Teachers are the hardest working people in America?! Really?

My Dad was a teacher, and he worked like a dog.  Of course, back in the day, he got a salary that was only slightly above poverty level, so his hard work wasn’t really the teaching itself.  Instead, it was all the private lessons he gave on the side.  He put in as many hours teaching private lessons as he did teaching in a classroom.

Daddy’s classroom year was about 10 months (he taught summer school too), six hours each weekday, plus about two hours of homework a night.  In addition, though, all year-long, 11 to 12 months a year, he taught private lessons that provided desperately needed money for ordinary life expenses.  During the school year, these added another 30 or so to his work week, and then he’d teach private lessons a straight 40 hours a week during winter break and when there was no summer school.

If you’re wondering who was taking all these summer and winter break private lessons, it was Japanese families who hired Daddy.  In the Bay Area, the Japanese companies would rotate executives through their American offices.  These families wanted their Japanese born children to optimize their American educational experience for the 1-4 years they’d spend in this country.  Daddy was fortunate enough to hook into this network, garnering hours and hours of work from diligent, respectful students who applied the Asian ethos to their after school and holiday studies.

I don’t think teachers nowadays are forced to work quite as hard as my Dad did.  And even if they are, are they really the hardest working people in America?  Per the National Journal Twitter feed, Obama says they are:

I think Obama’s statement (which I’ve indicated with an arrow) might come as a surprise to a few other Americans.  Examples of surprised Americans are, first and foremost, our military serving in Afghanistan and Iraq (and at home too); road crews laboring in the summer sun (or the winter cold); police offers in Oakland, South Central L.A. and Detroit; truckers; farmers; lawyers who, bless their greedy little hearts, routinely put in 80 hours per week; etc. Feel free to add your own jobs ideas to the list of hard-working Americans.

Yes, many teachers work very, very hard, and many have challenging jobs.  But Obama’s pandering statement that they’re “working harder than just about anyone these days” made me throw up just a little, in my mouth.


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  • jj

    Made me projectile vomit across the room.

  • MacG

    Don’t you know by now that which ever group he is pandering to is speaking down to is sympathizing with is the among the hardest working people?  Is not why the nurses went on strike because they aren’t rewarded enough for hard work?  Remember, nobody golfs works as hard as the POTUS.

  • MacG

    all my strikeouts did not appear…but all of you smartypant’s can figure them out :)

  • Libby

    How about doctors, such as cardiac surgeons or the doctors & nurses working in emergency rooms?

  • Gringo

    I don’t think teachers nowadays are forced to work quite as hard as my Dad did.
    I taught for 2 years, and put in 65+  hours a week- and was still never caught up. While I may have easily endured such a routine in my 20s, it wore me out in my 40s.
    I cannot speak for the  hours of private tutoring  your father put in, but the hours demanded of teachers nowadays in the public schools  are much more than they were  40-50 years ago.  I compare the hours my mother spent as a beginning teacher in her 40s compared to the hours I put in in my 40s.  Her hours were ~50 compared to my ~65 +. ( She was actually a returning teacher as she had taught  school for 6 months  until a grad school recruited her to replace the TAs that got drafted in WW2.)
    As the school systems have taken on more of the responsibilities of the parents, mostly by default in response to the larger number of one parent households, additional responsibilities have been foisted on the teachers.
    Forty to fifty years ago- and more- married women combined teaching with raising a family. It was definitely a challenge to juggle all those responsibilities, but it was done. I recall talking with a fellow teacher- married  with 3 children- her husband also taught at the school- who told me that with the current demands on teachers, it was very difficult to raise a family and teach. While it was doable 40-50 years ago, it is much less doable these days.
    Discipline is MUCH more difficult these days than it was 40-50 years ago, given current  laws on disability, PC atmosphere, and less parental support.
    The best reply to your claim is that  teaching used to be a 40 year career. Try finding teachers these days who have taught 35-40 years. They are much scarcer today.
    Your perspective on teaching nowadays is biased by living in a rich suburb. If I had taught students such as in your town, as opposed to 8th graders I taught who were most on task when doing second grade arithmetic, I guarantee you I would have put in a lot less time teaching. Though even in your neck of the woods it isn’t necessarily that easy. Recall the number of times you have commented on the nearby high school that combines students from Section 8 housing  with affluent students, resulting in rampant drug transactions. Teaching in that high school could be very problematic.
    Book, try teaching in Oakland. I guarantee you would change your mind in a NEW YORK MINUTE.  Or less.

  • http://bookwormroom.com Bookworm


    I stand corrected about how hard teaching is nowadays, especially if you’re not lucky enough to be in a lovely suburban school district.  I still disagree that it’s the hardest job in America, though.  A hard job, yes; the hardest, no.

    You also made a good point about the women who used to teach.  Before women’s lib freed women for other jobs, they taught as a second income, not a primary income.  With few exceptions, my teachers when I was a kid were supplementing their family income, not providing the whole thing.  My Dad was the rarity, not the norm.

  • shirleyelizabeth

    Gringo, I know over a dozen ladies that are juggling a teaching job and motherhood. I don’t think it’s as rare as you think. But the point being made is not that teachers don’t have a difficult task nor attempt their hardest to fulfill it, it’s that no one person can say that everyone else does not work as hard as teachers merely because they do not fill that position.

  • jj

    That’s not teaching, Gringo – that’s babysitting.

  • http://bookwormroom.com Bookworm

    True, jj — and that’s what decades of Leftist politics have done to our schools, our students, and our teachers.  So teaching may not be the hardest job, but the Left is certainly trying to turn it into the most demeaning one.  Teachers no longer get to transmit knowledge; they just, as jj says, “babysit.”

    Does the Left touch anything without destroying it?

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    Book, you can differentiate your personal life experiences from current reality. Not many can.

  • Gringo

    I still disagree that it’s the hardest job in America, though.  A hard job, yes; the hardest, no.
    There are plenty of hard jobs out there. I don’t know which is the hardest. I would agree with you that anyone who says that X is the hardest job in America is giving a snow job. My parents had several books of collections of old cartoons and comic strips. One stuck with me. A woman is working over a steaming stove, and says to her husband: “Here I am working  all day over a hot stove  and you get to work in a nice cool sewer!”
    It all depends on the perspective.
    Shirley Elizabeth:
    Gringo, I know over a dozen ladies that are juggling a teaching job and motherhood. I don’t think it’s as rare as you think.
    I didn’t say juggling teaching and motherhood was rare. I said juggling teaching and motherhood was more difficult and less doable than it used to be.  All of my relatives of my parents’ and grandparents’ generation with a college degrees taught  at one time or another. When I was teaching, I had extended conversations with an aunt who had taught 35 years. She didn’t consider juggling teaching and a family that difficult; a challenge, but doable. However, some things haven’t changed in the teaching profession: when I told my aunt my opinion about the nonsense taught in ed schools, her response was, “So what else is new?”

  • http://bookwormroom.com Bookworm

    Gringo:  The old jokes were the best ones.

  • Mike Devx

    I get so sick of Obama’s misdirections.  You noticed, I am sure, that he said teachers *might* be the hardest working people in America.

    This means that he does, in fact, allow that they might *not* be the hardest-working people in America, and that in fact, they might be the laziest, most non-working identity group of all!

    His statement is completely meaningless.  It’s a logical ZERO.  But people whom he disgusts read him as pandering, and people who love him think he’s saying a very nice thing.

    He’s saying NOTHING.  God does he disgust me with these slippery assertions.  He always does this.  He’s the ZERO.

  • Mike Devx

    I can’t discuss the discipline problems, since I’ve been out of teaching since 1992.
    I taught high school math to students for seven years.

    There are ways to reduce the load, especially if schools still grant the “planning period” that they granted us in Texas during my years of teaching.

    Primarily, at least for math, to reduce the load: Do not grade every homework problem.  There are a number of ways to accomplish this.
    – 60% for trying to solve each problem.  -5 pts for each problem not tried.
      (Often the odd problems had answers in the back of the book; assign at least some of those for their confidence ensuring that they are getting correct answers.)
    – 40% Grade four problems per assignment: One easy, Two medium, One difficult. -10 pts for each.  Partial credit if you wish. 
    – I could scan the others to see which ones gave any particular difficulties.
    – Cover the four graded problems at the start of the following day if necessary, and any others you wish.
    – Require a notebook in which class notes, homework assignments, quizzes and tests are all present.
      Collect it and grade for completeness every so often.  Teaches valuable organization and responsibility skills.
    – You can’t stop them from copying each other’s homework.  Don’t worry about it.  The tests in class should count
      for more of the final grade.
    – I computerized my gradebook and posted up to date grades every Monday, ALL individual and summation grades.  The competition that created was sometimes amazing.  The students also knew their up-to-date grades were absolutely accurate.  I don’t know if you can still do this.  (Privacy?)  If students are embarrassed by low grades, allow an opt-out where you’d print X’s for theirs. 

    – We had to allow students to re-take tests that they did poorly on.  This meant designing new replacement tests.  THAT was very time consuming.
    I imagine a teacher could use similar techniques to cut down the time required to grade student work.  It should be possible to do so even with essays in English classes.

    Having said all that, I have no idea what the current environment and rules and regulations are governing these kinds of practices, and I’m sure it varies by state.  So I could be barking entirely up the wrong tree. When I shouldn’t even be barking at all?


  • heather

    It may not be the “hardest” job (if there is such a thing), but it certainly is a job where you put up with more bad treatment than most (from students, parents, administrators, and the general public). 
    The work load depends greatly on where you teach and what subject.  I have taught in several states (as recently as 2001), and the different state testing programs made a big difference in my workload.  Math is generally less time consuming, as the lesson planning is straightforward.  History is worse, in that you are expected to come up with a different song and dance pony show every day to entertain the kids who have never cracked a book willingly in their lives.
    I went into teaching for several reasons, most of them noble and idealistic.  Another reason was that I considering teaching to be compatible with raising children, should I need to earn an income at the same time.  Perhaps that was the case several decades ago.  It didn’t take me long to realize that that was not true now.  I spent several years frequently working from 7:30 am until 6 pm or later AT the school, and then bringing more work home.  I left teaching after five years when I was pregnant with my first, a lot less idealistic.  I miss the teaching, but not everything else that went with the job.   When I reenter the workforce, it will be in another field, unless there have been radical changes in our society since then.  For one, I would like to see an end to compulsory education in the higher grades . . . .

  • http://bookwormroom.com Bookworm

    Heather says:  

    “For one, I would like to see an end to compulsory education in the higher grades . . . .”

    I couldn’t agree more.  Already back in the 1970s, I realized the foolishness of a system that forces someone who is masterful at fixing cars to sit in the back of a classroom listening to a teacher deconstruct e. e. cummings.  Everyone should have a basic education, so that he or she can be a full participating citizen.  In this world, that involves reading, writing, basic arithmetic, basic history basic civics, and computer literacy.  After that, students should be allowed to choose whether they want to go down an academic path or go the trade path. 

    School would be a much better place for everyone if young people whose skill sets don’t include academics weren’t forced to burn up time in the classroom.

  • Michael Adams

    I understand that the “Eighth grade test” we sometimes see, from a century or so back, is a fake, that eighth graders were never required to know  enough to pass that test.  However, I do know that kids today do not learn the sort of basic stuff that we did by eighth or ninth grade. I saw a passing comment in the past week or so, a student had written, “It is hard to believe that fifty years ago, there were still slaves in America.” Knowing the basics of colonization, Revolution, War Between the States, Emancipation, late nineteenth century and the World Wars and Depression and Civil Rights movement, ought not to tax anyone over much. Being able to do first year algebra, understand the rudiments of physics and Chemistry, economics and nutrition, the essentials of US government, diagram a sentence, make subjects and verbs agree, use the right pronoun case, and write a coherent paragraph, can all be accomplished by the end of the eighth grade. After that, trade school is a viable option. As things now operate, high school grads can not do those basics.
    Even when such ignorant people get trade training, they are very easily manipulated in their political lives, which everyone who mattered, from Colonial times forward, understood to be a very dangerous situation. I have met Americans of African descent who carry the race chip, not knowing that discrimination was made illegal before they were born, that they could not possibly have ever met a slave, nor even someone who had met a slave. This failure to understand the actual, literal distance between them and these horrible circumstances and events makes it so much easier for the “people herders” to use them in whatever mob they find it convenient to assemble. Also, if we insisted on teaching these basics to everyone by the end of eight grade, before they sorted themselves off to trade school, those who were academic late bloomers would not find it impossible to jump from the trade track to a more academic one.
    Of course, that would mean fewer teaching jobs, and more teen-agers entering the job market, which would upset the zero-sum economics people.  Perhaps they could get over it?
    One other thing.  They need learn that no matter what they do on NPR, IT’S DIFFERENT FROM, NOT DIFFERENT THAN!!! I am not sure that the Republic will crumble without the general diffusion of that knowledge, but it will help my blood pressure immensely.

  • http://furtheradventuresofindigored.blogspot.com/ Indigo Red

    Michael Adams says … a student wrote, “It is hard to believe that fifty years ago, there were still slaves in America.” This isn’t so hard to believe because of Black History Month that subsumes 400 yrs of African-American history into the shortest month of the year and student’s propensity to get everything mixed up. Conflating the war to end slavery of 1861 with the civil rights movement to secure black voting rights of 1961 is easy enough to understand when I know of older adults who lived the 1960s do not know the difference.

  • Mike Devx

    At the risk of opening my mouth and being *proven* ignorant 😉  let me approach this a different way:

    It appears that burnout is a significant problem, because the burdens of teaching no longer equal the rewards.
    So I’d suggest, focus on what is causing the burnout and try to reduce its causes.  One of the causes is too many hours spent working with too little to show as a result of those extra hours.

    Because the benefits aren’t worth the time invested, you have to look at how the time is invested and find ways to cut the hours back.  Evaluate everything you do, and be honest when you ask yourself:Is this particular activity in which I’m spending extra time WORTH that extra time?  ie, Bang for the buck?  Return on investment?  If not… then you must change it, find an easier way to accomplish that part you must accomplish, and throw away the rest.

    This is often expressed as “Work smarter, not harder.”  This is true when working harder simply doesn’t provide the expected rewards.  You’ve just got to find ways to cut down on the workload.  Otherwise, the result is burnout, and another fine teacher has left the profession.


  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    Book, it’s to burn up the cash. All those books in English and all those tuition for English teachers, guess who is paying for that? Academia grows ever more powerful as an aristocratic faction.

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    Coincidentally, with none of the martial valor or virtues of the original aristocratic class in feudalism.

  • Gringo

    …..So I’d suggest, focus on what is causing the burnout and try to reduce its causes.  One of the causes is too many hours spent working with too little to show as a result of those extra hours…..
    Good idea. This needs to be done at the macro level, not at the micro level. Teacher burnout is to a big degree coming from obligations that are imposed on the teachers by federal, state, local, and school administrative fiat.
    Unfortunately, teachers do not have the power of all those institutions. They can only vote with their feet.

  • Mike Devx

    Gringo 22: Teacher burnout is to a big degree coming from obligations that are imposed on the teachers by federal, state, local, and school administrative fiat.

    Yes, I’m sure things have changed in the 20 years since I left teaching (1992).  Also I’m sure it varies by state.  Back then, we had to keep weekly lesson plans on file (cross-referenced to the curriculum guide), and have our grade books readily available at all times.  Daily attendance sheets.  Aside from twice-yearly evaluations by assistant principals and the occasional departmental or staff meetings, that was pretty much it.  Some years we had to post the “school motto” on the walls, or post “classroom rules of conduct” on the walls as well.  
    I seem to recall vaguely a few years where the principals went a little more bureaucracy-crazy, requiring careful documentation of every disciplinary issue no matter how small, and documentation on parent-teacher conferences and which parents showed up on which Parent-Teacher Night, etc…  but I seem to have repressed the memories of those overly-bureaucratic years.  😉  The measures weren’t effective and they were dropped.

  • Gringo

    The differences from when you taught are primarily from two areas. 1) the Americans with Disabilities Act, that  present from President George H.W. Bush, was the spur for more special education programs and differentiated treatment for those labeled as special ed students. When they are in the classroom with mainstream students, this increases teacher load. Discipline consequences are often different for special ed students- by law or by interpretation of law.  2) Increased testing. This is a complex subject with pros and cons. For better or worse, it does increase teacher load. You got out when this was beginning.
    In addition: 3) The PC tomfoolery is even stronger than when you taught.
    Regarding how the  4) George W Bush/Ted Kennedy No Child Left Behind Act has increased teaching load, I do not know, because I was out of teaching by then.
    Here is one decreasing of teacher load. Quite often teachers feel alone on their classroom islands. The Internet has resulted in an explosion of education-related blogs. Any teacher can pick up a lot of  teaching tips and lesson plans from the Internet, that was not available 20 years ago.
    This is  very important, as the advent of state testing has destroyed the validity of the model of  teacher as playwright. With such detailed and varied education requirements for testing, the model of teacher as playwright has switched to teacher as deliverer of the script- teacher as actor. There are not the hours in the day for it to be otherwise. At least in math.  The greater availability of lesson plans etc on the Internet help make that transition.

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