Ever hear the age old adage about teachers; Must be nice to work half a year, 8 to 3, and get all those summers, weekends, and holidays off? I ran straight into this very argument the other day when I was at the capitol advocating for teacher pay raises. I was told that Teachers get paid "pretty good" for only working half the year. They even said it with a straight face. For the first time in my life I was speechless (for those who know me know what a rare occasion that is). The insinuation that teachers only work half the year is ludicrous. No ludicrous is too polite: foolishness, folly, idiocy, reckless, and just plain stupid! Ever driven by an elementary school around the middle of July? That parking lot full of cars isn't the glee club. It is elementary teachers getting their class rosters, putting up bulletin boards, working to make their classrooms perfect, and getting all their lesson plans ready so they can welcome all their students on the first day and go to work educating them! And it is not just elementary teachers. Secondary teachers almost always put in time on these so called days off.
As I'm driving home from the capitol, I just kept getting more and more angry about the flippant attitude the legislator used to dismiss my suggestion of raising the state minimum teaching salary. Then it struck me; I'll compare teachers to legislators! Did you know that the legislative session is only 90 days per year? Exactly half of a Teacher contract. You think their pay is half what a teacher makes. Nope. Not even close. According to News 6 (click to see the full news story) beginning Oklahoma Legislators earn $38,400 in base salary plus a per diem of $9,472. That adds up to $47,872 per session. First year teachers on the other hand earn a salary of $31,600 per year plus $0 per diem. And I'm not even talking about benefits. Just straight apples to apples comparison of scheduled days in session. Legislators (and I'm not talking about leadership positions; they get $12,000 to $17,000 more per year) earn $47,872 for 90 days. That equals $531.91 per day of session. Teachers: $31,600 for 180 days rounds out to be $175.55 per day of the school year. Legislators are term limited to 12 years and then can retire on a legislator's retirement package. Teachers have to put in 90 years of age and service. Most of them work until they can draw social security. Me, I have to put in 37 years as an educator before I can retire. So legislators put in 12 years for full retirement, teachers have to put in over 35. Some might argue that every 2 or 4 years legislators have to win an election. I say that teachers get voted on every year. To be fair, I have no idea what the legislator retirement system is like. I do know that teacher's retirement is one of the worst funded retirement systems around. Heck, even those guys who rebuild our roads and bridges have a retirement system that is better than ours, and they only have to work 20 years to retire.
Now, I do not think for a minute that legislators only work 90 days. I know they spend a bunch of time in the fall with their interim studies. I know many times legislators start committee meetings around 8 am and they do not finish the day until late in the night. I know they spend time in meetings, budget hearings, conference calls, and caucus meetings. Furthermore, I know they read tons of emails, answer thousands of phone calls and letters, listen to constituents, attend lots of community meetings, and marshal the local parade. So I know it is ludicrous to suggest they only work 90 days a year. Everything I just said about legislators and their days in session applies to teachers. Teachers spend hours at home grading essays, working nights and weekends getting lessons ready, staying in their rooms on parent teacher nights so they can talk to parents. They attend their students' ball games at night, and work concession stands and gate duty. They get stopped at the grocery story, post office, and the quick shop by parents and grandparents who want to know about their kids and grandchildren. They take classes during the summer, attend professional developments to improve the way they do their job, and study their subject area so they are better equipped to teach our children. They attend workshops geared toward improving their proficiency with technology and then spend hours converting what they did in the past to work with the new tech they just learned. And that legislator had the gall to tell me teachers only work half the year! If that is true then he only works a quarter but gets twice the pay!