I have a couple of high school friends on Facebook who grew up to become teachers. They are relentless about posting daily materials highlighting the American teacher’s martyrdom. If you relied on these posters alone, you’d think that being a teacher is the hardest job, with the lowest salary, in the world.
I am not unsympathetic to teachers. My father was a teacher and, back in the day, he really did earn a low salary. In 1987, after teaching in his school district for 25 years, my dad’s top salary was $23,000. (Add just another thousand, and you can get Dan Savage to come and speak for an hour at your university.) I graduated from law school the same year, and with absolutely nothing to contribute to a big law firm, walked into a $55,000 salary.
Daddy worked extremely long days — but those hours weren’t because of his teaching job, but because of the low salary. His teaching day was from 8-3. Grading homework added another couple of hours, for a regular eight-hour day. The real hours came with the four extra hours of private tutoring he did every day to augment his meager salary. Also, since he worked only eight months a year, he spent every summer hunting desperately for a mixture of summer school and private tutoring jobs, so that he could pay the mortgage and buy food for us. In those days, California teachers earned a living wage provided one had no aspirations to be middle class.
Nowadays, teachers earn living wages appropriate to the middle class, and work eight hours a day, five days a week, eight months out of the year. I don’t begrudge them that. Theirs is a necessary, important, and beneficial job and, depending on the school, not always an easy one. Those tasked with spending the majority of their time with our children should get paid a living wage. But the martyrdom shtick is unseemly.
At National Review, Jason Richwine points out that this martyrdom shtick benefits them in intangible ways, and is the flip side of the disdain with which doctors are increasingly treated in our society. This got me thinking about the fact that, in every society that socialized its medicine, doctor’s status instantly degraded. This is true whether you’re looking at the Soviet Union, Cuba, England, Canada, France, or anywhere else. This is true even though doctors have the longest education and apprenticeship of any job in America and, once they’re working, they truly hold our lives in their hands. Likewise, in every socialized society, teachers’ status improves. This is true despite the fact that their training places a moderate demand on their time and they don’t hold our lives in their hands.
Thinking about it, of course, this socialist inversion makes perfect sense. Teachers produce the next generation of socialists; doctors cost money by saving the lives of old socialists who no longer contribute to the commune. The relative values assigned these jobs in a socialist society has nothing to do with their contributions to the individual and everything to do with their contributions to the state.