Black Friday: Will Teachers Be Shopping or Working at the Mall?

American Teacher Poster
American Teacher Poster

Throughout my teaching career I had a second job. For the first decade, I spent my summers painting houses. My non-teaching friends joked that I had “summers off.” No, I just had a different job. As the superintendent gave the the opening day pep talk at the start of the school year, I was thinking about the dormers that I still needed to finish.

Ten years into my career, I couldn’t afford to own a home in the community I taught in. I frequently ran into former students. “Hey Mr. Pappas … great to see you … remember me? … are you still a teacher?” I would think – would you ask a doctor that question? …  or don’t you consider teaching a real job?

What’s your kid’s teacher doing tonight – home working on lesson plans, or selling cell phones at the mall?

Eventually, I realized I could align my second job with my teaching career – so I turned to academic writing and adjunct teaching. By supplementing my income with summer and evening work, I figured out a way to stay in the classroom for 25 years.

So much for the personal backstory. This post is about American Teacher, a film that follows four teachers who struggle to make ends meet while trying to stay in the profession they love. With narration by Matt Damon, it tells their stories through a mixture of footage and interviews with students, families, and colleagues, as well as the teachers themselves. By following these teachers as they reach different milestones in their careers, it uncovers a deeper story of the teaching profession in America today.

“American Teacher” is waiting for a major theatrical release. I plan on attending the Portland Ore premiere of the film on Thursday Dec 8 at the Hollywood Theater. The film’s producer Ninive Calegari will be hosting the screening.
(I wonder if she’ll bring Matt??) For more information on national screenings of “American Teacher” or to arrange a screening in your area click here.

Statistics show that nearly half of all teachers leave within the first five years. Low salaries and high stress are among the top reasons teachers “burnout” and quit the profession. Sixty-two percent of our nation’s teachers have second jobs outside of the classroom. What’s your kid’s teacher doing tonight – home working on lesson plans, or selling cell phones at the mall?

In countries known for superior student performance (Singapore, South Korea and Finland) top college students are drawn into teaching by competitive salaries and high respect for their contribution to society. In contrast, US teachers are underpaid, relative to other skilled professionals, and they have to listen to politicians accuse them of being lazy and undeserving of collective bargaining rights.

Nearly half of the American teaching profession is eligible for retirement in the next ten years. Will that be seen as a opportunity to hire low-paid replacements? Or do our kids deserve something better? 

PS. Need some inspiration? Read my recent post Why I Teach? A Voice from StoryCorps

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