I feel like I am walking through life with a big target painted on my back. Everything I hear or read bashes education and teachers. There must have been a memo or edict among radio broadcasters and newspaper “journalists” that instructed them to begin a campaign to paint teachers as overpaid, under-qualified, under-worked, lazy, greedy, union thugs “sucking at the teat of the public trough.” Over and over I hear I’m overpaid. Overpaid?

I’ve listened and read long enough. My response? Kiss my ass.

I started teaching 18 years ago in Tucson, Arizona and I was paid $19,500.00 a year. All of my friends were making more than I was and it wasn’t as though my friends had all come out of Harvard and Yale. My friends were drywall hangers, painters, waitresses and cooks. One of my friends was a part-time parts runner who made $20,000.00 a year. She worked 30 hours a week delivering auto parts from a warehouse to different garages and mechanics around town. I’m educating America and she’s making more money than me driving around in an air-conditioned truck listening to Elton John.

I now live and work in Orange County, CA, makes $76,000.00 a year, and I’m told I’m overpaid. I used to be almost patted on the head and told, “Aww, what a noble profession.” Now I hear how greedy and thuggish I am for being part of a union and trying to make as much money as the office secretary at the Department of Water and Power.

Am I not worth what she makes? Is the mathematics education of your children worth less than a woman who spends a good portion of her day inspecting her nails and saying “He’s not in right now, may I take a message?” Without the information I teach, bridges fail and buildings collapse. National defense, science, commerce, and every other aspect of society is benefited by a population literate in mathematics.

To say that I’m overpaid, implies that there are individuals out there who could, and would, do the job I’m doing for less money. Am I missing something? Are there a bunch of mathematicians sitting around looking for jobs that pay less than 80 grand? Are there a collection of individuals who derive all of the equations for parabolas, ellipses and hyperbolas and have no forum for sharing? Is the knowledge of logarithms so prevalent out there that you could just shake a tree and out will fall someone who can explain them? Is knowledge of high level mathematics, and the ability to show its applications so widely known that I’m easily replaced?

Nope. There isn’t anyone out there that can do what I do. There is a tremendous shortfall of math teachers and many schools have English and History majors trying to teach math. There are simply not enough individuals who can explain why when two chords intersect in a circle the angle formed is equal to one half the sum of the subtended arcs. Just once I’d like someone who says I’m overpaid to try to do what I do. Try to motivate 16 year olds to understand that pi is the number of times that the diameter of a circle will wrap around the circle. Try to explain in an understandable way why derivatives and integrals matter in finding acceleration and area. Try to develop hands on activities so that students can see how a force vector is the sum of its component parts. Hell, just come in and do the easy stuff. Teach the properties of exponents and how they are used in exponential growth and radioactive decay problems.

The people that know and can teach high level mathematics are building bombs at Hughes, designing planes at Boeing, evaluating flight paths at NASA and doing statistical analysis for Proctor and Gamble. They aren’t making $76,000.00 a year. They are making $276,000.00 a year. These are my students. These are the young men and women that I taught and inspired.

I make too much? Kiss my ass.