Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here.


As part of our recent line of stories dealing with the state of education in contemporary America, a reporter from [name of publication deleted for the sake of privacy] traveled to distant Fairfield, CA in order to interview one of the new teachers at Rodriguez High School – one ‘Mr. “Barney” Crayfish’  (Mr. Crayfish has been dubbed “Barney” by his students because he only owns three shirts which are suitable work attire, and two of these shirts are the unfortunate purple of the beloved/hated dinosaur of the popular children’s television show.

When asked why he had chosen the profession, Mr. C replied, “Well, I’ve been in education my whole life.  I have an MA from Cal State Sacramento and I spent four years pursuing a PhD at WSU Pullman.  Given a choice between returning to my old job as a dishwasher, or taking up teaching, well, working as an educator seemed like a natural decision.”

After a moment’s reflection, however, “Barney” continued by stating that he was no longer sure that he had made the correct choice.  “You see, I got my first paycheck today,” he said, “and I was more than a little surprised.  When I first started, I was told that I was starting at the far right end of the pay scale.  I pretty much capped out the scale, because of my education, and I also have a $1000 dollar annual bonus on top of that, because of my MA.  All in all, my salary is around $41,000 a year.”

Glancing around nervously, “Barney” continued, “But it’s really not as good as it sounds.  I mean, it’s actually a total crock of shit.  After paying into the Fairfield-Suisun Teacher’s Retirement System ($334.90), paying my medical insurance (178.76), Medicare ($47.99), Fed Tax ($411.29) and State Tax ($92.59), tuition fees for required technology classes for “new” teachers [classes that you can’t test out of no matter what your level of technology proficiency], my union dues ($94.98 a month) and my life insurance ($1.00), I’ve figured out that I make just over minimum wage.”

This reporter, somewhat confused by the seemingly outrageous claim, asked Mr. C if he would clarify.  The teacher responded somewhat testily with “Look.  It’s not exactly rocket science.  I work five days a week.  Typically I’m up at 5:00 am, and I start throwing together daily vocabulary and grammar exercises, or else grading student papers so that I can update grades once I get to school.  Not counting the time I take to shit and shower, I usually put in about an hour and a half of work before I actually get in the car and drive to work.  Once I’m at work, around 7:15, there’re roll-sheets to be picked up, copies to be made, transparencies to be washed, daily agenda and learning targets to be chalked up on the whiteboard, and any number of other small duties to be performed before the classroom is physically set up to teach.”  “Barney” shrugged at this point, his eyes fluttering closed in what our reporter could only describe as an expression of ‘infinite exhaustion and mild bitterness.’

Urged to go on, “Barney” elaborated.  “We’re on the block schedule, so every Tuesday and Thursday I’m supposed to get a long and useful prep period.  Of course, I don’t actually get one, because I got my credential out of state, and CA can’t pass up the opportunity to bleed away any time or money I might have by compelling me to take endless ‘courses’ on how to teach.  So I spend my valuable prep period with a BTSA instructor who is there to ‘support’ me in my initial teaching efforts.”

When asked what kind of support his BTSA instructor offered, Mr. C laughed, “Oh, she pretty much tells me that I should make time to get some sleep, and that it’s very important that I set aside sufficient time to do my prep work.  We usually waste about an hour and a half talking about how what I really need most, as a new teacher, is more –time— to organize, plan and grade.  But hey, I’m not going to complain.  I mean, at least she’s an adult.  On Tuesdays and Fridays, I don’t get a prep period at all.  I spend the entire day locked in a room with adolescents.  It can be a little draining.  After all, even if you like the students it gets old saying, repeatedly, “Ok, since you can’t seem to quiet down, we’ll stay one minute after the bell.  [student name] please sit down.  [student name] please put away the make-up, you know the rules in this class, and there’s to be no personal grooming when you’re supposed to be working.  [student name] I told you not to throw things in this class, here’s your referral, please go to the office.”

This reporter nodded sympathetically at all this, then noted, brightly, that at least teachers got to go home at 3:00, and wasn’t that a pretty nice perk of the job?  The remark was met with a stony silence, and the thousand-yard stare that correctional officers get when some clueless civilian suggests that perhaps the inmates would be better behaved if the ‘guards were nicer.’

“I’m betting you don’t actually know any teachers,” Mr. C gritted out.  “No one stops working at 3:00.  Some people work better at home, at their kitchen table, and some need to stay on campus in order to keep their focus, but no one stops working at 3:00.”  “Barney” rolled his head tiredly around his shoulders as if attempting to loosen an inflexible knot, and continued “I’m generally not done until at least 10:00, and even then I’m not really done.  I just get to the point where I don’t really give a fuck anymore, and I quit.  Stop looking so shocked.  I’m a teacher not a goddamn priest.  The kiddies are gone, so relax.”

This reporter, a little uncomfortable at how quickly the lovable dinosaur had transformed into a rather snappy purple monster, took a quick step back before bringing the interview back into focus on Mr. C’s original assertion that he was, basically, making minimum wage.  “Well think about it.”  Mr. C explained, in the same tone of voice one would use when explaining algebra to a cow, “I work essentially 12 to 14 hours a day, four days a week, and a straight eight on Friday.  Then I put in, typically, about six hours a day on weekends.  Never less than that, and most of the time a bit more.  But I’m trying to be reasonable.  So let’s just call it six hours.  That’s about 70 hours a week.  My take home pay is $2200, which is about $550 a week.  That comes out to about $8 an hour, which is less than I got paid for trashing out and maintaining apartments at my summer job.”

This reporter was a bit stunned upon checking the math and finding that Barney was, in fact, speaking the truth.  He did, however, point out to Mr. C that at least the teacher was getting retirement.  Barney shrugged, “Fat lot of good that’ll do.  It’s clear I’ll have a heart attack long before I reach retirement.  I’m just hoping that the life insurance payout is enough to buy my wife a car.  Even if it’s not, though, I can’t wait to be dead.  Then, at least, I’ll be able to get some rest.  I should have kept working as a dishwasher, or an apartment maintenance man.  I could have worked two jobs, for half of what I’m making now, and I would have less stress, more money in my pocket, and more truly free time.

At this point, the stench of bitterness became too intense for this reporter to resist, and he fled, fearing for the sanctity of his idealistic little soul.


26 thoughts on “Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here.

  1. The Education system in the US needs to be overhauled, Being new to this board I should have introduced myself. I’m Paul the Socialist. And I think America Sucks. The bleeding of America through Corporate mayhem has it’s levels. One of the last considerations on the list of things it cares about is ( Education ) Everybody is getting Screwed, The Teachers, and the Students, are stuck in a path that will lead to more dumbing down of Society. It’s like that simple minded Laura Bush pushing everyone to read. It’s not about reading, It’s about questioning everything that you do read.

  2. – industry it is! lol… yeah, I feel for a lot of my old teachers. I mean, I grew up with a generally shitty education, but ther eason for that is twofold. First, the need to appeal to a broad base; I cuoldn’t be endulged. Second, a total lack of resources. Teachers with a teaching degree and no knowledge of chemistry teaching chemistry is absurd, but it happened. Textbooks were often well more than 20 years old (I had a health textbook that pictured a black kid wit a huge afro at a dinner table).

    In the end, post-secondary changed all of that, but it’s kinda sad to know that the school system is going downhill. Private or public, however, these things will still happen.

  3. When I was in middle school and high school in the 1990s, we had science textbooks that talked about the future possibility of men landing on the moon! Worst thing though was the older generations of teachers (who made 4-5 times what a starting teacher made) refused to keep up with their field. My senior year in high school I had to hand write two rough drafts of ever paper before finally typing the final draft because “that is how it works in college!” I was also told I was a horrible writer and damn near failed English my senior year only to become an ‘excellent’ writer four months later when I started college!? Of course, my school was very much a ‘those who can’t do, teach’ kind of place. The math teacher was only their because he was the wrestling coach. The chemistry teacher loved food based experiments and would spend all his classes eating the experiments instead of explaining the scientific theories involved. The drivers’ education teacher had his wife drive him to work! These people were all making 90,000 a year and when they got the chance to have college student come in to student teach (which was supposed to be supervised) they would just run off to the teachers’ lounge to relax and do nothing.

  4. Yeah, its pretty much a damned if you do, damned if you don’t job. You’re apparently either a masochist, idealist or a burnout. Often all at the same time.

    Nowiser, wouldn’t it make mor sense to just ditch some of the preparations (make up stuff on the fly, or less elaborate preparations) and actually go to work with enough sleep? Naive question, I guess, but that is probably what I’d TRY to do – before I as you say ‘don’t give a fuck anymore’.

    Also, were you really interviewed, or is this just the way you wrote this article?

    Cheers, and you got my admiration!

  5. Teaching sucks at all levels and the pay is horrible. Teaching at University is marginally better than teaching elementary or HS in that you don’t (often) have to deal with obnoxious parents who don’t understand why Willie didn’t get an ‘A.’ But you still have to deal with the young adults who came out of that system and believe that, “But I really tried,” is a reason enough to receive an A.

    The hours are terrible and though the money woudn’t be awful if you worked a 9-5 day, working 15 hours a day every day (including weekends as you prepare the next week’s lecture notes —god fobid you show up to class and ask students to take their own notes—is grim.

    Do your own research and publish, publish, publish? When?? How??

    “Barney” has my complete sympathy.  These folks deserve a medal—or at least tax-exempt status.

  6. I agree completely with the tone of his argument, and these comments. However, when he says he makes just over minimum wage he forgets that the people that do earn minimum wage also have to remove taxes, fees, insurance, and what not.

    He does those struggling on minimum wage a disservice in that regard.

    As I said, though, his point is valid as is his anger.

  7. Ok.  No one actually interviewed me.  I was just slightly peeved when I got my first check and realized I was losing not 20% to fees and taxes, but over 30%.  Foolishness of me to expect otherwise, I suspect.

    People who are working for minimum wage don’t usually have student loan payments in the $575 a month range. 

    I’m actually not angry about it.  I’m just frustrated that I’m making so little when I have to work—sooooo—hard.  I’ve had plenty of minimum wage jobs, and I didn’t pay medical, retirement, etc.  I simply, like many low wage workers, didn’t go to doctors or expect to live long enough to collect on retirement.

    In reality, the worst thing about this job really is the complete lack of free time.  Although I shouldn’t bitch too much, I suppose, since I just decided to take today off, no matter what.  First non-working day since I started, five weeks ago, and I’m liking it.

    On the bright side, this isn’t really reflective of teaching, as a profession.  It’s entirely a symptom of the notorious FIRST YEAR.  This is where 50% of wannabe teachers get weeded out by stress, sickness and suicide.  It’s just that in retrospect I realize that I probably would have made a good attorney and an adequate doctor.  I mean, if you’re going to be constantly stressed, why not get paid for it?

    There’s another upside, too.  On average, I’ve been losing about two pounds a week since I started teaching.  I think it’s stress related, along with the fact that I’m so pressed for time.  I expect things to even out pretty soon, though, so I guess I shouldn’t get too excited about this unexpected ‘perk.’

  8. It doesn’t help that my wife has been unemployed for over a month, now, and that I’m basically paying our rent of 1295 a month, and all of our bills, out of my meager little 2260 take-home.

    Of course, as soon as she gets a job I’m going to have to start doing housework again, and washing dishes. 

    Fella just can’t catch a break.

  9. What Barney needs is some time management skills.  I taught for six years, middle school, elementary school,and high school. Even during my first year of teaching, I didn’t put in 70 hours a week. More like 50. And a lot of teachers I know are easily able to work two jobs (albeit the second job is part time) not because they have to, but because they can and maybe choose to do so in order to retire early or whatever.

    And I don’t know about his district, but where I worked it was 182 days per year. Also, union dues and any money you had to spend on more education you just deduct from your taxes.

    Yes, teachers don’t get paid nearly enough. (They should get paid more than lawyers, that’s for sure.) But it’s nowhere near minimum wage, despite Barney’s whining. Minimum wage workers rarely have good health insurance, rarely are building a pension, or have the job security afforded by belonging to a union and, eventually, tenure. And they sure don’t get a two-month vacation.

    Barney doesn’t sound nearly as smart as he thinks he is. It’s a little too early in the year for a first-year teacher to burn out—that usually happens around Thanksgiving (I think that’s why it ‘s a four-day break!) Buck up, Barney, get through it—in five years you’ll pretty much be coasting through on less than 50 hours a week. And you’ll be loving those vacations.

  10. Just know that within a coupla months you’ll discover many shortcuts and you’ll say fuck it much earlier. It probably has something to do with the experience you’ll have gained.
    Remember, if you die on the job both you and your efforts will be forgotten in no time.
    Of course the fact you were able to post means that you’re not really tired and have plenty of time.  smile

  11. They should get paid more than lawyers, that’s for sure.

    And I now think we should resume burning witches at the stake.

  12. Oops, that could be neuro twitch, not neurot(ic) witch.  Okay, I think web developers should be burned at the stake.  Several birds with one stone.

  13. I just retired from my University job (research, teaching, publishing, grant writing, etc) where I DID work 70 hrs/week as Associate Professor.  SG’s husband (Mr Science Goddess?) just retired from the Navy where as a physician, he worked 70+ hrs/week. 

    Now, I have a part time job teaching undergraduate biology at a local community college (12 contact hours/week plus that again in prep time).  Husband has TWO part-time jobs and a consulting business.

    We have a comfortable retirement.  House is paid, cars are paid (but old).  Income is adequate, but we’re not rich.

    Point here is: look at the long haul.  Professionals NEVER quit working, that’s why it’s a profession, not a job.  We love to do it, often will do it for free (volunteering), or for less than we could make as lawyers [grin].

    Hang in there, it will get easier.  Besides, you love it, right?

    Science Goddess

  14. Paul – welcome to SEB!  As an aside (to ponder some other time) if America sucks, why do so many people want to come here?

    K. Engles, if you had science textbooks from the 1950’s, you might have been lucky.  Other than being outdated, they were probably written more clearly than the mish-mash that passes for science books now.

    Hang in there, Nowiser; we appreciate you.  We need teachers more than ever who understand irony. It seems to be our major export these days.

  15. Ummm…
    Sure, teachers certainly need to make more per hour.  No doubt in this.

    Barney needs some help in calculating the monetary *benefits* of his career.  Like, um, the retirement bene he so generously pays into each paycheck.

    What a crock of BS.

  16. Living in a house with two teachers (one current and one retired) I can sympathize. I agree with SG and DOF, though. Hang in there. You will master it in the long haul and find its true worth.

  17. Uh.  I’m Barney, guys.  This is my job, and these are my students, and I wrote this on this past Friday afternoon as a spoof, when I got my first paycheck. 

    But thanks for the flames.  Nothing like getting kicked when you’re feeling down to make you retain the sense of humor that you’re so desperately trying to hold on to.

    Retirement is great, I admit.  If you live that long.

    I’m pretty sure that stroke or heart attack will claim me long before then, but I really hope to be proven wrong.

    Now I have to go, because I have a bullshit technology in teaching course that I have to take before I get started on lesson planning for the next week.

    Enjoy your weekends.

  18. I’ll add my “hang in there”.  My mom was a grade school teacher in the ghetto in Richmond, CA.  She often complained about how hard it was, but she stuck with it and did a great job for many years.  Teaching done well is one of the most important things society needs.  All the best.

  19. This post reminded me of the movie “Mr. Holland’s Opus”. Of all the careers I pondered as a kid, being a teacher was never one of them (another one was being a dentist).

  20. Uh.  I’m Barney, guys…

    Got that, and got how frustrated you’re feeling right now.  You sound tired, and wondering if any amount of money would be enough.

    Here’s hoping that in 2036 you are receiving accolades of students whose lives you have shaped and set on the track.  From the 16 September New Scientist magazine:

    “…brilliance in academia, sport, music and many other fields is due only in very small part to innate ability.  Mostly it comes through inspirational instruction, a supportive environment, and sheer hard work…” – page 3

    “…study so intense requires resources – time and space to work, teachers to mentor, and the subjects of Bloom’s study, like most elite performers, almost invariably enjoyed plentiful support in their formative years.  Bloom, in fact, came to see great talent as less an individual trait than a creation of environment and encouragement.  “We were looking for exceptional kids,” he said, “and what we found was exceptional conditions.”… Finally, most retrospective studies, including Bloom’s, have found that almost all high achievers were blessed with at least one crucial mentor as they neared maturity.” – pg 42, emphasis mine

    This was true for all three of my kids.  It was true for me.  It was true for Thomas Edison, Edward O. Wilson, and the brilliant, innovative network administrator I work with.  It was true for my dentist, who at the age of 55 is by far the most technologically advanced in town.

    This post reminded me of the movie “Mr. Holland’s Opus”.

    My youngest son is a music major, an amazing musician, and really hadn’t thought of teaching.  But he is discovering his chops teaching guitar to young kids.  I wonder what lies ahead for him…

  21. What a crock of BS.

    But it’s nowhere near minimum wage, despite Barney’s whining.

    Guys, let the guy have his complain, okay? Its necessary for the soul, to sometimes say ‘What the FUCK am I doing all this SHIT for???’

  22. Ing: Guys, let the guy have his complain, okay? Its necessary for the soul, to sometimes say ‘What the FUCK am I doing all this SHIT for???’

    Venting. Yeah.  LOL

  23. I’m a teacher, high school chemistry.  I graduated top of my class, but I am a dumb-ass for becoming a teacher.  I just LOVE teaching chemistry to students that don’t know how to read a ruler.  I’ve had students waiting for a calculator to do 2 times 1.  I’m not kidding.  I had one kid 6 years ago that continually mis-spelled his own name.  One couldn’t do 3 plus 2 (she came from Pakistan at age 14, having absolutely no elementary education);  and yet, she was able to earn a C in earth science, which was way higher than the class average.  I could write a book about how fucking stupid our educational system is, but it is not worth my time.  Nobody cares enough about education, and my book would not sell.  parents don’t care if their kids learn, they just want a stupid diploma.  Try to hold the kids accountable, and they turn on you.  Parents become upset.  Principals become upset.  Counselors do everything they can to get you to pass the kids.  What we need are more teachers like me, teachers that truly don’t give a fuck about what people think, and truly give the grades that students earn, no matter how many flunk the class… crap, I’m the only one that teaches my subject at my school… next year’s class sizes may be close to 40 students per class….  maybe I will quit by then, being a teacher truly sucks.

  24. Barney, as far as I know, is no longer teaching at Rodriguez.  For whatever reason (students, profession, wife, hours), he is no longer teaching.  I can say from experience just how demanding and frustrating this job can be as I’ve taught at this school for 5 years now, 3 of which teaching the same subject as him, and I have survived the endless hours grading essays, and the numerous BTSA meetings (most of which feel like “DUH!” – the only shining star for BTSA are the advisors!).  I got through it.  I bitched heavily along the way, but I got through it, and now I’m finding that the profession is much more tolerable.  First and second year teachers have it the worst, and if one manages to trudge through this period, third year is “burnout” year.  Surviving that year is the hardest. 

    It really is too bad about Barney.  I think he would have been a great teacher if he could have found a way to make the profession work for him.  Oh well!  Welcome to public education.  The only profession where having advanced degrees is mandatory, but being paid equitably for them is out of the question!

  25. I appreciate the last comment—particularly the part about “he would have been a great teacher.”  It’s always nice to get props.

    On the other hand, I’m currently making approximately $7500 more, per year, than I was making as a teacher.  I work an eight hour shift, and when the day is over I go home with both the time and energy to hang out with my wife and walk my dogs.

    I’m basically a glorified secretary; it’s not as ‘stimulating’ as being a teacher.  And what I’ve come to realize is that stimulation is over-rated.  Cash and free-time wins out, for me, every time.

    I’m much happier, even though there’s no question that what I’m doing is not as socially ‘important’ as teaching. 

    I know the guy who posted the prior comment, and he was definitely a good teacher.  He was cheerful, enthusiastic.  He always seemed fairly -happy- to be at work, and I’m thinking RHS is lucky to have him. 

    But I’m definitely better off now, and I’m betting my students are too.

  26. even though there’s no question that what I’m doing is not as socially ‘important’ as teaching

    In my view if society isn’t appreciating in some form what your doing for them, they deserve to be without it. Innocent people may suffer not having decent teachers, but it’s the only real way to change things, or at least make a small contribution to that. Employers try to play the morality card (of innocents suffering) to unfairly trap people into jobs they don’t want to do, but at the end of the day you are affected by forces in the economy, and have to look after yourself as much as anyone else, employers need to respect that if they want both a motivated and skilled supply of teachers. Do they at the top really care though as long as they’re alright? They may be perfectly content to use and discard people so long as there’s any supply

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