No respect or money for teachers in real life or on big screen

In the new movie "Fame," teachers don't get fame, fortune or respect.

In the new movie "Fame," teachers don't get fame, fortune or respect.

College writing instructor Alicia Howe wrote this great piece. Enjoy:

I recently went and saw the movie “Fame.”

You know, the “I’m-going-to-live-forever” film that follows aspiring entertainers as they make their way through four excruciating years of New York’s most prestigious performing arts school.

After watching almost two hours of dancers euphorically spinning and singers belting out lyrics to the hot beats producers created, I wanted to change my career.

In what I’m sure was a child-like tone, I told my movie gal-pals that I wanted to be a pianist, a songwriter, a ballet dancer, a director . . . and the list goes on.

But there was one profession I really didn’t want to be after the credits rolled: an educator.

If one thing is made clear by the end of the movie, it is that teaching does not equal fame. In fact, it doesn’t amount to anything worth being proud of.

After taking her students out for a night of karaoke and belting out a killer rendition of “One Week, ” Ms. Rowan, played by Megan Mullally, is asked by an awestruck group of students (who knew teachers are good at what they teach) why she wasn’t on Broadway.

She explains in a sorrowful tone that auditions wore her out, essentially claiming that she just couldn’t hack it.

But “Fame” doesn’t stop after making the assumption that teachers only teach because they can’t make it in their field. Writers even go so far as having dancer Kevin Barrett, played by Paul McGill, almost commit suicide after his dance teacher Ms. Kraft won’t write a letter of recommendation for him and suggests he become . . . a teacher.

How appalling.

I don’t blame him for almost jumping in front of that subway train.

Why would he want to teach? Teachers aren’t exactly known for making substantial amounts of money.

After all, the first thing to get cut in any economic downtime is education. Just this year, Gov. Sonny Perdue mandated three furlough days for k-12 teachers and six furlough days for all professors teaching under the University System of Georgia.

It’s not like teachers deserve to make the amount that was promised to them when they signed their contract. They don’t work after hours or anything.

They don’t spend time after school planning, grading, or answering parents’ phone messages about why Johnny really didn’t deserve detention even though he technically did punch Sally in the face.

Recently, one of my friends who teaches high school asked me whether I knew of any minimum wage jobs. She explained she’d been trying to help one of her students find a job because that particular student was kicked out of her apartment. The student’s mom didn’t pay the rent and the teacher was worried her student wouldn’t be able to afford to stay in town for the last semester of her senior year.

Those teachers. They don’t deserve squat.

What they do deserve is higher workloads for the same amount of pay, administrators breathing down their backs because their class didn’t make adequate yearly progress, (even though students grew substantially over the past year), and parents complaining that their children should have been passed, even though they weren’t ready to go to the next grade.

And don’t even think about saying “thank you” to a teacher who helped your kid graduate. I mean, why bother? They won’t take it to heart or anything. After all, they only do it for the money.

So go ahead, tell your kids to dream of success. Push them to strive for fame.

But don’t expect them to get it being an educator.

30 comments Add your comment


October 27th, 2009
9:11 pm

From a teacher: Thank you.

teacher lady

October 27th, 2009
9:30 pm

Bloggers???? OOOOOHHHH BLOGGERS? Where are you all now? Maureen has written an article that doesn’t throw teachers under the “Bus” and now no one wants to blog. No reference to the race of the teacher in the movie by those who alllllways bring race in every thing they blog?

As a teacher, I think that I just won’t go to see this movie. I choose to stay away.


October 27th, 2009
9:42 pm

Kudos to Ms. Howe…teachers across the state appreciate you.

Maureen Downey

October 27th, 2009
10:11 pm

Teacher lady, I didn’t write the piece. College teacher Alicia Howe wrote it. I ran it on the Monday education page that I put together for the AJC because I thought it was well done and made great points.


October 27th, 2009
10:16 pm


October 27th, 2009
10:24 pm

I think it is so hilarious that teachers say “the first thing that is cut is education.” Are these really the people that are teaching our kids?
Here’s a little fact check for you teachers that read this blog. Education has been cut less than everything else. And, teachers werent affected until this year, while most state employees were taking furloughs last year.
If teachers really want sympathy from the general public, they should realize its tough for everyone these days and them not being paid for planning days which are a waste of time anyway is not that big of a deal. I don’t know of one teacher that has been laid off, yet our state’s unemployment rate is over 10 percent. And they have the audacity to complain about a couple of days of unpaid leave? Just stop it.

Florida Teacher

October 27th, 2009
10:26 pm

Amen! In Florida, our pay and insurance benefits are at the mercy of the local board. While millions, literally, were spent on new textbooks two years after new textbooks were purchased and the Superintendents (yes plural) received raises and bonuses, the teachers in our district did not get a step increase for experience plus we are paying out the ying yang for health insurance.


October 27th, 2009
10:49 pm

Hey Mitch…many state employees got raises when teachers weren’t getting one. And lets be honest, very few state jobs require college degrees…every teacher I know has at least one degree. Maybe you should do a little fact checking of your own, Hall county laid off a load of teachers as have several other schools (my school cut 2 positions out of my department of 13 alone!).


October 27th, 2009
11:22 pm

Cry me a handful. There are a lot of folks who make far less than teachers – especially if you consider that this pay scale is based on a 190 day year. Project that out to a 12 month salary basis and you are easily in the top 15%.

Boo freakin’ hoo.

Tell you what, get outside the Atlanta metropolitan area and try to find a job that makes as much as a teacher. Slim pickin’s, to say the least….

Dekalb Guy

October 28th, 2009
12:33 am

I think you’re missing the point, Lee. You can get a warm body in a school for even less than teachers are paid right now, but is that what we want for our children? Don’t we want to encourage talented young people to enter into the profession and successful experienced teachers to stay in it? Georgia is in the lower third of the county in most national education standards, and some of that must have to do with the teachers we have in the schools (apologies to all of you great teachers out there, and there are MANY of you). Of course, many other factors contribute to the state of education in GA (poverty, parent involvement etc.), but we shouldn’t discount teacher pay.


October 28th, 2009
6:44 am

Johnny didn’t “technically” punch Susie in the face. It was an “accident” and “she deserved it because she was looking at him funny,” and “you are just being prejudiced.” And, anyway, nothing will happen to Johnny because we don’t want our Dangerous Schools numbers to accurately reflect what is going on.


October 28th, 2009
7:47 am

Dekalb, I don’t think it is the money that is driving people away from the teaching profession but rather, all the bullcrap that is heaped upon them. Funny how most of the teachers at my daughter’s private school make less money than their public school counterparts, but they can’t seem to keep the smile off their face.


October 28th, 2009
8:33 am

I believe Clayton County laid off over 100, manybe as many as 200, teachers this fall. The state has not kept many promises to teachers overthe years. But all in all I loved my job for 32 yeaars.


October 28th, 2009
8:37 am

It is so easy to bash teachers; especially when the basher doesn’t have to face the teacher. I was getting friendly with the friend of a friend this weekend and he started in on how easy I had it. Good-bye pal. I love my job but I don’t think it is any ‘easier’ than yours.

The other side

October 28th, 2009
9:49 am

Teachers should be paid more and have better working conditions, period! Now, let’s talk about the reality of the teaching profession, shall we? There are many great, selfless, talented teachers out there. But there are also lots of power-mongering, control-freaks who make life hell for the students and parents. You had better NOT question them! And if you DARE speak up about an unfair practice, they’ve got you by the proverbial balls! Your kid pays in lots of subtle ways…subtle “pickiness” with their grades, overlooking them for honors and special projects, overlooking them in class, looking for things to “get” them for, dirty looks or ignoring the parents at school events (for real) , etc, etc. And there’s also the “rally ‘round the wagon phenomenon where they get together and try to convince you that your complaint is baseless and “several” of us think this and “several of us saw that” and “none of us have seen any bullying” I have had 25 years’ experience with it and know it to be a fact. I also have 3 sisters who are teachers from elementary to high school and they have reinforced my suspicions…”yes, I know we shouldn’t be that way, but we are human”. I just feel that there needs to be much more accountability and a way for parents to address problems without repercussions and without being left feeling that we’d better keep our mouths shut or our kids will pay for it. The problem is big enough to overshadow the great work of great teachers. I see so much talk about lack of parental involvement in these blogs and vents…and I know why…many are discouraged from any involvement and the teachers I am talking about here are DEFINITELY not appreciative of parental involvement.
And, lest one of you starts that old-“you were just rude and made the teacher mad” or “your kid’s a brat and you don’t want them to be held accountable”, I am always extremely polite and go through the chain of command and think my complaints through carefully. My kids were always well-behaved, not a single behavioral issue…so scratch that. I can’t imagine what life would be like for the kid of a rude parent!

focus, people

October 28th, 2009
10:26 am

Attention those want to focus only on teacher pay and job security: That was only one paragraph in the piece. The rest dealt with ‘the bullcrap’ (as Lee calls it) that teachers deal with. Those are the real issues: no authority to govern one’s own class room, no support from administration , no support or downright undermining of the teacher from parents. If these were not every day occurances, you wouldn’t hear a peep from anyone about pay.

The other side

October 28th, 2009
10:55 am

Was my post lost in cyberspace?

Maureen Downey

October 28th, 2009
11:25 am

Other side, It’s up now.

focus, people

October 28th, 2009
12:04 pm

The other side raises a valid point, but parental involvement and parental complaints are two different issues.
Legitimate parent complaints should be heard first by the teacher and, if not addressed, by department chairs and administration. I would hope that these instances a few and far between.
Parental involvement, which should be taking place DAILY, includes asking your child about his assignments, checking to see if the student is turning in assignments, keeping track of your student’s progress, even volunteering at school (although this is not possible for many parents). This is really all teachers want. We don’t want you to make our jobs easier; however, we cannot fully do our jobs (teach) if students won’t do theirs (learn), and positive parental involvemnt makes a HUGE difference.

If parents and teachers work together, students will be more successful.

The other side

October 28th, 2009
12:47 pm

focus, people- I am not referring to people like you, but to the ones no one likes to talk about or admit are out there…because they have the power to hurt our kids’ progress. And for those teachers, neither parental involvement nor parental complaints are accepted. Believe me, with the great teachers, we love to be involved…with the others, we just help our kids get through with the minimum amount of damage. We need to clean house, set standards for acountability and communication and THEN make the job pay enough to attract the best of the best. The problems I am talking about are nothing new and they will certainly NOT improve with worsening working conditions and loss of pay. How stupid to withhold higher education bonuses and certificate increases…But…these are bad times and employers are in power-they don’t think they have to make much change right now because teachers, like everyone else, rather than risk losing their jobs, will put up with crap! I don’t expect improvement for a while.


October 28th, 2009
2:25 pm

As the working conditions, nurse/ patient ratios and inadequate pay continues, the number of nurses unwilling to tolerate it decreases. The numbers of people attending nursing schools have dwindled, there are not enough teachers even for those who want to become nurses. The hospitals have too few nurses and nurses are abdicating in droves…Even if we had an unexpected miracle in which 50,000 persons wanted to become nuses overnight, we could not catch up for many,many years… the future for healthcare is very scary for those of us who will need good nursing care in the future. And so it will be with education. Our society so has its priorities screwed up that we will indeed face a bleak future…for even if we wise up and compensate bright people enough to stay in education or nursing, we won’t be able to catch up until too late for a lot of folks. But… we continue to pay millions and millons a year for people to play ball…go figure!


October 28th, 2009
4:22 pm

“As the working conditions, nurse/ patient ratios and inadequate pay continues, the number of nurses unwilling to tolerate it decreases”..ooops- I did mean to say INCREASES!


October 29th, 2009
5:15 am

Mitch planning time at the beginning of the year is NOT a waste of time as you suggest. It is time that teachers use to prepare for the students. We prepare classrooms, analyze data from the previous year so that we can make good academic decisions, make committee assignments etc. Actually as an elementary teacher I go in the week BEFORE planning begins because there is sooo much to do! Your references to no layoffs is far from true there were many in our county this year. Just because you are obviously out of touch and don’t know about them doesn’t make it true! Those layoffs caused class size increases which affect individual student interaction, more discipline issues etc., and still dealing with lack of parental involvement for many, and others who choose not to recognize very real issues when teachers point them out.


October 30th, 2009
8:41 am

As an outsider and a parent of adult children I think most people are missing the point. There are good and bad teachers in education as in anything else(just look at the article in AJC this morning about the fight between 2 female teachers over a male teacher in front of the children screaming 4 letter words in a Georgia school district)Perhaps better controls of who is hired as a teacher may help to improve the “atmosphere of learning” in Georgia’s school district. Sure teachers are notoriously underpaid in most states and it takes a truly dedicated person to remain in education and still be effective in teaching our children. So, instead of posting what’s going on in the schools thats bad, why don’t we concentrate on what we can do to fix the problems. Example, how do you motivate children?…Take an interest in what things excite them and help them stay motivated by incorporating these interests in your interaction with them. (Of course I am talking about moral, self esteem building, mind challenging, talent building interests) Since teachers spend the majority of time with our children this could be very beneficial. I realize also that there are behavorial problems with some children and these problems not only surface during school but also at home. So parents, face the fact that you child may have a problem and get them some help and work with the teachers. As far as the issue of ladder climbing teachers in the system is concerned, perhaps changing the rules for climbing the ladder would solve that problem so that no one with a bad attitude would suceed. Just as the children see these kinds of attitudes, so do teachers and administrators, making those that make decisions about promotions aware of problem teachers with attitudes without fear of retaliation may help in this area. This is the first time I have ever blogged but I felt that the conversation was getting away from the real issue and that is working on “solutions”..So thank you all you hard working committed teachers. You are doing the right thing so keep doing it. It’s not always about money, (although it helps)..we have a generation of children in need of you so keep doing what you do best, love and educate our brilliant next generation of children.


October 30th, 2009
4:34 pm

The problem with education? One word: Administrators.

“Try this method.” “If you’ll just post your standards and a student learning map.” “Give the students graphic organizers.” “You should use ‘authentic evaluations.’” “Oo-o-oo, collaborative planning and “think, pair, share” is the answer.” “Switch to a standards based evaluation”

With Georgia 48th or 49th in the nation, here’s a thought…let teachers give it a try. Administrivia is killing teachers and yes, driving them from the profession.


October 30th, 2009
11:35 pm

I retired at the end of May of this year after teaching high school social studies for 33 years, and I saw a lot of changes take place in education. One of the major changes involved taking control of the curriculum from the teachers and local BOEs and placing it in the hands of the states and the national government. In my opinion when this happened, things began going downhill at a more accelerated rate. When I began teaching in the 1970s, I had the power to assess my students, determine what each one needed and move from that point forward. My students were happier, more productive, and enjoyed learning. As time passed QCC was implemented followed by NCLB. Instead of curriculum being decided at the local level and in the classroom, the government (lawmakers) would develop it and pass it down to the counties. I don’t think that legislators realized that it may have been a good idea to get teachers involved in every step of the process. Everyone seems to think he/she can do what a teacher does. The field of education is one of the only professions I know of in which lawmakers who are not educators plan what the person charged with doing the job will do on a daily basis. Added to this are the ongoing required professional learning courses on differentiated instruction, collaborative planning, focus groups, meetings on data driven instruction, leadership team meetings until 5:30-or later, school keys, etc and anything else the local board decides is “necessary’” to improve student achievement.


October 31st, 2009
10:28 am

If you don’t teach, you really don’t understand.


October 31st, 2009
1:20 pm

Maureen, thank you for posting this article.
Carla, I completely agree.
I am in my fifth year teaching high school social studies and it is emotionally exhausting to say the least. The money isn’t great, but people don’t go into teaching for the money. My issues come when my professional expertise is undermine by ridiculous expectations for my classroom, and administrators that expect you to “just do it” when they pile on unreasonable demands.
I always said I wanted to teach in a way that I would want my children to be taught, but unfortunately, a lot of people making decisions in schools do not care at all. If they did, they wouldn’t overload teachers with meetings over stupid stuff so we have no time, or energy, to plan engaging lessons, or collaborate with other teachers.
We are underappreciated, and underpaid, but there are small, local level things that can be done to create better working conditions. A little appreciation and support goes a LONG way.


November 2nd, 2009
3:17 pm

The Other Side is dead on point. The sorries have GOT you when they’ve got your child in their care.Teaching has become the #1 fall back profession. Most do not want to be there, complain the span of their careers, provide friendship entertainment to their student favorites and live to sit another day–suffocating the interest out of potentially successful students.
The stupidest of teachers seem to be in Rockdale County. I wish every school sought & made use on the last-day-of-school parent evals. Wonder if it help, though, since usually stupid principals carry the system’s dump of the teacher load.


November 8th, 2009
3:58 pm

There is actually a parent group recently formed in Rockdale to help youth “make it through” what this system has become. We hear of more kids targeted to fail than help to succeed out here. What a tragedy if this is true. I believe the contact to express interest is – study groups, group tutoring, parent collaboration, and advocacy.