By Sarah Wright
Misconceptions and Politics
The lives of professors and teachers are often a mystery to students. As kids, we might feel strange if we happen to see a teacher shopping at the grocery store as a normal person. As college students, we might find it hard to imagine our intellectual professors letting loose and having a good time with friends and family. But the misunderstandings about educators don't just apply to their personalities and private lives.
There is a recent political trend of looking at teacher salaries as a means for cutting costs in public education at all levels. Some lawmakers have taken to comparisons between the average worker and teachers, drawing the conclusion that teachers are paid out of proportion to the work they do. One recent example of this took place in Texas, and it included an incomplete assessment of the work that professors in the University of Texas system actually do.
Data Doesn't Tell the Whole Story
According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, the University of Texas system's Board of Regents assembled a task force to analyze the professional activities of faculty members. This analysis focused on measurable factors like number of students taught, classroom hours tallied, grant money awarded and student performance. This data has been used by politicians and the media to question whether generous professor salaries are really a valid use of public money in a time of financial strain.
But the truth is that college and university faculty also have hidden aspects to their professional lives that are not factored into data collection like that performed for the University of Texas. College professors spend time planning curricula, grading papers and working with students outside of the classroom. On top of this, many professors also advise graduate students, travel for research, write grants and work on their own scholarship. In a 'publish or perish' environment, professors are expected to do more than just show up for class a few times a day. That reality is rarely considered in knee-jerk analyses of professorial performance.
Trouble in K-12 Schools As Well
This misconception and political half-truth telling about education professionals' work doesn't just apply to higher education. Teachers in public K-12 schools are often seen as freeloaders who get paid the same amount, or more, than the average 9-5 worker, but do half the work. The comparisons to business hour workers rarely takes into account the work teachers do out of class, on the weekends and during breaks. The misconceptions have gotten so bad that some teachers, like Charles Ripley, have started speaking out to defend themselves and their peers. Ripley, a high school teacher from Iowa, even started a blog to track the hours he works and draw attention to the work teachers do when they're not in the classroom.
Ripley's blog is one great example of education professionals taking proactive steps to dispel the myths about their profession. Teachers and professors perform an essential public service not only through their intellectual stewardship of our youth, but through their contributions to our culture and technology. Hopefully, myths about cushy jobs can be replaced with truths about the hard work and dedication that so many educators bring to their profession.
We conducted an interview with Charles Ripley about his blog, 2000 Hours.