Guest Blog Amber James: Teaching is a Dirty Job


Dear Mike Rowe,

My name is Amber James, and I am writing you this letter in response to your response to my 53rd letter which was initially in response to your rejection of my show idea to feature the job of “teaching” as the dirtiest job of 2011.

To begin, let me praise you for the work you do. I find nothing more intriguing than bringing issues to the attention of those who otherwise don’t bother to think.  Or those who do not bother to think about those specific issues.  Examining careers that no one wants, but someone holds (any many times happily), is an ingenuous idea.

That having been said, I have to once again, criticize your decision to ignore teaching as the dirty job it is.  For goodness sake we were ignored in favor of people who manually impregnate guinea pigs.  (an unforgiveable injustice)  I will again discuss a number of areas in teaching that I feel earn it the title of dirtiest job of 2011, with accolades for at least second place in 2012 as this letter-writing campaign has now taken up nearly six months of the current year.

Let’s start with germs.  According to a recent study by the University of Arizona (which I am happy to cite in the attached Works Cited document), teachers come in contact with approximately 17,800 bacteria per square inch of work space.  They have over five times more germs on most of their personal items that are brought into their work space.

How do teachers come in contact with all of these germs?  Well, let me give a brief picture into the world of a teacher (my world—and isn’t that what your show is all about, after all?). In the past week, I have held a trash can while a child vomited into it. And missed.  I have been offered another students’ bloody tooth from the palm of his hand immediately after he plucked it from his gums.  A couple of days ago, walked through a puddle of urine after a child thought it would be funny to pee on another child in the boys’ restroom (there were no children in there when I was walking through, thank goodness—the germ count would have skyrocketed).  That’s one week.  In the past six years, I have been coughed on, spat on, and snotted on, bled on.  In my teaching career, I have additionally been asked to help a small child clean himself after an unavoidable, yet explosive feces incident.  Yet you doubt the dirtiness of a teacher’s job?

But it goes deeper than germ-on-skin deep.  Schools are a breeding ground for humongous, steaming piles of excrement.  This time, I mean figurative piles of crap, because the politics in an educational facility are a landmine field of…well to borrow a line from the previous paragraph—unavoidable and explosive feces.  Perhaps it is the fact that teachers no are no longer held up as beacons in their communities.  Instead, they are insulted by parents and undermined by zealous administrators who are convinced teachers have nothing better to do than pick on children for fun. As if teachers have the time to plot against individual students!    Instead of spending their time practice their multiplication tables to help achieve academic goals, parents spend hours emailing teachers and figuring out how to secretly record them and then go to the press.  Am I missing something here, or does this job clearly suck?

It gets better. Teachers put in longer hours than most investment bankers and for a meager 45,000 dollars a year.  I asked a friend of mine to keep a tally of her hours spent planning lessons, grading, writing communications with parents/administrators, tutoring and serving on academic committees.  Her total? 82.5 hours a week.  But wait, you say (or you did in your previous letter) aren’t teachers granted a luxurious summer vacation of six to 12 weeks long where they sit by the pool and go to Cancun?    Perhaps some teachers do enjoy their 8 sick days (if they haven’t used them dying on the couch from whatever is being passed around their classroom, see paragraph one for details) weekends and summer vacations.  However, I have met few.  (I can count them on one hand!)  Even if you factor in summer vacation, (during which time teachers are completing the requisite 40 hours per year of professional development time, presenting and going to educational conferences, teaching remedial summer school, planning for the new school year, and pursuing degrees in education that will make them better teachers) most teachers spend many more than 40 hours a week when you average the total number of hours worked.  There are no bonuses for going above and beyond, no highest profit awards to be received.

Perhaps the dirtiest part of the job is the guilt that teachers carry with them.  Most teachers genuinely love their students, their job.  They want to work the extra hours. Unlike me, who clearly has no shame, they work without complaint.  They cry when their students fail the state mandated tests. They do home visits to get parents on board. They serve on committee after committee. They detest NCLB and yet do everything short (and sometimes including) of dancing a jig and standing on their head spitting nickels to get kids to learn.  They sponsor clubs, they attend baseball, basket ball, football, and soccer games. They monitor hands [(and other body parts) to prevent pregnancies] at prom.  Teachers advocate,beg, and plead for someone to listen to their concerns about students.  They dress up, dance, play instruments, sing, beg, use technology and bribe kids to get them to learn.  They stand the politics, the laws, the criticism and the disrespect because they want to take care of kids.

Teachers belong on your show.  The profession should be aired as it is: a disgusting trap where human beings put themselves at risk for disease and heartbreak every day because they love kids.  But if you can’t honor my final request (yes, Mike this is my final appeal to you)—then hug a teacher.  Write them a thank you note.  Send them flowers or badly needed school supplies. Or a gift card to Kinkos for copies.  Tell your children or their children to respect their teachers. Every attempt makes a difference.   Or, sponsor a public service announcement during your show to honor these people (who unlike me) usually don’t ask for much of anything except a thank you.  Teaching is a dirty job, Mike Rowe, but someone has to do it.

Sincerely yours,

Amber James

Article on University of Arizona study:

Amber’s Blog:

Amber James has recently launched her new blog, “Letters to People Who Will Never Read Them”, a place where she and guest bloggers can rant at (or praise) everyone/thing from the gym elliptical machine to President Obama. Think of it as a way to say all of the things you can’t really say to people (in person).   James intends to revitalize the form of the letter as a medium—or utilize the crap out of it until she feels better about the fact that it isn’t used often enough. Amber James is also a darn good teacher, and loves her job. Just ask anyone who knows her.




5 thoughts on “Guest Blog Amber James: Teaching is a Dirty Job

  1. Awesome piece of writing. The public and parents have no clue what takes place in the school building daily. Teachers will never be respected as long as the government is involved. Our job title “teacher” should be changed to; psychologist, parent, counselor, nurse, doctor, caseworker, etc. We might get off 10 weeks during the summer, but we put 12 months of work into 9 months. While most adults are sleeping at night, teachers are still up grading papers, doing lesson plans, researching for that “out of the box” idea to keep students engaged during the lesson. So when you look at the big picture, we truly do not work less hours, we actually work more hours.

  2. You are spot on Mel;) I was a school nurse consultant in three different districts for six years, and I know all about too much work for too little pay, and the stress level is astronomical. And now with all the budget cuts… well, you know where that’s going…

  3. absolutely loved this! sorry i didn’t write it! can i add lice to the list of things you can “pick up” as a teacher? and i have no shame either. i don’t write about my situations only because i’m afraid to get fired for having a personal life and a second career in writing. brilliant piece!

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