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Philosophical Meanderings

Teachers Save Lives Too

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As the recession rolls on and the politicians gear up for another fight on this new super committee, I drive back and forth to school getting ready for a new school year.  One politician was discussing what could be cut save our country from the brink of bankruptcy and discussed Medicaid, a favorite target.  The radio host asked whether doctors’ pay should be cut as well then.  The politician scoffed at this notion; “We should not cut the pay of doctors,” he stated, “They save lives…”

Maybe it’s the salary freeze my district has imposed on teachers.  Maybe it’s the rumors that my administration gave themselves raises.  Maybe it is the political climate in Wisconsin that means I take a 12% pay cut this year; but I am mad.  And this happy teacher often does not raise her voice, just ask my students.  But when that politician scoffed at the notion of cutting doctors pay because they are lifesavers, I just about lost it.  Let me tell you something; teachers save lives too.

Teachers are among the first to notice when a child goes hungry.  They are also among the first to give that child their own lunch and to buy them food.  Teachers are among the first who see children freezing, or wearing the same pair of holey shoes every day, rain or shine.  Teachers are the ones who get clothing and proper winter gear for those who need it.  If a child shows up with bruises or scratches, teachers are the ones who take note.  Teachers are the ones who make those phone calls and follow up with government when nothing happens.  Teachers are the ones who lie awake at night wondering what they can do to help those children.

And those are the big things.  We save lives every day by taking an interest, by being passionate, and by believing in the kids.  Sometimes these kids have no direction and we help them figure one out.  Sometimes these kids come to us ready to take the wrong path and we help them go another way.  Sometimes all a kid needs is a little attention, a little guidance, a little firmness and some love and we give that no questions asked.  We don’t just teach the curriculum, we teach life.

When a child enters our classrooms, we take them under our wings; they become our children.  When a child’s mood changes and depression looms, teachers are the ones who help get the help and assistance needed to veer off disaster.  When home life crashes and that child tells you that they are living in a car, teachers do everything in their power to help.  I have heard of and seen teachers bring in bags of clothing, food, furniture and donate money just to help.  I have heard of teachers who invited families in to live with them until they could get back on their feet.  Teachers save lives.  And they are not the only ones; many people involved in education save lives.  And yet, our pay can be cut because we only work 9 months out of the year anyway.

It is true some doctors save lives.  But not all.  A podiatrist makes on average $181,000 a year.  That is more than 6 times what I make.  They don’t save lives on a regular basis and yet they get the benefit of “being a doctor.”  And that title alone means they command a better salary.  Being a teacher means you better do it for the kids and not complain about the money that comes your way.  If you complain about the money, well then, you are obviously in it for the wrong reason.  Nobody tells doctors that they should be doing it for the patients.  Sure most of them love what they do I’m sure, but I am also sure that some get the degree for that lucrative paycheck, and that’s ok.  I wish everyone could get paid like a doctor.

So this isn’t to rip doctors’ of their pay or even of their status but rather ask why teachers can not be given that same respect  Why can someone not scoff a the notion of cutting teachers’ pay to save the economy? Why can someone not claim as well that teachers save lives and do invaluable work and therefore should be rewarded and respected?  I don’t ask for respect, I earn it.  I don’t ask for status because I don’t care.  I do ask for a decent salary, one to reflect the years of schooling that we go through and continue to pursue.  One that reflects the time that our job takes to do well.  One that reflects the work we do.  But I am not holding my breath.

So yeah teachers save lives; we just don’t get paid like we do.



About Pernille Ripp

I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA, who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade. Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day. First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” can be purchased now. Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press. Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.


8 thoughts on “Teachers Save Lives Too

  1. Seems very few people look at teachers the way you present it here. Imagine if they did. I know teachers like the ones you describe who are worth their weight in gold when it comes to their generosity. They are some of the most important people in the lives of the kids and families who struggle. So glad your passionate voice put these thoughts into words.

    Posted by Mr. Foteah | August 18, 2011, 9:16 am
  2. Matt, thank you for taking the time to read this post. We have to band together as teachers and fight for ourselves as we fight for our children. It should not be ok to dismiss teachers the way they are nowadays. It should not be the norm that one of the most important jobs is paid less than an associate manager at Ann Taylor Loft (I was one and I got paid more than I do now).

    Posted by Pernille Ripp | August 18, 2011, 9:25 am
  3. I love the fact that you don’t go metaphorical with this. It’s literal. We are literally the ones who see the depression and make a difference.

    For what it’s worth, I don’t mind a doctor making six times the amount I make. They have really high insurance premiums and much more expensive school debt. Plus, they start their careers much later than I start mine. Often, they work more hours.

    I do, however, wish we got the respect they get. I’d also like a little pay increase so that my kids could have health care.

    Posted by johntspencer | August 18, 2011, 10:44 am
  4. Thank you for voicing so much of our work here, Pernille.

    As a sector, we often debate the utility – and sometimes harm – of holding different expectations for different kids.

    It seems to me that society, as a whole, has a different expectation of altruism from teachers than from other professionals – perhaps such big-heartedness is expected of us as part of the job because society doesn’t think much of the rest of the job – perhaps the perception is that because some kids pass some tests, it can’t be that hard to give kids the tough love they “need” to straighten up and fly right. We should be really nice because we don’t have that much to do.

    Like John, I don’t ask for much more in terms of compensation (but more, yes), but what I would most appreciate from the public is what I would ask for in politics, economics, and altruism: a willingness to listen and learn about what really goes on schools (cities, neighborhoods, kids’ lives). I suspect that if society as a whole knew more about the true nature of our work – forging relationships that help kids value community and democracy – then we would be given more room to do our complex work and we would be given an invitation to the discussions about how to best assess that work and be accountable to our communities.

    I was paid a very kind compliment last night regarding one family’s choice of my school. It was said that I know how to listen to children in order to draw them out into enjoying their learning.

    Many of us do this all the time, but that is not how the public perceives our work. Our work is “supposed” to be getting the kids to listen to us.

    I have some wacky futuristic ideas of how to do this (that I may or may not post soon – it’s a weird post), but how do you think we could share out the nature of our work on a larger scale right now, Pernille?

    All the best,

    Posted by Chad Sansing | August 19, 2011, 9:10 am
  5. Chad, Thank you for your wonderful comment. Sometimes you guys say things much better than I ever can. To answer your question; I don’t know. If I knew the answer I would be pursuing it every day. One thing that I do know is that we have to keep speaking up, we cannot be afraid of what the public may think of us when we do, and we have to stand together in this profession.
    I would love to read your post, even if it is wacky.


    Posted by Pernille Ripp | August 19, 2011, 12:37 pm
  6. AMEN. I was at a workshop this summer at which the presenter shared a little-known statistic: people who graduate from high school live, on average, almost a decade longer than those who do not. If that doesn’t speak to the importance of the work we do, I don’t know what does.

    I have, for a long time, bristled at the hypocrisy you described so well here. As teachers, we are expected to be completely unconcerned with our level of compensation. To do otherwise (as recent events here in WI suggest, even to insist that starting teachers make something more than poverty-level wages) is to risk being labled “greedy,” and “selfish.” Yet, in virtually any other professional field, no one considers it unreasonable to expect compensation reflective of one’s educational attainment, expertise, and service to society.

    In angry rants over the past several months, I’ve expressed frustration about this again and again. I never expected a six-figure salary when I went into education, and I’m certainly not asking for one. But this isn’t the Peace Corps, either. I worked hard for my degree(s) and I work damn hard for the students in my care, lengthening and enriching their lives in the process. Isn’t that deserving of compensation that would at least allow me to support my family?

    Posted by Virginia Welle | August 21, 2011, 12:30 am
  7. Virginia, Yes yes yes! I don’t expect 6 figures but being able to pay my bills would be nice. I wonder how much our traditional low pay scale has to do with this being regarded a woman’s job for so many years? It seems most of the high paying jobs were typically considered men’s work.

    Posted by Pernille Ripp | August 21, 2011, 8:40 am
  8. Pernille, Not just women’s work, but work “anyone can do” because we’ve apprenticed as teachers with 16,000 hours of watching instruction as students. If they can do it (all those bad teachers I’ve had), then surely I can too, the thinking goes.

    But here’s a larger question. Old School models of schooling are built around an assumption of adult control, the positional power of adults over children, and models of “custody” of children that often resemble minimum security prison rather than rich, collaborative learning environments. What does the sociology of the institution indicate about the level of sophistication that is required by teachers to do the work adequately?

    How are these assumptions different from those of doctors?

    Should control and custody be rewarded in the same ways as hippocratic oaths to do no harm and to protect life?
    And how SHOULD our work as educators be refashioned if we look upon the question in this way?


    Posted by Kirsten Olson | August 21, 2011, 3:23 pm

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