Teachers for Hire


Happy Labor Day!  (To all you Americans, at least.)

In honor of the “yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country,” let’s talk about the labors of teaching.

No, we’re not going to do some cheesy comparison between the labors of teachers and the legendary labors of Marvel Comics’ hero Hercules (but you can read here to learn more, especially if you need a new spin on teaching Greek myths).

herc lightning

First labor: Reenact He-Man’s “by the power of Greyskull!” bit.

Let’s talk about the work of teachers.  

Back when I was in college, I told one of my former high school teachers I was going into teaching.  His response was something like “Teaching is a noble profession.  But it’s a terrible job.”

While this may come across as discouraging at first, my mentor went on to say that the work of a teacher is important and rewarding, but it’s not for everyone.  If you just want a career to pay the bills, he explained, go find a different job.  But if you want to make a difference no matter the cost, then teaching is for you.

It’s not about the money, money, money . . . 

Most of us in the teaching profession know that you don’t go into it to get rich.  Not financially speaking, at least.  

Honestly, I never thought much about my future paychecks when I decided to pursue teaching as my college major.  As a kid, I had always respected my teachers and thought highly of them (most of them, at least) as model citizens in our small town.  Financial stability seemed to be part of that elevated status.  

Unfortunately, it wasn’t until my “Intro to Teaching” class in college where on the first day our instructor told us, “Why do you want to be a teacher?  The pay is lousy.”

Talk about a bummer way to start my adventure in teacherhood.  I think this guy was trying to get us to realize teaching is something you do for more than a paycheck.  His approach just wasn’t quite as polished as it could be.  Or maybe he wanted to scare away all the undergrads who thought teaching would be a cinch job – summer vacations, 8:00 to 3:00 work hours, and all those notions.

Studies and Statistics

Depending on whom you ask, teachers are either overpaid or underpaid.  If you ask me, I’d probably say it depends on the teacher.  (If you ask the New York Times, it’s . . . complicated.)

Actually, someone DID ask me about teacher pay once.  It was when I was teaching at my first job and the local newspaper wanted to interview various teachers about potential state legislation increasing teacher pay (the bill failed, by the way).  At the time of the interview, my answer was basically, “I’m not in it for the money, but I’d happily take more!”  

If I remember correctly, I also talked about how I was a single young teacher living in a small apartment and could easily get by on a modest salary.  (Times have changed.  Just ask my wife and five kids.  And two dogs.  And six cats.)

The only other thing I recall from the interview is I explained how there are multiple opportunities for teachers to increase their paychecks.  Teachers typically “move up the pay scale” for taking graduate courses and completing additional degrees.  Teachers can often receive stipends for attending workshops and other “professional development” opportunities outside of the regular school schedule.  Teachers also receive a little bit of extra pay for helping out with extracurricular activities–coaching, sponsoring clubs and activities, leading committees, and so on.  

Of course, all of this extra work does require extra minutes, hours, days, weeks, and more.  Speaking of which . . . 

Time after time . . .

Other studies report on the amount of time teachers spend working.  Things are much more complicated than the notion that teachers get three months off for summer vacation.  Again, I think it depends on the teacher.  But here’s a neat “infographic” that breaks things down:


Of course, this image was brought to us by http://www.busyteacher.org, so it may be a little biased.  

Other reviews are mixed, including ones that review similar data by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (glass half-full vs. glass half-empty).  There are also some interesting results from a teacher survey completed by Scholastic and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, summarized here in The Washington Post.  You can find more details, including state-by-state results, at this link.

So how does this all relate to superheroes?  

(You mean, besides the lame Herc reference above?)

Back in the 1970s, Marvel Comics featured a superhero team called “Heroes for Hire, Inc.” founded by Iron Fist and Power Man (Luke Cage, the original “Hero for Hire.”)  The basic premise is superheroes will help out the common man–security, investigation, thwarting the schemes of villians–all for a fee.  

70s heroes Heroes_for_Hire_1997,_1 h4h1_1

Through the years, the Heroes for Hire team has undergone various incarnations, including several attempts at long-running series.  Most of the series, though, last for about a year before getting cancelled.  It seems that the idea of superheroes working for hire–albeit a realistic scenario–is not as appealing to readers as their pro bono colleagues with secret identities.  

By the way, Hercules has been a member of the Heroes for Hire from time to time.  Even the “Prince of Power” needs to pay the bills.

Teachers need to an income, too.  But it’s more than a paycheck.  It should be a labor of love.

Happy Labor Day to teachers everywhere.  And remember how you can contribute to the “strength, prosperity, and well-being” of your students and community.  It is a priceless gift.




Secret Origins


ImageThis month sees the release of Secret Origins #1 by DC Comics, and you can read more about it here and see what people have to say about it here.

DC has published versions of Secret Origins before, and the purpose is to explore and explain the beginnings of superheroes and villains. Featured characters range from iconic to obscure. So if you want to know how Ambush Bug got his start, here’s your chance!



Origins typically contain two essential ingredients: 1) How you get your powers, and 2) What is your motivation?


Just like superheroes, every teacher has an origin. We all come from somewhere, contrary to what my 8th Grade Earth Science teacher Mr. Musson used to say: “Teachers aren’t born; they just . . . appear.”

The same two pieces of an origin story apply to teachers, as well.


1) How did you get your powers?


Maybe you weren’t bitten by a radioactive spider or trained in the mystical martial arts of K’un-Lun, but I bet you’ve got something that makes you special.


Most of us licensed teachers have received professional preparation of some sort. Many earned our teaching credentials after completing a bachelor’s degree in education, often with a specific subject endorsement. Other non-traditional routes include “fifth year” programs as well as an assortment of alternative licensure options for college graduates who already have degrees in something other than education. In the latter case, individuals often complete formal teacher education coursework while at the same time teaching full-time in schools.


No matter what your route, the bottom line is that you studied, practiced, collaborated, reflected, and applied important concepts and skills necessary for becoming an effective educator. (The scary thing is, some people think teaching requires no formal preparation at all, and are willing to dump anyone into the classroom just to fill a need. We could talk about this important issue at another time, and I already have HERE in a newspaper editorial, if you’re curious.)


Outside of formal preparation, many of you also learned about teaching through other means. Maybe you have a teacher as a close family member or friend, or perhaps you’ve experienced teaching through various activities like sports, church, hobbies, and more. You got the bug, so to speak, and you wanted more.


That leads us to the second part of origin stories . . .


2) What’s your motivation?


Getting powers is not enough. A lot of people have skills but waste them or use them in selfish ways, just like a lot of super-powered characters.


Every good teacher needs not only special abilities, but also a special heart and passion for the classroom and beyond.


Many of us got into teaching because we love learning and want to share that joy with others. We want to make a difference in the lives of kids and their families.


Hopefully you didn’t go into teaching because of a so-called “summer vacation” or because you thought your workday would be 8:30 to 3:30.   If either of these were reasons you entered the profession, you probably learned that teachers put more total hours in the school year than most people do in 12-month jobs. You can learn some other important statistics about the teaching career here.


Unfortunately, origin stories sometimes reveal an individual’s weaknesses as well as their strengths. For example, Superman’s not a fan of green kryptonite, which came from the blown up bits of his home planet. And Iron Man sometimes likes to hit the bottle, thanks to the fast life of his alter ego Tony Stark.


I hope you do not falter to kryptonite or alcohol, but you should still be wary of potential flaws. I’ll use my “origin story” as an example:


Secret Origin . . . Revealed!


I’ve always liked school. I like to learn. I’ve had some great teachers in my family and in my schools, so it’s probably no surprise I pursued teaching as a profession.


Here’s a rare mug shot of my first year teaching way back in 1999. It’s black and white and grainy because I had to scan it from the school yearbook. It’s wrinkly and weary because it was my first year as a teacher. (To determine if I’ve aged well, compare this portrait with a more recent one on the editorial link above.)


Vintage Mr. Bergman #1

The first year was tough—it always is—but I got better. Teaching is hard work, but it is worthwhile and can be a joy, even on the tough days. You stick with it and each year usually gets easier.


How else did I improve?


I learned the intricacies of my subject matter (science) to know how concepts were connected, what analogies illustrated tough ideas, and what activities gave the best opportunities to clearly master content. I also learned about my students: what motivates them, what strengths and weaknesses they possess, and how to strike a healthy balance between firm and easy when it comes to classroom management—something that can never be overestimated.


But here’s where my “secret origin” reveals some of my weaknesses.


I like school. Many students don’t. For the most part, I was a “goody-two-shoes” throughout school. Some of my students actually thrive on creating classroom chaos. So I have to overcome my nice guy tendencies and be ready and willing to draw the line when it comes to discipline. It’s not easy, but it has to be done.


Here’s another strength that can become a flaw:


I enjoy science. Some students fear it.   When I was a kid, I found satisfaction in filling out worksheets and completing exams. I was weird. A lot of students greet homework with hostility and suffer test anxiety.


So as a teacher, I have to reduce resistance in my students before I can open the doors to learning. And it starts with me. I can’t assume my students are just as eager to come to class and learn about electron configuration. I have to find out what motivates them and how I can connect concepts to their lives and interests. In a way, I have to learn the secret origins of every student.


I hope this post has helped you reflect on your past and consider how it can impact your future. Do you have special training? Hidden talents? A passion that can only be served by teaching? How did it all begin?


In other words . . .


What is YOUR origin story?


Please post a comment and share why and how you became a teacher. Your story doesn’t have to involve radioactivity.

But it’d be cool if it did.