successful." The author of the article, Roxanne Gay, struck a chord for me because this year I have worked hard to devise strategies ensuring that every member of my college Lit. class would participate in discussion. Gay wants a range of approaches to leadership and participation in business and so would I. Too often the leader is the most aggressive and arrogant, not necessarily the smartest or most apt. However, I have issues with most such discussions about leadership because they assume that certain qualities or patterns of behavior are exclusively the prerogative of one gender. And that merely exacerbates the problem of allowing only those who squeak loudest to have their way—male or female. This is, then, not just about allowing quiet women to have some role in business, it is about allowing people with a range of social skills to participate fully. It is about listening to a variety of voices. 

I have a very different situation in a college literature class I am teaching. I recognize and respect efforts to extend the conversation to others. Apt and intelligent readers should in no way feel they must apologize or defend their contributions. On the other hand, everyone in class should and must contribute when 40% of the grade is discussion, notes, and miscellaneous tasks.

Aside from the value of different voices and a range of opinions, which my class still isn't getting enough of, I began this term determined to demand everyone's participation. When discussion is the goal, everyone must participate. Further, in college classes, participation is critical, whether or not it is officially counted into the grade. 

I noted last year in Junior English Honors that too often the members of the class of 2015 simply sat back and allowed a few people to make all the comments, drive all the discussions, and have their way pretty much every time. I hope it's clear that this is unfortunate. I am not alone in this observation. In fact, I am told most teachers working with this class have cited this as a problem. 

It is a problem for those who keep silent and fail to contribute to the discussion. They are timid. They are lazy. It is also a problem for the ones doing all the talking who are in danger of assuming they always have the only valuable contribution, which they don't, because they are not challenged. 

So here is what we're doing: Five people go into the middle of the class and talk about the assigned text for a few minutes. They are rewarded for talking, dinged for hogging the platform; rewarded for listening hard, dinged if they fail to contribute; rewarded for offering useful questions and specific details from the story under discussion, but dinged if they take the discussion off track. They are getting better at this. Several weeks into the term, they do well when in the inner circle. And even outside the circle, they can almost have a class-wide discussion.

We still have problems: Some ideas are not brought up because someone asked someone who told them it wasn't important. Wrong. Sometimes one person asks questions and drives the class. Wrong. Sometimes a question is raised and answered without serious discussion of alternative answers. We end up with shallow discussions, or discussions that take a wrong turn and no one is willing or able to turn it back on track. No one is willing to float multiple perspectives, which even when they are wrong may be critical to getting to the heart of the topic. In our case, this is stories. (We lost a day of class due to one person's preference for sleeping late—that the loss of a class day is actually a loss seems not to have occurred to anyone yet—and that shows these students all have a lot of growing to do.)

They are all doing better. They are, in fact, mostly doing very well in terms of participation. I am terrifically relieved that the discussion strategy we have been using is paying off for most everyone. People who would otherwise have earned no discussion points at all are doing fine, and those who would have been nailed for being overbearing and "not allowing anyone else to talk" are likewise doing fine.

There ought to be more respect and space for quiet people. 

The reality in college and in business is that there isn't that respect. 

At least, not yet. 

Discussion has always been a critical part of the grade in my lit class, and often that has been cited as the most pleasurable aspect of Eng 104. The current class is reluctant to see discussion as an opportunity rather than as a chore, and when they all arrive in college classes this could be problematic. We will continue to pursue balanced discussions so that everyone goes off to college able to contribute what they can. 

The designated barker was merely doing his or her job, not hogging the platform or pushing her or his own agenda over the heads of the rest. 

In human society we have many jobs, one of which is to pay enough attention that we have something to contribute for the good of the order, and the other is speak up about it. There is not one designated barker, but many. 

15 February 2015


The teacher-student-monument in
Rostock, Germany, honours teachers
I found this post half-finished in my "draft folder." It was a response to several posts I read in one day that pushed me to explain my pay.  I wonder if doctors and lawyers and architects have to defend their pay scale? I suspect they do. It is ironic that it seems to be people with much higher incomes than mine who accuse me of being overpaid. 

I am not complaining about my income. But some others do. 

Periodically, someone accuses teachers or me personally of being overpaid. It is a dispiriting attitude that teachers should be poorly paid because they are public servants. It is hard to work long hours on weeknights and weekends and then have someone throw the imaginary three-months-off-in-the-summer into my face. 

To be clear: I work a 10-month schedule but I am paid over 12 months. At the time I was hired it was still an option to be paid in 9 months, 10, or 12. I have time in my teaching day to prepare for my classes, but I also create and grades assignments on weekends and during the evening. I respond to student phone calls and emails. I write dozens of letters of recommendation each year. I review scholarship and college application essays, I stay twelve hours one day a week to work with students who need help in the Library. 

But yes, I have ten weeks off most summers. Most teachers have another job in the summer or take classes or try to catch up on their sleep. Years ago, several of my co-workers earned more fishing in the summer than teaching the rest of the year. Sabbatical and tenure also existed when I first entered teaching  but those opportunities are gone. Since I graduated from high school in 1970, teacher salaries in Oregon have risen 1.6% and in Washington teacher salaries have actually dropped 4.6% according to government figures.

I make above average wages for my community, but, of course, less than those in the trades or other professions or those who own local businesses or some of those with trust funds. My students are mostly from low income and poor families. I earn more than most of their parents earn. 

For that reason, I would be embarrassed to complain about my salary, living where I live. I can afford to pay off my Visa bill each month and my mortgage and to buy organic food. When the water heater died this past summer, I had to take money out of savings to pay for the new one. That is, I have some savings. My husband and I eat out occasionally and he likes imported dark beer. 

On the other hand, neither of us have ever smoked or been skiing. Our last vacation was to visit Gary's cousin Barbara at his sister's house in 2012. We are not extravagant people. We get by on our combined incomes because other than buying books, yarn, and CDs, taking our children out for lunch now and then, and Netflix, we are generally frugal. 

My qualifications and experience are excellent. I graduated near the top of my class in high school, with honors in college. I've worked other jobs, some paying very well. I had been teaching for years before I earned as much as a teacher as I had working as a designer. I chose to teach because I feel useful and capable doing the work.

No one enters the teaching profession to get rich, but all good teachers deserve good pay. None are overpaid. Wouldn't we expect that American workers with 20 years experience and a masters degree to earn above average salaries? Yet, this is not the case. Nationwide, the average teacher earns a salary $8000 above the median and $3000 below the average national income, while possessing an education shared by only 10% of the nation.

Since the requirement that all teachers be Very Highly Qualified, the average teacher in Oregon has earned at least two college degrees. The average teacher today also has a couple of decades of teaching experience. But comparing a teacher's salary to the average pay in a state is meaningless. I am certain that I earn above average pay compared to my students' families, but that is because I live a poor rural district. If I lived in a wealthier community, say Lake Oswego—but no, I doubt I could afford to live in Lake Oswego.

I have four degrees and nearly forty years of experience in my profession and I am thus at the top of the pay scale.  

Would people be happier if my income or the income of teachers in nationwide were closer to that of busboys and chambermaids? Wouldn't we expect that anyone in a profession requiring years of formal training and then followed by years of experience to earn better than the average person with a high school diploma? Teachers earning "top pay" have also earned a master's degree and additional coursework and many years of experience doing their jobs. They have earned the right to expect top dollar.

I understand that not everyone respects my job, but anyone should be capable of respecting my time. I work a ten-month schedule, but I put in 50-70 hour weeks. I work evenings and weekends. There is no overtime, but I put in very long hours. I work enough hours for twelve full months and more during my ten month contract. No decent teacher works the clock any more than any successful business-owner expects to go home every night from his or her business at the end of an 8-hour day. 

Yes, I know a teacher who works forty hours a week, spot checks his students' classwork, and sits during his prep period in the Faculty room drinking coffee and reading the newspaper. That's not the way to do the job right. 

Are there bad teachers? I concede there are. I have also known bad plumbers, waitresses, doctors, radiologists, bankers, and chefs. It would be unfair to attack an entire profession based on the failings of a few.

We have no right to expect better until we appreciate that great teachers have a valuable skill set. 
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