Jeff Ward: Our Teachers, Daycare Workers Deserve Better

Why is it, when it comes to our children, we suddenly get so cheap?

As is often the case, the seed for this column was sown in the comments following my treatise on PCDES or Parent-Driven Child-Entitlement Syndrome. That’s what I love the most about Patch—the insistent and unflinching reader feedback!

But while it was refreshing to see so many of you agree with me and share similar stories, I was surprised by the ardor of those few who veered off course to attack teachers—and particularly their salaries. I realize anti-educator fervor is in favor these days, but I also think this undercurrent of contempt tends to sweep away more than just teachers.

Most of you’ve already heard the tragic story of former Lincolnshire daycare worker Melissa Calusinski who’s currently standing trial for the murder of 16-month-old Benjamin Kingan. Twenty-two at the time, after the toddler became fussy, Calusinski allegedly threw him to the floor so violently he suffered fatal head injuries.

I’m sure this won’t make me popular, but after reading that news story my first thought was, “This is exactly why I would never entrust my child to the care of an employee making barely more than minimum wage.”

Don’t get me wrong! I understand some parents have no choice, there’s no excuse for abusing a child, and most daycare workers are fine and caring people. But while day care itself is expensive, the average Illinois daycare worker makes $9.25 an hour. That’s comes out to $19,000 a year for a job that would reduce most of us to molten Jello.

What this really means is we’re willing to turn over our children for eight-plus hours a day to what often turns out be a very young woman with no better job prospects. Even an assistant manager at McDonald's pulls down 29 grand a year.

School bus drivers don’t fare much better, either. We insist a $13-an-hour private bus company driver whisk our children off to school and bring them back safely while somehow managing the behavior of up to 60 students at the same time.

All this, while the average yellow-bus driver works about 4.5 hours day for 172 days a year with no benefits. That adds up to $10,000 year, which is $1,000 below the state-of-Illinois-defined poverty line.

Now let’s talk teachers!

After four years of racking up college debt and enduring a vast array of state-required testing—which they get to pay for the privilege of taking—the average Illinois teacher starts off at $37,500 per year. Let’s compare that number to some other vocations that don’t require nearly that amount of schooling.

A first-year city of Wheaton “maintenance specialist” starts at $45,000 and automatically gets bumped to $49,000 in year two. A Glen Ellyn rookie police officer earns 50 grand a year and, considering the recent spate of attacks on teachers, I’m not sure which job is more dangerous.

A fresh-off-the-street CTA bus driver hauls down $60,000, area plumbers come in at $43,000, and a novice truck driver, with his or her meager $1,500 tuition bill, starts off at $38,000 a year. Even a McDonald’s manager makes $39,000 to start.

Some of you argued that teachers don’t deserve more because they work nine months out of the year, put in a short six-hour day, get all kinds of breaks, often reap six-figure salaries in their later years, and then they get 75 percent pensions.

All I can say is, cow cookies!

According to the National Education Association, when you include grading tests and papers, bus/lunchroom/playground duty, and after-school activities, the average teacher puts in a long 10-hour day. When students are on break, they’re participating in district-mandated inservice programs, grading yet more papers and hosting parent conferences.

During their “summer vacation,” often at their own expense, teachers typically keep up with their continuing-education requirements, volunteer to help administrators with curriculum projects and coach sports for a minimal stipend.

It’s true. If a teacher manages to survive the classroom long enough, she or he can make a decent living, but let’s look at some real-world numbers.

In a database study of the Kaneville School District I did in 2009 for a Beacon-News column, out of 330 non-administrative educators, only 12 made more than $80,000. And to get there, that small group averaged 29 years with the district, and each one of them had a master's degree or better.

As far as pensions go, only those teachers who toil for 35 years while putting 9.1 percent of their annual income into a retirement fund can reap a 75 percent pension. According to the Teachers Retirement System website, only 25 percent of educators who retired in the last seven years put in that kind of time.

Not to mention, given our bankrupt state, many of them may never see a dime of that money, and they don’t get Social Security.

Meanwhile, teaching is one of the toughest jobs on the planet. It’s essentially a form of public speaking where you’re expected to engage 25 to 35 children, five days a week, for nine months. Then we expect our teachers, who often spend more time with our children than we do, to somehow raise them for us.

Yes! Tenure needs to be reworked, teachers unions are often out of their minds (see Chicago) and benefits need to be reconsidered. But to put a teacher’s salary in perspective, go back to day care: Nannysitters, a professional babysitting service in Naperville, asks $15 an hour for three children. Take a conservative 24 children per class for six hours a day for 180 days, and it comes out to $129,600 dollars a year.

Here’s what I don’t understand. Why is it, when it comes to the people who care for our most-precious commodity—our children—not only do we nickel and dime these well-meaning folks to death, but God forbid any one of them should make as much as a minor mistake. Then we call for their heads.

I wish I could say I had an answer for this short-sighted phenomenon, but all I can tell you is I find it utterly baffling. A McDonald’s manager with no education makes more than a starting teacher! Why are we then surprised when, on those incredibly rare occasions when it all goes wrong, we end up getting exactly what we paid for?

Kevin December 06, 2011 at 01:07 PM
Fine, I'll take the last word. If I'm a teacher and am doing my job, teaching my students, how am I supposed to know what is going on in a classroom on the other side of the building? How do I know what teaching is going on? Do I take the word of teenagers? As a teacher friend of mine told me that she tells her parents on open house night, "if you don't believe everything your child says about me, I won't believe everything your child says about you." My point is this: if I'm not in the classroom observing what is going on, what do I have to go on to determine that teaching isn't going on? Rumor? Innuendo? Do I assume that because a teacher teaches differently from the way I do, that they are bad teachers?
Ramona December 08, 2011 at 02:09 AM
I am sick of the arguement that teachers DESERVE higher salaries because they went to college, so what! It is the entitlement mentality that has driven our country to this sad state!! There are thousands of college educated unemployed people. And, anyone who thinks that working in public works or the like is easy and not worth the money, you try it for a while! Also, many of those positions require at least a two year degree or more today. Perhaps you will gain a greater appreciation for those who help the cities and towns keep going.
Djanish October 15, 2012 at 09:20 AM
I am a daycare worker and I believe I should be paid more! I have worked in many schools and believe that I am "teaching" the children I care for many things that will prepare them for life! I have my early childhood degree and am doing the exact same thing or rather I'm doing more because I also have to clean up my own mess ( I can't just leave it for the custodians) that "teachers" are doing yet I'm getting paid a fraction of what they are getting paid because they stayed in school for one more year! Clearly, something is wrong with our world when people are allowing for this to happen!
Bruno Fontana October 15, 2012 at 04:39 PM
Hey Teachers, Day Care Workers, et al...Deal with it, the rest of us have had to since post 2008. There are no guarantees in life, no promises, no yearly raises or bonus for most of us. If someone told you that, they lied-which is another valuable life lesson-trust then verify. I've written this before: no one is demonizing the vocation of an educator, if that’s what you want to do-good for you. But in this sad economic environment to "expect" anything because you went to college is galling. Jeff-it has nothing to do with being cheap. There is no money. It was given away by our State politicians to buy Union Votes…which is the way it’s always been done(sadly).
Robert Jr. October 15, 2012 at 05:25 PM
It would be nice if the Patch would also recognize that the frustration among tax payers has nothing to do with whether the public believes teachers are professional, and deserving of quality pay and benefits. I believe there is a growing awareness among the public that many systems in place since the 1950's need restructuring and that Government/Public employment and laborunion/management tactics also need to be revisited and re-engineered in order to be sustainable into the future. I believe we all see the financial problems that the public sector faces, but everyone wants to kick the necessary sacrifices needed to fix the problem down the road to the next generation. This generation has finally stepped up to say no more. We want to fix the problems today, and we will look at all sources of concern. Let's address the structural issues, so the trash emotional gossip-style rants can give way to intellectually sound and financially stabel solutions long term. Geneva supports teachers, and supports fiscal responsibility. I doubt fiscal irresponsibility is supported, nor are community/teacher tensions desired either.


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