We aren’t on good terms right now, and that’s a shame. We, teachers and state officials, need to be on collegial terms. The stakes are too high. Our students’ futures are too valuable.
Unfortunately, there have been a number of issues recently that have caused division between us:
For one, your party rammed through legislation, without actuarial analysis, that fundamentally changes the way teacher retirement operates for all new teachers henceforth. As a 24-year old teacher with 2.5 years of experience, I’m now more nervous about our ability to recruit the best and brightest to join me for the rest of my career. But, let’s put that aside for now.
Another issue is that you guaranteed that my colleagues were complicit in sexual assault, complicit in the poisoning of young children, complicit in young children’s introductions to drugs. You guaranteed these because my colleagues protested on behalf of their schools and students, the very students you made pawns in your backlash. But, let’s also put that aside for now.
You maneuvered, quite impressively, to remove Dr. Stephen Pruitt from his leadership role at the Kentucky Department of Education. Surely you know how beloved and respected Dr. Pruitt is around the state. He was widely revered as an ally to superintendents, administrators, and teachers alike. But, again, let’s put that aside for now.
I want to put all of that--and it is a lot--aside right now because we need you, Governor Bevin, to come into the classroom. We need you to know what's happening on a day-to-day basis. We need you to know what happens when protests stop.
Life at Bowling Green High
I pull into the parking lot at Bowling Green High School every weekday around 7:00 A.M. Several trusted teachers are already hard at work: the resolute Spanish teacher, the steadfast English teacher, the inventive biology teacher. They are grading, planning, and preparing to serve their students. Those teachers won’t start teaching students until 8:30 A.M. Those teachers, then, are logging over an hour and a half of work before their primary responsibilities begin.
I pull away from the parking lot at Bowling Green High School every weekday around 5:00 P.M. Several trusted teachers are still hard at work in the school: the devoted Spanish teacher, the accommodating journalism teacher, the energized Family and Consumer Science (FACS) teacher. They are grading, planning, and preparing to serve their students. Those teachers stopped teaching students at 3:05 P.M. Those teachers, then, are logging about two hours of work after their primary responsibilities end
See, Governor, from my first day in the classroom, I understood that teachers log long hours during the school year. However, due to our aforementioned riffs, I became interested in just how many hours teachers were working while simultaneously feeling unsupported by our state’s leadership.
So, I asked.
I asked my colleagues to average the number of hours worked per week during the school year. Teachers at Bowling Green High School spend, on average, 54.7 hours per week working at the school or completing work related tasks.
Crunching the Numbers
Several questions immediately ran through my mind: Why are we working so long? What can we do to cut down these hours? What are we sacrificing for our jobs? What are the health concerns for teachers working such long hours?
But, the most important question that popped into my mind was this: Do you, Governor Bevin--and the rest of the state leadership--understand the amount of time, energy, and morale being spent on education in our state?
I wondered this because of the recent rhetoric from Frankfort as well as the way teachers are compensated in this state. Kentucky teachers are paid per day for the school year. That means that we are paid for 186 days of work during the entire year. (Here’s the salary schedule for Bowling Green Independent School District)
According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the average American worker holding a bachelor’s degree or higher works 8.04 hours per day, equaling 40.2 hours per week. Assuming that person has a normal three weeks off for the year, the average American worker is spending 1,969.8 hours per year working. Assuming that Bowling Green High School is indicative of a statewide or even national trend, teachers, on average, are putting in just over 2,000 hours during the school year.
So, teachers work more than the average American--we haven’t even talked about hours worked over the summer yet--and are compensated for about 3/4 of the work.
What does it all mean?
The immediate realization I hope you see, Governor Bevin, is that being an “average” teacher means consistently and continuously going above and beyond without compensation, which means the state is getting education at a bargain price. After internalizing this realization, I hope there are two primary outcomes in our state:
Let’s start talking about the cost of teaching.
Teaching comes at a large financial and personal cost. By working exceptionally long hours at school, teachers complete vital work at a price nowhere near their worth. To get a glimpse of the amount of overtime teachers work, it’s good to note that my required school day runs from 8:10-3:20, twenty minutes before I begin teaching and fifteen minutes after I finish. That equates to around 36 hours of work each week, a number painfully lower than the amount an average teacher works.
While it’s fair to note that many salaried employees put in overtime without compensation, it is unfair to assume that teachers will put in nearly 20 hours of uncompensated overtime per week for an entire career. Add on top of this the cost of a required master's degree (funded personally within 10 years of starting their career) and the amount of money teachers spend on the classroom ($530 average in one study), and being a teacher starts looking like an unwise financial investment.
Added to the steep financial cost of teaching is a personal burden. Teachers consistently walk with students enduring the effects of poverty, abuse, harassment, and bullying, to name a few. It can become overwhelming, and it frequently results in teacher prioritizing their students’ wellbeing over their own. So, where’s a teacher to turn for support?
Let’s start supporting teachers.
Governor, the first thing we need from you is leadership. We need you to be cognizant of the work we do and the importance of it. We need you to consistently communicate the centrality of our work in regards to the future of our state. We need you to lead.
We also need support from our communities. Bowling Green Independent School District is fortunate to have a board of education willing to raise taxes--a risky move for their own tenures--in order to fund our schools. We need that from communities around the state and our politicians in Frankfort. We need to be dedicated to education to the point where that which is politically advantageous never gets in the way of that which is educationally necessary. Similarly, we need our communities in our schools. We need the community at large to see what happens in Kentucky schools on a daily basis. You can set that tone by continuing to spend time in educational settings in order to highlight the quality work being done each and every school day.
Finally, Governor Bevin, let’s financially support teachers. I have no quick fix in this regard, and I don’t think there is one. But, we must financially support teachers. Does that mean giving teachers a raise? Probably. Other states have done it. Does that mean working the budget to ensure teachers don’t spend hundreds of dollars on top of the thousands they spend for higher education? Probably. Other states have also done this. Does that mean ensuring teachers have a comfortable retirement after years and years of uncompensated overtime? Absolutely! Other states have done it.
What all of this boils down to, Governor Bevin, is that teachers are working exceptionally long hours on behalf of their students, an endeavour that we all support, but they are not being compensated accordingly. While teachers do not come into the profession for the money, the state, because of the hours worked and amount of pay, banks on teachers’ generosity for an entire career. That generosity is used and abused as if it comes in an infinite supply. Let’s not be too sure of that.
Working overtime consistently, paying for a master’s degree, and seeing funding for education cut takes a toil on teacher morale. When teacher morale goes down, we can be assured that the product in the classroom will go down. The practical impact of the product going down is tremendous: putting off grading, limiting feedback on assignments, curbing inventive strategies that take time to implement.
It is your responsibility as governor, our responsibility as teachers, and every citizen’s responsibility as an invested stakeholder to ensure that education in the commonwealth is prioritized, prized, and enterprising.
Let’s work together to make it happen.
A Concerned Teacher
Philip Russell is an English Teacher at Bowling Green High School. He works in the Joseph Tonius LEAD Academy, the ninth grade initiative at BGHS. He also serves as the Project Leader for SOKY Classroom Connections.