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Teachers Quit Jobs at Highest Rate on Record (wsj.com)
396 points by dpflan on Dec 28, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 398 comments

There's much more to this story. My mother, a high school calculus teacher for the last 22 years is so ready to retire.

I didn't think my mom would ever retire, she spends countless hours coming up with unique lesson plans for the kids - they usually involve games, real world use cases and many ah-ha moments. She lives for those moments when a kid lights up when they understand the value of what their learning.

Now though, over the last 8 years, she told me that parents have ruined the job she loves. Especially now that she has to post everyone's grades online, instantly emails roll in when a student didn't perform as well as the parent expected.

She told me of an email she received that said "X is trying to get into Princeton - an A- isn't going to get her in. What extra credit can she do to make this an A?".

It's endless and my mom, for fear of a lawsuit, doesn't know what to do. The teachers union in Massachusetts made all the teachers sign liability waivers and arbitration waivers if a lawsuit happens. My mom is scared stiff and either bends over, or doesn't and let's the vice principal or principal take the heat, ultimately it leading to an extra credit assignment.

My mom's job sounds miserable and if you were to ask me 15 years ago, what I might do in my retirement - I would have said taught CS at a disadvantaged high school. Now though, I'm seconding guessing that retirement plan.

My entire family are teachers (Mum, Dad, Sister, Brother), and have all had to deal with this to varying degrees, and have had it consume their lives at various times. My brother has the best work-life balance of any teacher I have ever met, and I think his approach is brilliant.

Teaching is one of those careers where the expectation is on the teacher to endlessly do more and work harder, "For the kids", and if you keep doing it, you'll work more and harder forever, endlessly.

My brother does a fantastic job, and works very hard for his students. What he does though, is walk out at 4pm and NEVER does work at home. He doesn't check his emails, he doesn't grade work and maybe only once or twice in five years has he done a lesson plan outside 8am-4pm.

If parent emails, or meetings, or "school paperwork" or whatever queue up he just makes it infinitely clear that he must choose between doing the best job for his students, or spend time with the parents or at school meetings. He does do thing pro-actively like call parents if need-be, but he does not spend hours of his personal time dealing with "helicopter parents" or stupid school meeting requirements.

It requires the right balance of "push back", but it can work very well when done correctly.

FWIW, he has quickly been promoted to the head of maths and had a real shot at a "leading teacher" position, so obviously he's very good and the entire school-body agrees.

That sounds like a great life-work balance, but it also sounds like a privileged position that is unrealistic for many teachers. My girlfriend teaches art to kids aged 8-14 at an urban public school, and she has zero time during the day for lesson planning, grading, seating plans, hanging up artwork, dealing with parents, etc. On most days she has to stay behind for several hours, and she often works throughout the weekend. She doesn't get paid overtime (nor does the school offer health insurance or 401(k)) because she's technically a contractor -- the school can't afford full time hires -- and she constantly has to spend her own money on supplies and materials for her classes. Refusing to work outside work hours would be career suicide, pretty much.

> sounds like a privileged position that is unrealistic for many teachers

Well sure, he lives in Australia which has much, much better working conditions than the USA.

It sounds like your girlfriend is being taken advantage of and working in a situation that is not to her benefit. In which case she needs to start looking for a new job!

In which case nobody would be teaching the kids art. Of course she's being taken advantage of, she's a teacher in 21st century western civilization.

The comment you are replying to mentions a teacher who doesn’t seem to be being taken advantage of. Your comment seems to imply that all teachers in 21st century western civilisation are taken advantage of. Do you mean that the Australian teacher mentioned is still being taken advantage of, or that Australia is not western civilisation (or that they are not working in the 21st century)?

Americans like to deny the outside world exists, and that in many ways it's much better than America. It's a strange way to behave, rather than learning what they can improve in their own society.

I wouldn't say she's being taken advantage of. This is a city school in a depressed area, everyone is overwhelmed (she has several hundred students across her classes), and working with near-zero budgets.

There just isn't work available within a reasonable commute distance. She'd have to move if she wanted better conditions.

> She'd have to move if she wanted better conditions

There you go. Do what it takes to improve your work-life. I moved from one perfectly good First World country to another, because I wanted a different life. It was difficult and took a long time, but it was absolutely worth it.

What does the her schedule look like exactly? She's in the classroom teaching for 8 hours straight (minus lunch)?

This reads a lot like people who make excuses for not having time to exercise. I get that some positions will require you to put in work outside of work hours, but to say 'has zero time' seems like a bit of an excuse.

She has a short (45min?) planning period to start her day with her co-teacher, but as I understand it, it's nowhere enough. After that, her classes run back to back, yes. She has one meager lunch break lasting something like 15 minutes -- she actually started drinking Soylent for lunch because she doesn't have time for anything more complicated than that plus an apple. She gets up at 6:30am and doesn't really take time to eat breakfast either. It all sounds unbelievably stressful to me. It's very different from my own privileged life as a software developer.

Damn, that's pretty ridiculous. Teachers have it a lot better in Canada from what I gather. At least in my area.

At least in America, most teachers are expected to take home work and spend a large portion of time outside of the strict 6-8 school day doing lesson planning, grading, etc.

Their wages are quickly approaching what you would expect at a fry cook position yet Wendy's doesn't give you four hours of extra homework a night.

We are headed for a giant education crisis because we overwork and underpay under-qualified teachers.

Those of us who cannot afford to keep their kids in private or home school will have it rough finding quality education for their kids.

All of the most successful teachers I had placed tight boundaries on when they worked. They were organized, fast, and efficient. One history teacher I had only ever gave essay tests. He would have them all graded by 4pm. As one class was taking the exam, he would grade the previous class's essays. He had been a colonel in the army, and so had learned how to be ruthlessly efficient. One of the best teachers I had. Similarly, had a neighbor who had been a colonel and became a realtor when he retired. He way outworked everyone else, including realtors with many years of experience. He was accustomed to slamming through all the paperwork quickly and carried that to his realtor gig.

I have known many teachers who were never trained to be efficient or organized, and who did not anticipate the paperwork load that comes with the job. They would struggle under the paperwork load due to this.

But, what do we expect from a system run by government administrators with little or no transparency or accountability. The administrators pile on the paperwork, because that is what means quality to them. That is what they do.

> All of the most successful teachers I had placed tight boundaries on when they worked. They were organized, fast, and efficient.

You're describing efficient people. Unfortunately we do not properly train our teachers because we do not want to properly pay them.


Thanks for putting words in my mouth.

My point is that teachers do not become teachers to do paperwork. They become teachers to teach. However, their job is defined by government administrators who measure everything by how much paperwork is done.

Teachers are receiving the wrong training and have the wrong expectations, so they are leaving.

I'm sorry if it seemed like I was putting words in your mouth. I did directly quote you.

I didn't become a software developer to document every minute action or go to meetings or explain complex concepts to clueless bosses or meet intense deadlines, I became a software developer to program. Yet...

Besides having more realistic expectations about my field due to exhaustive research, which in fact led me to change my mind about becoming a teacher or professor and just focusing on software development, I also trained myself extensively extracurricularly to be prepared for my job.

What motivates all of this is the salary and the control over my life which programming affords me.

Neither of those things are pluses about being a teacher. Their salaries are absolute garbage and get worse every year, and they have little control over how they structure their life. Most of the motivated public school teachers I knew growing up have moved into administrative positions because of this.

What ends up happening is that it's mostly just the inefficient people without foresight who remain in college for 4-6 years to become a teacher. The quality of applicants is directly tied to the quality of life afforded by the position. And in my opinion, public school teaching positions should be some of the highest-paid and highest-qualified jobs in the market, on par with college professors and junior to mid level engineers. At least more on par with what their administrators are already pocketing.

Not the OP, but my wife is a teacher and has one 50 minute prep during her day. She teaches 7 different classes. Most days the school can't find enough substitute teachers and she ends up having to sub for another class during her one prep hour.

Well, that's actually true in a lot of schools in the US -- over lunch you have cafeteria duty and right after school there's the patrolling pick-up/busses and the after school clubs...

It's not unique to teaching. Your employer will take from you as much as you will give. Worse, your insane hours and effort eventually become the expected minimum. To prevent this, many years ago I started setting the timer to 8 hours and 30 minutes (the latter is to account for lunch). Once the timer beeps, I get up and GTFO. No matter what. This works great.

I've found that's how I have to do it, too. Best decision I ever made was moving an hour away from where I worked too. I never see kids out anywhere, and never feel pressure to not do things I enjoy that might be looked down on in a rural conservative community (drinking, mostly). I also never really have to deal with seeing students out so no awkward convos there, either. And it gives me time to wake up in the morning and prepare as well as dissociate from it in the evening.

I also always try to leave at 3:20,which is when we're free (7:30-3:20,tho I usually get there early to copy).

Work life is great, and I don't do anything in my breaks, either. But I'm still looking to get out for various other reasons I've documented elsewhere.

That’s, assuming you work 48 weeks a year, 20 full days spent in transportation though...

To be honest, I find it worth it. I can use the time to listen to podcasts and generally just unwind, or I can use it to prepare. I tried living in the area for a while, and it was just awful. Seeing students everywhere I went got old quick, especially cause they would awkwardly stare and such, as if they couldn't imagine teachers having lives outside of school. It was the worst at the gym, especially if I wanted to try to swim or go to the sauna. And, of course, I can mention having the parents complain about me as a teacher because I dared drink "the devil's water" with supper at a restaurant!

Now, I don't have to worry about any of that, get cheaper rent and better internet (it ends up being cheaper even when gas/maintenance is factored in, as well), as well as live in a fairly vibrant college town that has a lot of options on things to do. Plus, I can listen to podcasts and music to learn/unwind on my way to and from work. Just mentally for me it's well worth it.

ever since i discovered podcasts, audiodrama and audiobooks i stopped dreading a long commute. on the contrary, i now look forward to it, because those 2-3 hours are the most quiet of the day. and while i was an avid reader in my youth, i haven't read any books for decades until recently. now i average a book per month.

I had a teacher like that in high school. He taught AP/Honors government and had some of the highest pass rates for any teacher in the school. He stayed after school for a fixed time - 30 or 45 minutes - no longer - and most of that was spent with students. It took him FOREVER to grade tests and assignments. But, he was one of the best teachers I had in those 4 years and I, along with most of my peers, aced both exams that year (he did AP US gov in one semester and AP comparative gov in the other).

Presumably the backpresure of requests does not go away - when parents email for information, they do not stop just because they didn’t get a response. They will reach out through other methods. Do you know how that irreducible workload gets resolved, other than getting passed to colleagues who do put in extra effort/hours?

> Presumably the backpresure of requests does not go away

If a teacher's work email is anything like my email inbox at work, ~90% of emails just go away if ignored. The other ~10% email again if it's actually important.

Once your contacts are "trained" not to expect instant feedback to every email they send you, you can often get some actual work done.

This is often the case for internal comms in a large company overran with administrators / coordinators. Yet parents are more like customers than colleagues - and no operation can ignore 90% of external / customer comms and stay alive (to say nothing of effective!)

Parents aren’t customers in a government school. Customers pay money. Parents are stakeholders, along with teachers, the teachers union and local politicians who compete for teachers votes. Children are not stakeholders because they have no power and their opinions are irrelevant.

A government school has an enormous advantage over private schools in that it’s free at the point of use. You can be a lot worse than the competition if the competition is expensive and you’re paid for by tax money.

Parents in competitive school districts also shell out exorbitant sums, both in property taxes and during school fundraisers.

It has given rise to a bargaining mentality.

Schools get money for each student enrolled, so there is a strong incentive to please parents so they don't move their kids (to a charter school etc). That seems fair enough to me in principle, but due to unrealistic demands, it can fail at times. Nonetheless it is better than a one-size-fits-all no child left behind policy. So charter schools create the competition in a district, and at least put pressure to raise the level of all the public schools.

> Children are not stakeholders because they have no power and their opinions are irrelevant

I think I see your point of view, but IMO that is too narrow a definition of "stakeholder".

One of the more commonly-accepted definitions of "stakeholder", at least from a project-management standpoint, would be:

"an individual, group, or organization, who may affect, be affected by, or perceive itself to be affected by a decision, activity, or outcome of a project"

Even in my work, I tend to think of stakeholders as those who stand to lose or gain based on the outcome -- literally, those who have a stake in the outcome. Many of them are active participants, but not always.

Just my 2 cents... I might be far from typical in this viewpoint.

I completely agree, this works even in workplace scenarios. Do not create lofty expectations as you will be forced to live up to them. Sometimes it's just your brain seeking those shots of dopamine.

Non-American here: what happens if the teacher just flatly says no/doesn't answer the emails/calls etc? Are lawsuits against teachers over grades an actual thing in the US now? (In Europe or Australia you'd be laughed out of court for even trying.)

No such lawsuits are not a thing. I’m sure people threaten it. But it doesn’t happen.

That said, the teachers do have a responsibility to respond to parents. But they should never give in to helicopter parent special requests for extra credit.

> That said, the teachers do have a responsibility to respond to parents

Are you sure about that?

In my opinion the teachers have a responsibility to do the best damn job they can teaching their students. Meetings, parent emails and "admin paperwork", etc. are all a distant second.

I know my brother pushes back against it, and just says there are not enough hours in the day to respond to the requests of the hundreds of parents of all of his students.

> Presumably the backpresure of requests does not go away

It does. If the matter is actually important/urgent he will call a parent to speak to them directly, or the matter can be discussed at the next parent/teacher interview.

The unimportant ones go away.

It doesn’t sound like you’re in America. My sister is a teacher here and if she behaved that way she’d be fired immediately.

> X is trying to get into Princeton - an A- isn't going to get her in. What extra credit can she do to make this an A?

That parent is an ass. Having grown up in a family where my parents deferred to teachers over me, even when the former was wrong to the point of harassment, however, it’s an understandable instinct.

Administrators don’t protect children. Boards don’t protect children. That only leaves parents, unchecked. If students had proper means through which to pursue grievances against teachers, I’d hope these parental impulses would recede.

"What extra credit can she do to make this an A?"

"She can't, because that's the grade she earned in the time alloted. The moving finger, having writ, has moved on.

"However, I'm confident that, with Janie's capabilities, a little more effort from her and help from you, she can easily demonstrate a higher level of mastery and the consequent benefits from longer-term retention.

"Princeton will NOT be a picnic, and developing excellent habits at this time will pay back many-fold. This A- is a vote of confidence that there is room and talent for improvement."

Nice try. I've seen how this goes over with those types.

The parents escalate to the adminstrators, who either involve the student counsellors or talk to the teacher directly. One of these two tell the teacher how they need to better support the student because they need a "little extra help" or can't handle the stress required to turn in homework assignments.

I wish this stuff worked, but these parents typically don't want an answer that requires their student to work harder (or differently). They want the curriculum, assignments, or grading scheme to change until their child gets an A - and they don't care about mastery.

Pushing responsibility upward and allowing escalation should end at some point. The administrators should just repeat what the teachers said, and tell the parents that the only way to get better scores is to invite the child work harder for the next test. It's really that simple.

Now, if even the administrators can't do that then someone in the city government, state government or federal government should be able to draw the fundamental line whether the purpose of schools is to give students A's or grade them based on their actual knowledge and make the student responsible for his/her own grades.

The administration has nothing to win and a lot to lose by standing their ground. 'Fixing' the grade costs them nothing and makes a very annoying problem go away.

This is one of the big advantages of national standardised testing. There is literally nothing the school can do to alter the grade.

The only reasonable reply is “that would be unfair to the rest of the class”. Because it is true and the only reason.

And stop at that.

Otherwise you start on a losing discussion.

Except that many teachers easily give occasion for extra credit, extra time, etc both in elementary or in collage.

So all in all, students who ask for that end up with better grades and better chances where grades matter.

These responses will get major push-back.

By indicating a personal and subjective intent to be ungenerous, parents will feel (perhaps rightly) that they want to take this further.

Edited to add, my approach would be more like:

"I have graded 8bitsrule as generously as I could under the circumstances, and the grade is final. 8bitsrule will need to show a better understanding of communicating diplomatically in order to succeed in next semester's courses. 8bitsrule could try the following specific tasks over the break:"

It doesn’t stop at high school. No rich parent is paying $50k a year so their kid can get a C.

Where do you think those Ivy League educated can’t-do-anything people you interview everyday come from ?

50k for the opportunity to score an A. Not for the guarantee. That would make the A utterly valueless.

An honors degree from Harvard (or another Ivy) is still rare (with respect to the general public) and has value even if everyone who graduates gets one.

Of course it’s still rare. There’s only one Harvard, and only so many students they accept.

But if everyone graduates and gets a honors degree, the only thing that degree means is that you were able to get in (either through skill or money).

I’m sure it still has value. But it places all the value at the entrance and selection process instead of the teaching.

Pretty much. Some argue a lot of higher-education is merely signaling. So you can't say it's worthless, only that the value is different than is publicly discussed/assumed.

This is an interesting interview about it: http://www.econtalk.org/bryan-caplan-on-the-case-against-edu...

90% of Harvard students graduate with honors.


Time alloted? Why does earning calculus have a 4 month expiration date?

Why are we blaming the victims for the oppressive irrational grading system?

I'm a current teacher, and I've noticed this. I have a kid who doesn't want to do anything in class except sit on his phone. Anytime I post a poor grade, his mom emails me asking what can be done to make it higher. The kid has never once asked for himself, and, even though I've told the mother multiple times that the biggest issue is her kid being lazy, nothing changes.

Okay, I get that's more work, and sounds like a hassle. So this isn't a criticism of your mom.

But on the A- and extra credit issue, I never understood the point of rigid grading schemes. I've taught at a college level, and I always give students the chance to improve their grades if they want to put in additional work. To do otherwise seems like saying "nope, even if you learn more and improve to the point of A-level knowledge, you're still getting a lower grade".

> I never understood the point of rigid grading schemes

My wife is a college psychology professor and is fairly strict with her grading scheme. She makes this clear on the first day of class and spells it out directly, in bold, on the syllabus.

Her rationale is this: The likelihood of you asking for extra credit, or excuses, or various "grade grubbing" activities is largely influenced by your socioeconomic background. Students who make special grading requests overwhelmingly skew white and female and are more likely to take place at institutions that take students from more affluent backgrounds. She doesn't want her grading inadvertently biased against males, non-whites, or less affluent students so her grades are final. Despite this inflexibility, her student evaluations are sky-high.

Perhaps because I teach math, my grade-grubbers definitely skew male. The women just figure they're bad at math and the world is fine with that assessment.

That's an interesting stance, I haven't noticed that pattern but the composition of colleges varies greatly.

In any case, I get around the whole "grade grubbing" issue by having my policy of "extra" work spelled out, also up front on the syllabus. No one gets anything extra just for bugging me about it. Basically it amounts to allowing homework assignments to be re-done (once). A single quiz grade can be replaced by doing some fairly difficult extra problems. No makeups on the midterm and final, but a research project can be done to get up to 5 points on their final grade. Beyond that I hold office hours and happily spend them further helping students with anything they're stuck on.

Short of (provable) extenuating circumstances, that's about it. I even ask for a police report for students claiming "car accident" for things like missing a quiz. (In one case, a student told me there wasn't one because it was just a minor accident that scratched the side view mirror... I pointed out that an accident like that wouldn't have prevented them showing up to class, even if it was a few minutes late.)

It’s absolutely true. My wife teaches in a lower-income district where many families are African or Asian immigrants, and she loves it precisely because she gets no such bullshit from parents. When their kids misbehave or get poor grades, they apologize to her and promise the kid will do better next time. I hate to say it, but this “customer is always right”mentality is totally a problem specific to well-off whites.

True in other domains too. My brother's a doctor and prefers working in a lower-income neighborhood, where he never gets challenged by patients doing internet research. Of course the lack of knowledge of the "rules" that allow you to challenge authority is part of what keeps people economically disadvantaged.

It’s more work, and that’s exactly the problem. A teacher deserves to go home and enjoy their family and life outside of work. The only way to make this possible is to have students and parents understand that after a certain point the grade is simply final, so if you want a good grade it’s your responsibility to learn the material prior to exams or large projects or assignments being due. Everyone knows this; there is no secret. So I don’t think it’s fair at all to expect the teacher to do more work for you when you didn’t put in the effort to learn the material the first time.

I don't think "everyone knows this", not to the degree you indicate. Yes there is a balance to be made, but I and many of my colleagues believe the opportunity for learning shouldn't stop once an assignment has been graded. We believe that such grades are in fact the diagnostic we should use to determine which students need to be helped along, given the opportunity to learn the material better.

You also say that a student who does poorly didn't put in the time. In some cases yes, but broadly it's simply not true. I've analyzed LMS data at large scales: Students who get F's don't put in much time on average. But students who get D's, on average, are putting in just as much time as the students getting A's and B's. The F students I can't do much about, with some notable exceptions, they mostly don't want to help themselves. But the rest are teachable.

For me and my like minded colleagues, it's not that we expect ourselves or others to do more work. It's that our vision of what the job's baseline work requirements entail goes beyond a rigid grading process that implicitly assumes that learning takes place in discrete bits of time, uniformly for all students.

Using intermediate grades to figure out which students to focus on is perfectly fine, and in fact I'm not sure it has much to do with what's being discussed. We're talking about a teacher being asked by a parent to create extra credit work so a student can jump from an A- to an A so they have better odds of getting into X/Y/Z.

I don't think anyone is suggesting that teachers can't dynamically adjust their attention across students as the class progresses based on grades. But at the same time teachers should not just be the pawns of parents. A parent shouldn't be able to just demand extra credit work for their child. This sort of special exception is something that should only be made by the teacher, at the teacher's complete discretion, if they legitimately think there's a truly good reason for treating that student differently.

In that case, I agree. I don't change final grades. By that point, students have had plenty of opportunity to approve upon the negative grades that feed the final one.

As a college prof, I divide assignments into formative and summative. Some assignments are to help you learn, and you can try again, improve your work, etc. Some are designed to measure what you know at a given point in time -- and the timing matters.

Giving students the chance to learn is important. Expecting them to actually master some skills within a given timeframe is also important. I have a relative in a European system in which changes have been made to allow students to take tests on a class for the next two years. The students are not better off -- it sounds miserable for all.

Well it's a pay issue too isn't it? If a family paid for the teachers time for extra work, then I'm guessing the pushback wouldn't be as bad.

It's not a big leap from "pay extra for extra credit assignments to improve grade" to "pay extra to improve grade".

I'm not suggesting that the vast majority of teachers would be tempted or give in to bribery. But it sets up perverse incentives and the optics are terrible. It's also unfair to students who didn't do well and whose families can't afford to pay the teacher to grade their extra credit assignments.

I've hearrd of teachers in the local school district that offer for-pay tutoring to their students... It's always struck me as something of a conflict of interest, but I'm really not sure how I feel about it.

The problem is determining where the line lies between teacher/instructor bribery and worthy lesson to learn.

I was tempted to agree when I read this, but then I thought that this creates an unfair advantage for parents who can afford to pay for extra time from the teacher.

So the parent with more money pay for a different tutor. What's the difference? Or are suggesting the parents with more money should not be allowed to pay for there kids to do anything a parent with less money can't afford?

The problem isn’t with the parent paying for tutoring, but with the teacher receiving pay for tutoring. It creates a perverseincentive for the teacher to grade students harshly until/unless they pay up for tutoring.

I have two daughters who took orchestra, we couldn't afford private lessons. They did well, the teacher was excellent and they enjoyed themselves. They never reached the "top" orchestra. Our school has 3 levels.

My third daughter played in the band, and we decided that we could finally afford $20 a week lessons from one of the instructors. She's in the top band and got to play in the county competitions. She's had alot more opportunity.

I don't personally think she's significantly better, even though the lessons have helped her notice certain shortcomings more quickly. I do think she's noticed more by the band leaders.

Yeah, then I can feel like I'm selling grades to the highest bidder too. I didn't sign up for prostitution: the only reason I'm cool with the low pay is the purity & honesty of the job.

I had a professor who taught algebra and pedagogy of math in local university. He has a nice scheme for grades (1 to 5 in Russia are F to A respectively): each lecture except the first starts with 3-5 minute test on previous topics, marks for working at practice hours and final exam. The grade was calculated as an average of avg(tests)+avg(practice)+exam, so you have to work throughout the whole semester or you won't have a chance for C or higher which is a minimum to pass.

It’s obnoxious and unfair that squeaky wheels with pushy parents get do overs and normal kids get screwed. My dad travelled for work and mom was a nurse. There was no time for them to go in and harass teachers over my grades.

If little Jimmy wants to get into Princeton, he should study.

If little Jimmy wants to get into Princeton, he should study

Donations and connections work much more reliably. Work gets you into les Grandes écoles in France, their model is different.

I agree with the stance that the +/- nomenclature should be taken outback and shot. It's that bad.

A+ Student has demonstrated that they have exceeded a firm grasp of the subject. (How do you measure to 11 on a scale of 1-10?)

A Student has demonstrated that they have a firm grasp of the subject. (makes sense, this means they know their stuff.)

A- Student kinda has a firm grasp of the subject. (WTF?)

Now apply that silliness to B, C, and D. A,B,C,D,F is enough. Excellent understanding, Good understanding, General understanding, Poor understanding, Does not understand.

It’s more that the A+- system is supposed to help identify a student on the edge. “You have a B+, which means that with a bit more effort, you could be an A” in comparison to “With a B-, you’re at risk of getting a C”. It also helps create more granular buckets out of a percentage scale, which most teachers seem use on grades behind the scenes.

In Russia we use Excellent, Good, Satisfactory, Unsatisfactory and Weak from 1837. The worst grade wasn't used for some time scools but is coming back in common practice for missing work ([0]English Wiki doesn't have it but states that it's a 5-point grade system).


Lithuanian schools in up to about 1998 (might be wrong on exact year) had same system, then it was changed to 10 grades, but the lowest grade - 1 was ever used as a disciplinary action. Lowest you would get for failing assignment or homework was a 2. But even when it was 5 grade system the 3-, 4+ or 5- was quite regular occurrence and depended on teacher and subject mostly, as +/- were not accounted officially so 4- was exactly same as 4 for the final grade of a quarter/trimester.

A few of my teachers who'd used +/- signs added them to differ between a strong qualification of work to the grade and a one step for higher/lower grade respectively, i.e. 3- converts to "almost 2", which is just a written clarification.

I saw once a 2+!

The problem isn't giving final grades.

In life there are things you won't always get second chances for.

The problem is the absurd college process that way overemphasizes clearly inflated grades in a ridiculous race to get into college. It's a shame what kids have to go through these days.

In the real world, you don’t get a chance to get “extra credit work” when you don’t do your job at the level the job expects of you.

Why should students be coddled instead of being prepared for the real world? I have a high school student who is always getting better grades because of “extra credit” and “make up tests”. I cringe every time he does it.

In the real deal world, sure you do: ever not get something right the first try at work? Ever have to work longer hours because a project ran over the expected time? The real world doesn't have all of the arbitrary limits we see in the modern education system.

Schools very rarely have 1 test per semester, and if you fail you fail.

Often times there is homework, multiple tests, projects, etc.

If you fail your job multiple times I highly doubt you will be progressing in your career. Just because you aren't fired doesn't mean you aren't losing out in some way.

Right: you don't get infinite chances at work, and what I'm talking about isn't infinite chances either. If you want to compare school & work, then consider what I offer students to be a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP).

In the real world there are lots of drop-dead deadlines with no possibility of extension, usually imposed by external constraints.

>In the real world there are lots of drop-dead deadlines with no possibility of extension, usually imposed by external constraints.

What I find interesting is that people like to talk about how much harder the real world is than school... but that just isn't my experience.

At work? as far as I can tell, 70% means I get a pretty good raise. A really good raise if one of the things I got done was really impressive.

(that is one of the weird things about school for me; At work? if you really hit one out of the park, that matters. In school? you have to be within 10% of maximum all the time if you want to do well academically... and going above that maximum doesn't really help you.)

At work? If you aren't good at something, but are really good at other things? they give the things you are terrible at to other people. In school? they make you spend all your time on that thing you are terrible at.

(I mean, I totally understand that people have different experiences of school and of work, and I also understand that I have an unusually good experience of work... but all this "real world" stuff makes me laugh, just 'cause it is soo much easier for me to keep a job where I work with people that got good grades at good schools than it is for me to... get into good schools at all.)

At work? If you aren't good at something, but are really good at other things? they give the things you are terrible at to other people. In school? they make you spend all your time on that thing you are terrible at.

That’s very true. My last four jobs were supposedly for a “full stack developer”, but it didn’t take long for managers to realize that when I told them up front, my weakness was on the front end and any pages I design look like something you would see on Geocities was not an exaggeration. Once they realized I was telling the truth, they stopped assigning me front end work.

In high school, I was forced to take Art classes - hilarity ensued. I’ve never been in favor of participation trophies but the B I got was definitely a “participation grade”.

Sure, and in school, even within the confines of the flexibility I offer, there's still a drop-dead deadline: the end of the semester, and test dates. I don't give infinite chances, but I do set up a system that prioritizes maximum learning opportunities over strict cut offs for when that learning occurs.

In the real world you usually have the option of scaling back the scope of what you deliver to meet a deadline. If school were more representative of typical workplace conditions, you'd have the option of taking the first half of the midterm half-way through the semester and then taking the other half at the end, and then you could scale back the credits you get for the course from 3 to 1.5. Then you could do the second half of the course the next semester.

There were at least 3 classes I recall from university where I really didn't learn anything of substance past the midterm. I managed to pull a B+ or an A- by turning in every single assignment on time, doing a decent job on the project, and applying test-taking tactics on the final. For at least one of those classes I wish I could slow the pace and spread it out into the next semester. But the way it was structured at my university, it as "all-or-nothing" on the curriculum within an artificial period of time.

Some specific examples of real deadlines I'm thinking of include: Giving a talk at a conference, submitting a bid for a contract, anything involving the court system (continuances are by no means guaranteed), a product launch with a firm already publicized date, or even worse, a product launch with a firm already publicized date and dozens of external partners (this is what I do at work).

In most of these cases you can't really scale back; you're either ready by the deadline or you're not, with catastrophic consequences for not being ready.

If we accept that the characteristics that grades are meant to represent are dynamic, what is the benefit of recording them at all? They will be perpetually out of date as people continue to learn (and forget).

We don’t accept that. Lots of people think that a grade is meant to represent performance on or by a date, either performance in an exam or performance on some weighted combination of exam and homework.

I’m honestly unsure whether extra credit is even a thing outside the US and it’s near abroad in Canada. I don’t think there’s a single country in Eurasia without a school leaving exam with summative assessment, some of which have a coursework component.

I mean, aren’t they pretty much useless within a year of graduation anyway?

No, what the grade represents stays the same. It's the grade that's dynamic, changing as the student's knowledge and understanding changes.

If you learn more, the improvement will be demonstrated in later grades. Grades have to be final at some point; it's more fair if that time is the same for everyone.

A better way to handle this case is to drop the student's lowest grade, or maybe even the lowest couple of grades.

It's fair for everyone because they all have the same opportunity. And I do drop the lowest grade :)

Just to be clear, I don't think there's anything wrong with giving extra credit assignments, if the teacher chooses. But the availability of extra credit should be clear to everyone, not given out because a specific student (or parent) demanded it.

Oh, absolutely: it's part of my sylabus, everyone is aware. Perhaps a bit paradoxically, it makes giving final grades much easier. If a student gets a bad grade, it's because they ignored all opportunities for improvement and I fail them with some sadness, but no regret.

No one should be allowed extra credit unless they are failing.

You should learn more but doing it for extra grades misses the point. These kids learn you only learn for rewards.

Technically this is the intrinsic motivation (task-oriented student) vs extrinsic motivation (goal-oriented student) divide. The thing is that everyone agrees that meaningful learning needs the former and this ideal lies at the root of every methodological innovation, but in practice everyone pushes for the latter because school has also other uglier social jobs. This is a cognitive dissonance that pervades the whole education system which should be faced at some point. Basically it should start with: "you can speak freely, what's the main purpose of school?"

A grade is a record of the knowledge at a given point in time.

> I've taught at a college level, and I always give students the chance to improve their grades if they want to put in additional work.

Isn't it 'rigid' to give only a limited amount of time( end of yr or whatever) for that chance. Seems like saying "nope, even if you learn more and improve to the point of A-level knowledge, you're still getting a lower grade".

yep, the time is rigid, but I can't do anything about that. and anyway there has to be some balance between the extremes. Within the confines of what I can control, I place that balance where I feel it maximizes student learning. And over the course of the semester I probably only spend an extra 2 or 3 hours dealing with supplemental like this. Seems worth it to me.

This sounds a lot like my mom's situation. In the last decade, parents and admins have made her job terrible.

The parents make similar demands regarding grades - if their kid does poorly on an exam, it doesn't even enter into their mind that they didn't study or are super lazy, it's automatically the teacher's fault for making the test too hard or teaching the material poorly. Same goes for kids failing a class because they never turn in assignments - the teacher is failing to sufficiently motivate their student.

This would be manageable but for the fact that the administration always takes the side of the parents. If a kid cheats on a test, it's a "coping mechanism" or a "useful real world skill - there's no black and white" - this for a kid who literally broke into a filing cabinet to get the answer key. When kids fail tests, the administration or counsellors pressure the teachers to make easier versions of the test, extend the time limits, or give credit for test corrections. Several time teachers have resisted, because this totally undermines the information content of grades and takes a massive amount of extra teacher time (grading, writing, proctoring), and it's gone over poorly for the teacher.

The end result of all this is that the most entitled children or those with the most "engaged" parents get As, even if they earn a C,D, or F on the baseline system, while students who earn Bs but don't squeak get As.

I've been trying to convince her to just give the whole class As for years.

It's a pretty awful experience - I'm surprised anyone still teaches and would have quit years ago.

> I've been trying to convince her to just give the whole class As for years.

That's probably what I would do, at least if this became a problem. I'd still maintain an unofficial parallel "rank" that more corresponds to what I think a grade should be, purely for mine and my students' own benefit in knowing about information gaps, but on their official transcripts it'd be very hard not to get an A just so I don't have to deal with parents/admins as much. (Having a reputation for 'easy A' can also help in keeping the classes full.)

> The teachers union in Massachusetts made all the teachers sign liability waivers and arbitration waivers if a lawsuit happens.

Wait what? I thought the union was supposed to at least pretend to look out for the teachers' interests.

Some teachers are more equal than others. In all seriousness US labor unions have been infamous for going blatantly being gerontocracy on the ground they have been paying dues for the longest.

Given stuff like 'contractually they are bound to lay off multiple newer teachers before they lay off the one a year from retirement'.

While screwing over your loyal members isn't good treating the new ones like dirt is also a death spiral move - I know that everyone in High School who worked a job with a union hated it - the consensus was that they were paying a cut and openly screwed over in favor of everyone else.

I’ve never been in a union, but I’m sure not all unions are created equal. I wonder if unions get in a position where there’s no non-union competition they start to operate in the best interests of the union and not the interests of the people they represent. /shrug I’d love to hear more from the OP about this, fwiw.

Unions value the collective.

As such, there are people within unions that may not benefit at a certain point in time. For example, someone who has seniority will benefit from being there a long time-perhaps at the expense of a younger member, that may possibly be more talented. When that younger member grows old, it will benefit that member. A lot in silicon valley may scoff at that idea - but we've all seen ageism in our workplace, probably more so than others.

It's similar to insurance - just because you don't need it RIGHT NOW doesn't mean you won't in the future. So everyone who doesn't need it pays for the people that do. When you need it, it is there.

If the best interest of the union is not the same as the best interest of the union members (teachers in this case, presumably), there's something seriously wrong.

For the most part, the interests of the teacher's union, and the interests of its constituents are aligned. There's a few edge cases where they aren't.

The same can be said for any form of democracy, though.

If anyone has ever lived by the mantra "The worst that can happen is that they will say no.", this is what happens to a culture as a whole as more and more people behave that way.

I don't think there's anything wrong with the mantra. But the "this" you refer to doesn't really illustrate a problem with it.

Here's how these exchanges SHOULD go ...

    Kid: Could I do extra credit to bring my grade up?
    Teacher: No, I'm sorry, the grade won't change.
    Kid: Okay.  (thinks to himself, "Well, it was worth a shot")
The unhealthy thing is not the venturing to ask. It's not accepting a reasonable answer when it is given:

    Kid: Could I do extra credit to bring my grade up?
    Teacher: No, I'm sorry, the grade won't change.
    Kid: How dare you.  You'll be hearing from my parents.
(or, more likely)

    Parent: Could my kid do extra credit to bring his grade up?
    Teacher: No, I'm sorry, the grade won't change.
    Parent: How dare you.  I'm going over your head.

Especially when people are conditioned to be afraid of saying no. A lot of issues can be resolved with a “no” response.

> Especially now that she has to post everyone's grades online, instantly emails roll in when a student didn't perform as well as the parent expected.

Not to take away from your point, which I think has merit, from the other side of the spectrum as a parent that has a child that struggled mightily to not fail for the first couple years of high school, the amount that teachers screw up the online grading is incredible. As teachers, if you're getting regular requests from parents worried about assignments showing online with zero/empty values for them that cause the grades to show F and it's just because you haven't finished entering all the work in, maybe find a workflow process that eliminates or reduces the amount of time the system shows that?

Seeing multiple F's show online for days at a time leads to tense discussions and arguments with kids, and if it's all resolved with the teacher saying "I haven't finished entering grades yet" you start to really resent the system from the other side too.

You're describing here a different problem, which I know from talking to teachers also causes them stress. The people who make the software cause this problem, not the teachers themselves. They often don't have a way to avoid this and they aren't the ones deciding what software is used.

I assume the simple way to avoid it would be to not create an assignment in the system ready for grades to be entered until you actually have grades to enter. While a way to put an assignment in a state that it doesn't affect overall grades would be good and annoying if missing, it doesn't seem like something that's impossible to work around.

But if you don't create the assignment, then it doesn't show up in the calendar, and if it doesn't show up in the calendar (even if it's in 28-point bold font with a date next to it on the main page) then students claim they didn't know there was an assignment due!

One can create 'fake' assignment-like pages with the assignment details and then enter an event into the calendar that's not linked to the assignment-info-that's-not-the-assignment-so-it-won't-show-in-the-gradebook, but then you can't have the rubric for grading built onto it because only assignments can have the grading built in, and then you need to turn the assignment itself on at some point and make sure students know to submit there since it'll be a different link than the assignment-thats-not-an-assignment so you'll still have blank grades until the thing's graded, because you can't submit files through not-an-assignment pages.

I've tried this and several other iterations.

The system simply needs to differentiate between a grade "not yet posted" and a zero. I'm not sure why this observation has not been made by LMS software designers.

I don’t think it’s the people that ‘make’ the software. It’s the people that decide what software to make.

Seconded. Showing "F" as a placeholder for pending data entry is a very, very bad idea. Equivalent to a hypothetical email software that autofills "Fuck you" if you don't type anything.

When I was teaching, grading took so incredibly long that there would be periods of time (read: nearly always) where I was simply behind entering scores. I typically did 10 to 12 hour days plus a good 6hr day most Saturdays, and usually a few hours Sunday. I only caught up on student vacations.

To be clear, the problem is not just being behind entering scores, it's entering base assignment info into the grading system and then being behind entering scores. I'm not sure what prevents teachers from creating the assignment in the system once they have scores to enter, so the time during which it would be erroneously affecting a grade is minimized, but a lot of teachers to not seem to do this.

What I don't understand is why, given that they must see the problems this creates as they eventually roll downhill to the teachers.

The software we used to have (Aries Portal) did not have a "ready to publish" state on entered assignments (at least, not back then). As soon as the assignment was entered, it was immediately affecting grades. I did not have high hopes for usability testing or anything really. You could, at the time, access student info that, as a teacher, you should not have access to (discipline records, for example) with basic url tampering.

As noted before, on Canvas and Moodle, can't have student uploads for assignment without an assignment created, and some won't link correct calendar settings without an assignment.

Whenever I got into that situation, I’d use a kitchen timer. Divide the total amount of time I had for that assignment by the number of students. Set the timer for that amount. Read as much of the assignment as I could, and then just guess the right grade.

I made it clear to students that if they felt the grade was wrong, or they wanted more detailed feedback, I’d be happy to read it again. I grade quickly and mistakes do happen, I’d tell them.

I’m not gonna grade 100 papers over three days for $2/hour. I am happy to do it for two students for free.

Most of the time students don’t even look at the feedback anyway, so I’d rather let the ones who care ask proactively.

Or you were giving too much work, and it was reflecting and multiplying on your side.

What would have happened if you gave the amount of work that would have reflected on you a normal amount to grade, assuming an 8 hour day/5 day week?

Simply put: why do you punish students, and then complain (and not do your work) when you assign too much, by your very own standards?

For me, to give an amount of work for students as to not extend my week beyond 40 hours would have meant no more than 45 minutes of non-instruction time per day. Lesson planning for one day typically took longer than that, aided by the fact as I taught three courses. So, out the gate, there is no time for homework, assessments, projects, student help outside class time, tracking grades, reaching out to parents when kids need some more support, dealing with disruptive students, etc.

More simply put, if I had only given out enough work as to keep me at 40 hr/wk, there would have only been end of unit tests with no retakes that were only multiple choice (still would have gone over the 40 hr, but it would still have to happen) and any disruptive students would have been walking around campus (because I was not allowed to send them to the VP or detention as there was no room) where I would face liability if they came to harm (which was a real possibility - we had a kid murdered 5 feet off campus once, stabbed to death).

Man, I am so thankful for my career in development.

Wow, things have changed since I got out of school (HS grad 2000).

I remember being drowned in homework. And after getting out, I heard my former teachers complain just how much work they had to put in to keep up. (I did a stint substituting not long after.)

My question fell on deaf ears: why assign so much homework, if it reflects back on you x $number_of_students ? And homework also tends to select for families that can help with the homework load (moderately high income, free time, stable family, 9-5 jobs). If your kids and their parents fall outside that, they're probably going to do badly.

But still, there's technological ways to reduce your own personal load. Every hour past 40/week is billable free time. And unless it's a significantly rare event, you probably shouldn't be doing this, or negotiate for more money reflecting your higher workload.

You could also potentially get rid of homework completely. The students are already spending 8 hours in classes. And if 5 teachers add their hour in, that's a 13 hour day for students. Pretty sure that's not deemed as healthy with regards to sleep. But from the article, it appears the 'better' answer is that teachers and instructors are leaving in droves.

Just realized the way I worded it was unclear. I did not give out 45 minutes of homework for them per day, it was that I had 45 minutes to do everything I needed to do per day outside of classroom instruction if I wanted a 40 hr work week. Homework is the easiest to get rid of, and more and more schools are doing just that, even though independent practice is critical for learning.

I'd love to see a shift to top rated lectures viewed at home, and classroom time as a time for "homework" where students work to practice the topics of the lecture with the assistance of the teacher to patch up holes in understanding. Leveraging this methodology with some automatic grading, and I think teaching would be a better experience. Granted, this requires the students to do the lectures at home which has a whole slew of problems.

This. The number of errors my son's teachers commit is appalling, and he's in a top 50 hs in the country.

But how does this work in the future. Weekly report cards in elementary. Daily live updates in high school. To a single final 100% determining your ap credit / college course?

Sounds like millennials have taken their need for instant gratification and the system is coddling them.

The problem is not about updates being infrequent, it's about updates being wrong or partially applied for days at a time.

If the official way to check grades is online (and it is, by school policy and pointed out in every teachers's take-home documentation and in the open house nights where you meet your child's teachers), then I would rank accuracy first with timeliness a distant second.

in a similar vein, my aunt who is going for a few more years than your mom noted that the ratio of non teaching jobs to teaching narrowed considerably and she ended moving from a city system to a county system because of all the appointees from the mayor's office which ate up funds they could use for other needs. throw in that many of the non teaching jobs are being held in higher regard and also quick to deflect the ire of parents onto the teachers and it is hard to see the reward. he latest beef in the last decade has been the rise of "student rights" - as in you have to tip toe around some who take offense at everything with mommy and daddy riding to the rescue and the admins throwning the teacher under the bus.

It is a very curious thing that administrators in school districts are held in higher regard than the teachers.

Programmers are held in higher regard because they do the actual work, if you know what I mean. Everyone else is in a support role.

And yet in school administrators are paid higher and have it easier, because they don't have to deal with parents directly.

> Programmers are held in higher regard because they do the actual work, if you know what I mean.

I've found that to be the case in very few of the organizations I've worked at.

Programmers are just the grunts there to give the business users satisfaction.

Administrators do have to deal with parents, and with the press, and with the police, etc. I'm not saying their job is more important than teaching, but they will be the ones facing the public when anything bad or embarrassing happens at the school.

As someone noted above, the ratio of administrators (especially in district offices) and the actual teachers teaching kids has narrowed recently.

I remember reading an article of Michelle Rhee when she was head of Washington DC School district. At beginning of her term, she got lost in the district HQ and walked into a room where a lady was sitting in front of a computer. Rhee asked what her job was, and she couldn't answer. And soon enough, a purge of the HQ district office was implemented.

You can agree with her or not, but no doubt there is a lot of unnecessary people on payroll in places like school district HQ.

I had a math professor at Berkeley who used to be a high school math teacher, but started doing an MS just so he could teach at community college and not have to deal with parents. Worked out well for him, he ended up doing a PhD and on the faculty at Berkeley

Wait - so teachers in Massachusetts are not protected from lawsuits by their union or the schools? That's messed up

Serious question.. if the union isn't defending the teachers from bs lawsuits for legitimately doing their jobs, what is it doing?

Maybe it's too busy defending teachers from not doing their jobs and doesn't have time to defend teachers doing their jobs?

Negotiating pay and defending teachers from the administration

I'm way late on this comment but you would likely have a completely different set of challenges at a disadvantaged high school than your mom's challenge of a parent complaining about their child's chances of getting into Princeton with an A-minus.

She told me of an email she received that said "X is trying to get into Princeton - an A- isn't going to get her in. What extra credit can she do to make this an A?"

That's a horrible thing to say ... except I could even say from bitter experience that Princeton vs whatever-public-college is indeed a jump in *perceived( quality of education (there has been discussion of 150K vs 80K programming here and while they shouldn't revolve around Princeton or not, often they do. Appearances matter, sadly).

And that's the thing right, when everyone is pushing to get to those small number of nice jobs, nice houses for rent or buy, nice etc., sure the nastiness is terrible but it's part of the fabric of it all. Hate the fabric, not the player, so to speak.

Princeton doesn’t provide any better instruction than a good state school.

What it provides is a circle of friends for your son or daughter that come from a different socioeconomic class. Which will allow your kids to operate smoothly in that class when they get out of college.

And feel like the pauper their entire college period?

Maybe. But still leave a pauper who understands how princes think.

Seems reasonable; grades are only partially a function of raw potential — effort plays a huge role as well. If a student is good enough to get an A-, I see no reason why demonstrating a certain amount of additional effort (extra credit) couldn’t get her to an A.

The student demonstrated an adequate amount of effort to achieve an A-. Any "additional" effort should have been expended at that time. Alternately, the student can put that effort towards future assignments.

If the teacher wants to give out opportunities for extra credit (maybe because they feel the class is particularly challenging in general), they can do so. But students and parents are not entitled to extra credit, particularly those who already received a very respectable grade.

(I realize that for certain colleges, an A- isn't enough, but inflating everyone's grade doesn't help the situation.)

Whats the point of grading if there are repeats only for some?

Well then, perhaps its about time to pass someone on basis of competency rather than attaching some arbitrary grade at some point in time, that has poor correlation to future skills.

Allowing someone to continue trying and learning seems much better method rather than "whoops you had test anxiety or had insomnia and flunked your singular test". And if this is what's needed and is being forced on US's teachers, so be it.

You might consider still teaching in retirement, but in another country with more respect for educators and less tolerance for the parental behavior currently exhibited in the US (Western Europe perhaps?).

We still need good teachers as a species.

As an alum who has interviewed many applicants to the school, an A- va A isn’t going to be the difference in an admissions decision. I’m just saying this so your mother may have more peace of mind regarding that email.

> The teachers union in Massachusetts made all the teachers sign liability waivers and arbitration waivers if a lawsuit happens.

What does this mean exactly?

she told me that parents have ruined the job she loves

One of our guests for Christmas was telling us stories about this, she teaches art, and says it’s normal for her to check her work email on Monday morning and find that parents have sent a series of increasingly angry emails over the weekend demanding an instant response. This is in the UK.

My SO quit HS STEM teaching recently, so I have at least some idea of the modern teaching environment. The issue, for my SO, was pay and benefits vs. hassle. My SO has a PhD and decided to give back to the community at an 'impoverished' school. Ho boy, was that a mistake. The first school was a terrible experience and my SO went gray from the place. Though there are a few parents that are as described in the parent comment, the vast majority of parents were all but useless. The HS my SO taught at, and I am not making this up, has a mandatory grading format for every single test/HW given: multiple choice only, only 4 choices are allowed. Combining that with the faux-restorative-justice [0] grading scale, where a 25% score in a class was considered 'passing', and even a goldfish could pass the classes. Yet still, the graduation rate was ~30%, only because of the Air Force Base nearby. Just trying to get the kids to even take the test was impossible, let alone the truancy. The teacher drop-out rate by December was ~50%. Neighboring schools had teacher drop-out rates near 90%. Yes, teacher drop-out rates. Thing is, poverty and racism and violence suck really bad. The many of the parents were desperately poor, ~80% of the children were on free and reduced lunch, and many of those would not eat all weekend long, let alone the apple vs Cheetos 'food desert' debate. Then the physical abuse of the children comes in, and 'home' is not a safe place at all. Then the sexual abuse kicks in, and home is REALLY not a safe place for a some of the teen girls my SO taught. Then you have the flagrant use of phones, the sexting, the porn use, the gore, etc. in the middle of 40+ child classrooms. It was/is a mad-house. It's no wonder all the more well off folks refuse to send their kids to public schools. God knows we would/will.

And my SO, with a PhD and therefore 'top' level seniority in the union pay-scale, made ~40k in a large, expensive US city with median houses at ~0.5 million. The benefits were, otherwise, ok-ish. No dental, no vision. The pension (yes, they still have one!) has been gutted since 2008 and is massively underfunded, so a total-write off.

Now my SO works in the field that the PhD was/is in and pulls ~80k with amazing benefits/401k. Teaching, like my SO had to do, was in no way worth any of it. My SO did time in 'service' to the local community and now considers the dues paid.

[0] Actually, restorative justice models are pretty brilliant, if implemented properly. I think they should be the norm.

Don't be afraid of teaching at a poverty school. Those families need your help and won't be the ones threatening law suits over As. You'll be thankful for the few parents with the energy, knowledge, and interest to make at involvement in education at all.

I’m surprised that extra credit even exists. My high school and university had no such thing.

I was a slow runner in high school, and in gym class a friend of mine had a habit of lapping me not only to finish the class but then looping around to keep me encouraged to finish my own lap. He did not care about his own grade, but I asked about extra credit for him because he wasn't just running his own mile, but more like a mile and a half to encourage me.

The teacher refused my request to give him extra credit, saying my physical fitness was not his responsibility so he deserved no credit for my sake. Not saying that was right or wrong, just backing up your statement of "my high school and university had no such thing" as extra credit.

Sometimes doing exactly what's required is the most you're going to get credit for.

it usually doesn't. doesn't stop people from begging for it.

I think asking about possible extra credit to up the grade, especially from a - to the not - version is pretty ok. No profanity was involved right.

Which union was this? I was trying to explain this to my wife, who is a teacher, and she was shellshocked, so I wanted to check on the details.

This lawsuit first life has spread everywhere. I've read it for surgeons, now teachers .. I don't understand how we slid into this..

What's sad is that all this desperate competition by parents to improve their kid's grades is zero-sum: A noisy but pointless rearrangement of positions on the socio-economic ladder.

One kid getting into Princeton means another misses out.

Very little of it results in actual useful learning or eventual public benefit.

As someone who went to a University you never heard of, I'm the highest paid in my group. I wont forget this in the future for my children.

Your skills are more important than the prestige of your school.

> Your skills are more important than the prestige of your school.

I'd disagree slightly. All of Mark Zuckerberg's college roommates are billionaires or half-billionaires - mostly because they were his roommates. Obviously they brought their own skills to the table but there existed other people in the world at that time with those skills too. These specific people got to be in the rocket ship when it was on the ground, because they were at Harvard. Otherwise, they'd (probably) only have very successful careers, instead of their current wealth and status.

I think having a "prestige" school on your resume opens some doors far more easily.

Billionaires are billionaires. They're an elite group, and by definition most people won't be billionaires. But you can be a millionaire after attending a state university, and for most people being a millionaire is a goal worth achieving.

I personally don't think it's worth encouraging people to try to be billionaires. If you do, most of them will end up highly disappointed. It's more worthwhile to encourage people to be the best they can be, the majority of which will fall vastly short of a billion dollars. That's okay.

The exact same phenomenon applies to access to skilled jobs.

But that's how most of society works. Only one elected official is selected. Only one co-worker is promoted. Etc.

I don't think society cares who fills the position but said individuals care.

Society cares when it comes at the price of a true meritocracy. The book "Dream Hoarders" speaks to this

Hmm, sounds bad, perhaps it's time to rethink having such a stratified socio-economic ladder?

Uh, welcome to life?

> A noisy but pointless rearrangement of positions on the socio-economic ladder.

Not pointless to the people on that ladder.

But it isn't. The question was "X is trying to get into Princeton - an A- isn't going to get her in. What extra credit can she do to make this an A?" Presumably, the extra credit means the student will learn more. Hence, it is not zero-sum. And it actually seem fair to me; the student that works the hardest and scores the highest grades deserves to win the spot.

Extra credit = extra work for the teacher. It's not fair.

How does one get into a lawsuit over not assigning non-existent extra credit?

>She told me of an email she received that said "X is trying to get into Princeton - an A- isn't going to get her in. What extra credit can she do to make this an A?".

Get off your kids ass, for starters, lady

That may or may not be an accurate characterisation of the circumstances.

And it’s hard to argue with working harder / smarter / longer to achieve better outcomes as an option.

Riding your kids too hard also causes burnout and rebellion

That's perfectly fine too and encouraging your kids to be not overly ambitious probably leads to a better life for them. However, at that point the parents should also stop demanding better grades from the kid and especially stop asking the teacher to do something about it.

waves I love learning, but I still hate studying with a passion.

Again, that may or may not be an accurate characterisation of the circumstances.

The parent may genuinely be writing at the students request.

It’s seems reasonable there may be at least some students who genuinely want to do more work to improve their chances of being accepted in to their preferred choice at the next level.

When I was in high school (20 odd years ago), the type of student who would want extra credit work was also likely to advocate for themselves quite capably.

I guess it's not impossible that a parent would intercede on behalf of their child, with the child's knowledge and permission, it just seems unlikely to me. Any student who is actually contemplating Princeton is almost by definition extremely self-motivated and independent.

Assuming this child is 15 or older and not developmentally delayed, a parent should absolutely not be intervening for the difference between an A or an A-

This is how you get kids with parents who go to job interviews with them. I actually had to teach a kid I went to undergrad with how to grocery shop because "I never had to do it myself"

Kids need to learn how to be their own advocates.

Why is this something you teach? Even based on common sense alone there is pretty much nothing that you cannot figure out as you go (in regards to grocery shopping).

If it's the parent writing at the student's request… I'd think it'd be more effective if the student themself emailed the teacher about the grade, wouldn't it?

I think the kid themselves have no motivation and what is happening is their parent projecting their dreams and actually ruining their kid's life and future for years to come.

I am assuming kid will struggle in the top school anyways because of parents not being able to control as much anymore and since self-motivation was never trained it will be hard to do things on your own.

You might say that parents will use same approach in top school as well, but if they had that kind of power I guess they would not need to put their kid into a public school in the first place.

It’s pointless to argue over the specifics of someone else’s anecdote. I’m speaking generally.

What did anyone expect when everyone whole-heartedly supported more mandatory testing and measurement intiatives to help failing schools, almost about a decade back? If you start emphasizing test scores, that's all that will be optimized.

I think you have a point. But in my experience with two polar opposite schools in Massachusetts, the ones that have a lot of "helicopter parents" don't have any issue with passing rates on the mandatory state tests. They're at over 98% passing.

The tests the parents in such wealthy schools get upset about are the teacher assigned ones.

But again, I only have deep knowledge of two schools, so am happy to be corrected if I'm on off this.

I think more testing initiatives, whether to help failing schools or in top schools are misinformed at best and cancer at worst. They eventually would converge to east asia style meaningless competitive exams which are utterly destructive to any actual learning.

Calculus? Freshman college calculus, never took it. Just read a book and started the class on sophomore calculus.

Teaching calculus? Been there; done that, as a math grad student. Easy to teach -- off the back of my hand. Zero time for preparation.

Now with D. Knuth's TeX, it would be easy to pass out very nicely polished class notes, examples, exercises, applications, etc.

Here's an application that might interest the students. At one time it literally saved FedEx from going out of business.

The BoD wanted some revenue projections for the full, planned fleet and business. So, we knew what the revenue was then and what the revenue should be for the full planned fleet. So, the projections were essentially an interpolation.

So, there would be growth, and what would drive that growth? Okay, assume the rate of growth is proportional to (1) the number of current customers talking about FedEx and (2) the number of the rest of the target customers hearing the talking.

So, for time t, with t = 0 being the present, let y(t) be the revenue per day at time t. So, we know y(0), the current revenue. Let b be the revenue per day of the full, planned fleet and business.

Then at time t, the number of customers talking is proportional to y(t) and the number of the rest of the customers listening is proportional to (b - y(t)).

So, for some constant of proportionality k, we have that the growth rate in revenue per day is

d/dt y(t) = y'(t) = k y(t) (b - y(t))

where we have y(0) and b.

So, this is an initial value problem for a first order, linear, ordinary differential equation, but just freshman calculus is plenty to solve it in closed form. Sure, the solution has some exponentials. I'll post the solution later on request!

So, one day Senior VP Planning Mike Basch and I picked a value of k that yielded a reasonable graph, and I drew the graph. That was Friday. The BoD meeting was the morning, Saturday, with Mike traveling. At noon I got a call from Senior VP Roger Frock asking if I knew about the revenue projections and could I come to the BoD meeting? I did and did. When I got there, the graph was on a table, and our two representatives of BoD member General Dynamics were standing in the hall with their bags packed. No one was happy. Roger pointed to a few places on the graph, and I used my HP calculator to reproduce the points. Everyone got happy.

Later I learned that the graph had been presented to the BoD early in the meeting; the General Dynamics guys asked how the graph was calculated; all the FedEx people at the meeting tried to learn how; near noon the Dynamics guys gave up on FedEx, got plane tickets back to Texas, went to their rented rooms and packed, and as a last resort returned to the BoD meeting and were standing in the hall when I arrived. With my results, they unpacked and stayed. Had they left, FedEx would have ended.

So, just a little calculus saved FedEx, and since I was the only one around who knew still knew calculus I was the only one who understood the solution.

The projections were a smooth curve that rose slowly, rose more quickly, had an inflection point, rose less quickly, and became asymptotic from below at b. So, the curve was a lazy S.

I suspect that the curve is the famous logistic curve also important in, say, the elements in neural networks and has long been seen as a good, first cut description of the growth of new products, e.g., TV sets when they were new.

With the way I derived the curve, it is an axiomatic approach to viral growth or word of mouth market growth.

There is lots of nice stuff that can be done with calculus.

For more with calculus, I would recommend famous texts by Apostol, Rudin, Royden, and Rudin again, through measure theory and then texts by Loeve, Breiman, Neveu, and Chung for the connections with probability. The third edition of Rudin's Priciples does very well with the modern Stokes theorem, exterior algebra of differential forms, and the inverse and implicit function theorems. The first half of Rudin's Real and Complex Analysis does well with measure theory and introductions to functional analysis. The Apostol text is Mathematical Analysis: A Modern Approach to Advanced Calculus -- it's NOT very "modern" but gives a lot of what need to know to read mathematical physics, especially Maxwell's equations. For stochastic processes, Doob, Karatsas and Shreve. For Princeton and its department of Operations Research and Financial Engineering, the more elementary parts of stochastic optimal control via, say, Nemhauser, Dreyfus and Law, Bertsekas and Shreve, Dynkin and Yushkevich, etc.

The post has a fairly serious real world, war story example of where some calculus did something significant in business and the calculus was actually quite easy, no course in differential equations needed, and basically a routine exercise in first calculus. Students might like to see that; calculus teachers might like to show it to them. That is, just first calculus can already make some significant contact with the real world.

For the girl whose mother wants her daughter to go to Princeton, I mentioned some more in calculus that might be impressive for Princeton and make moot the student's A-.

Indeed, there was long Harvard's Math 55 where the three texts were Halmos, Finite Dimensional Vector Spaces, Rudin, Principles of Mathematical Analysis, and Spivak, Calculus on Manifolds. The course was something of a math boot camp and aimed at freshmen. There was an article on the course at


maybe no longer available. For a high school student to have done well in that material might be impressive at Princeton. Linear algebra is perfectly accessible to high school students, basically easier than calculus, although the classic by Halmos may be regarded as better for a second course. The Rudin text I mentioned. And the third edition of that Rudin text contains the core of what is in the Spivak text.

If that girl and her mother want to pursue such things, then I'd recommend that the two of them chat with a good college math prof once each three months or so, maybe once a month. Working in a small group that also chats with a college math prof occasionally would also be good.

I also mentioned some introductions to stochastic optimal control that are accessible to high school students.

For the more advanced material, the students might regard that as a destination on the horizon.

I did the high school calculus teachers and their students and that mother and her daughter a favor, possibly valuable for them and not easy to find elsewhere.

Moreover, I know what I'm talking about: I studied calculus, advanced calculus, measure theory, and probability theory based on measure theory, and much more, hold a Ph.D. in pure and applied math from a world class research university, and have published peer-reviewed original research using advanced calculus, measure theory, and probability theory based on measure theory. My Ph.D. dissertation was in stochastic optimal control. Did I mention I know what I'm talking about? I did them a favor.

I’d just pick a charity, tell them they can make a donation. Each $1000 they donate gets them a third of a level. A- to A just costs a grand.

There’s no corruption on my part because I don’t keep the money.

That complaint doesn't make any sense. I can understand teachers complaining about kids disturbing their lessons, are unruly and threaten them with violence and so on. I can not understand teachers complaining about kids being extra ambitious and doing what they can to get the highest grades! I'll get downvoted for this, but if your moms worst problem is overachievers and parents caring about their children's education, she needs to suck it up. :)

There's a line between caring about your children and helicoptering and/or demanding special treatment for your child.

If you care about your children, you teach them to work and study, or at least approach the teacher on their own for things like extra credit.

The teacher probably has 20+ students. How much extra time per student do you expect him or her to suck up so that everyone's special child can make it into Princeton?

Plus, isn't the point of grades a measure of ability? If we can just erase any bad grade at a parent's discretion, what's the point in having grades at all?

The whole system in my opinion is rotting. We seem to be increasingly reluctant in the U.S. to measure merit - but in this case, if nobody loses, then nobody wins. Sometimes that's life. Princeton only has prestige because it is selective, and that selectiveness depends on some kind of measure of entrant ability.

Asking the teacher to set and grade extra credit work because a student didn't get the grade they wanted isn't fair to the teacher. I don't think the teacher is the one that needs to "suck it up" here ;-). The student could just try not going to Princeton - most of the world hasn't studied there and done fine.

The teacher isn't obliged to work for free - I didn't write that. I wrote that a teacher whose worst problem is a too high fraction of overachievers trying to get into Princeton among his or her pupils has no reason to complain.

An actual overachiever would do everything possible to get an A on the first try - get feedback on assignments and projects before submitting them, ask lots of questions to understand the material, pay attention in class, come to office hours, study harder etc. I think most teachers would welcome that variety of overachiever.

This is just wasting the teacher's time with whining and grumbling.

Er, you are clearly failing to take into account unforeseen circumstances. Perhaps the pupils knowledge actually warranted an A grade but he or she had a cold and weren't able to perform at top level during the exam? Maybe he or she misunderstood some task description? Etc.

Caring about education and caring about grades can be very very distinct.

As distinct as a chicken is from an egg, since grades lead to tracking.

I have a view from both sides of this issue. I have school-age kids and my wife is a math professor (though college level, not pre-college). As a parent, I'm aware how important in life it is to have a good college on your resume. And how much more important it will be 20 years from now. I have the fortune to be able to show a STEM degree from a well respected (at leas in HN world) institution; this gave me a huge boost in my career. The odds to be admitted at such a university nowadays, if you are educated in the US, are lower and lower each day. Every single day, the US gets a little bit behind in the education race. That's why lots of upper-middle class parents are totally obsessed with their kids academic performance. Tiger-parenting and all.

Now from the other side, my wife is a model of efficiency. She receives lots of emails from students disappointed with their grades (even today she got some; we are in post-exam period). She's very calm about it. She knows she did her job well, so she simply doesn't care about whiners. She never had to deal with an escalation though (i.e. lawsuit, arbitration, etc).

I guess my point is that teachers have to simply get more thick-skinned. Just do your job, and let the whiners whine all they want. They are scared stiff themselves after all.

A lot of people teach for different reasons in different environments.

I'm not sure if it's just about the whiners but also when the whiners permeate the entire institution you're working in.

The "lazy" teacher trope is a thing because the floor for teaching is so low and the ceiling can be so high while pay stays the same.

I guess I'm privileged enough(or type A enough) to want more. Sometimes I wish I could just do my job. That way, I'd be happy with being a bus driver or a cop or something(they both have really good pensions).

Haha, I just finished quitting my job teaching high school computer science today.

I went from private tutoring CS to teaching in an afterschool program to this because I really enjoyed helping students break through conceptual blocks and mental ones.

The work is emotionally exhausting but satisfying. Only recently have I wondered whether or not this was the right thing to do instead of going to industry(maybe it's because a lot of my interviewers have been asking me that exact question) but it seems blatant now that my friends are senior engineers who have almost infinite job opportunities.

The real crux of it is that teachers get put into this triangle of pressures between students, administration, and their parents which almost takes away all agency from the job. I got so tired of getting put into difficult situations that were almost always juggling acts.

At the end of the day, if you want to fix anything as a teacher it's almost like going against an institution. You risk your pension, your 401k, or maybe just your potential future in industry for what?

I wasn't in it for the money and I would imagine most teachers aren't either... but what happens when your hands are too tied to actually teach?

sigh maybe I could've done everyone justice if I had some tech money to fall back on.

Even worse is the whole 'no child left behind' structure where schools lose funding if they don't meet certain numbers. The administrators live in fear so the kids spend half the semester taking practice tests so the school district doesn't lose funding. It is such a shame and there seems to be no appetite to expend political capital on these issues.

"The real crux of it is that teachers get put into this triangle of pressures between students, administration, and their parents which almost takes away all agency from the job. I got so tired of getting put into difficult situations that were almost always juggling acts."

I think that is also happening today with medical doctors and it is an absolute travesty; the opposite of progress.

How do you risk your 401k? Unlike a pension, they can’t take it away from you.

Unvested employer contributions can be taken back.

Only for the year.

anecdotal counterpoint: Amazon takes back all employer 401k contributions for employees who do not work there for at least 3 years

Articles like these, while only loosely related, always make me think that the software engineering bubble has to pop. You have people with ton of education busting their behind dealing with little brats all day to try to make sure they have a future... During that time, some bro who read a couple of books and hammered on his keyboard, and MAYBE did a 3 months bootcamp gets bummed if he can't pull in 100k in one of the coasts with a flex schedule and free lunches/coffee/smoothies/whatever. God forbid they get paged in the middle of the night, they'll scream bloody murder. Same contrasts with trade workers: hiring qualified carpenters/plumbers/painters/whatever is becoming incredibly difficult.

Obviously I'm only considering the extremes here, but those extremes are...very common.

Society can't go very far if the ONLY thing people do is write keywords in a text editor all day. We need to properly value other professions too.

Most people wouldn't be able to cut it in software dev, whether they did the 3 month bootcamp or even if they managed to pass a 4-year university program. 99% of the time, Little Jimmy's 4th grade English teacher would have a snowball's chance in hell as a professional developer.

Oh hell, software dev is so, so very overloaded with underskilled programmers with fragile egos. They come out of college knowing a little python and javascript and can't do jack shit for at least a year, and just come to a screeching halt with every tough issue they encounter. I'm a project manager box in an org-chart to help un-flatten the management hierarchy (I manage 20+), I am constantly having to re-assign tickets because they linger too long due to inexperience. Our review system is a joke and i have zero authority to fire, I'm supposed to "onramp" them, especially kids who just will never understand how to do this job (I give classes one week a month and they blow them off). I'm not in charge of hiring, if I was, half these kids (and I say "kids" because the 20 somethings are really immature compared to the mid-30 devs, but the latter ain't much more actualized) would have NEVER made it past the phone screen.

TL; DR - New college CS grads are mostly children who know very little and expect huge paychecks immediately because they watched Mr. Robot and maybe opened a browser on an RPi. Once.

Unless your shop literally hires every warm body that walks in the door, you're still seeing things through survivor bias lenses. Even those inept kids are better than what you'd get if you opened the floodgates.

My god I hope you're correct. The problem is I'm not given a "new employee time buffer": the SLA is king, and even though I get budget to train (free lunches!!!) it isn't fully internalized that increasing customers at a rate faster than growing / training tech support is untenable.

I've been here 4 years, and some of the new-hires that came on my first year are now able to support mutliple projects and getting their sea-legs, but the burden on the senior programmers is still heavy, and I'm doing my best to retain those saints! Perhaps there will be an inflection point that doesn't involve customers and managers freaking out.

Or, heh, perhaps I'M the weak link.

A lot of companies in tech hotbeds have a hire rate of 25 to 50% of the people who make it in person. It's not "hiring every warm body", but it's pretty damn close in my book, if you consider that resume screening and phone screens might as well be random considering how poorly it's done in the industry.

Yeah, the person who barely has the skill to pump gas probably won't make it (they probably have some bigger problems, too), but...

Compared to the post dotcom crash (where it was a buyer's market) where you could pick the best and brightest and make super teams, there's a stark contrast in 2018, and it shows in the quality of the products.

But since not everyone that would be or could become a good software developer takes that path there are also a lot of people out there better than the CS grads described here.

If this a symptom of bad hiring practices in your organization of representative across the tech industry? How do you know your org isn't to blame?

That's entirely possible. The founders are promising customizations as a way of getting new sales, and I think that is the main problem here: trying to grow business faster than support. I kinda see their dilemma: they don't want to grow the # of employees TOO fast, but right now we're not growing fast enough, and the complexity of customizations is non-trivial. This might be early growing pains in an immature business. But I was bitching about the self-starter trends among new hires.

Can't talk for the person you're replying to, but in my case at least I worked for a LOT of companies (did consulting for a while, and switched jobs probably more than I should have had), AND so did my SO, so while it's anecdotal, it's a LOT of orgs, including some of the big names everyone have heard of, as well as some smaller ones, and my friends have the same experiences. It might just be insanely bad luck since that's not a significant sample, but it makes us think.

This might have been true 20 years ago when software development meant everything from a fundamental understanding of hardware (including how pixels are laid out, how to manage gamma, etc for the front end) to knowing a lot of theory (because you had to implement your collections in house, manage the code base by hand, etc) but nowadays I'm pretty sure at least half of everyone could be pointed at a web framework and bootstrap and make a functional website in half a year.

Sure a professional would have made that in a week, but their next site will take half as long, and then half as long... until they are within striking distance of someone who does still know all those fundamentals. They will mostly be limited in what they can do, but most people don't really need developers that can do anything even if they pay for them without realizing that.

Programming is being commoditized. In the same way you don't see a doctor first thing when you go to one; you see a nurse, tech, or assistant. Not everything requires the most expensive learning investment. Most programming jobs don't require you to be able to write a proof of the code you copy paste from Stack Overflow.

Anyone can build an app, just as anyone can build a house. But if you want a roof that won’t rot for 20 years, you need to pay someone who knows how to build a proper house.

By the same token, if you want an app that will still be maintainable in 5 years, you need a professional. An amateur can build most requirements, but the architecture will seize up if it’s just layers of hacks.

It’s sort of an interesting situation for startups, because their business requirements for newly acquired users are often changing on <5 year timeframes. So actually throwing away the whole system every few years turns out to be an OK strategy.

The problem is previously acquired customers, who won’t generally deal well if you tell them half of your products features are going away for 18 months, or maybe forever.

You can sometimes hack around this by basically ditching all of your old customers and taking a high turnover strategy. That can work well for the middle of your growth curve. You burn a chunk of your addressable market in the long term. Also most companies don’t have the nerve to do it.

And it can cause cash problems.

But there are viable strategies that way.

> if you want an app that will still be maintainable in 5 years

That's part of the issue. People have been making teams who CANT build apps still maintainable in 5 years. Everyone has and only a select few remember/know that it's possible.

At a previous job, I was in a meeting where we pointed out an app had become unmaintainable to the point of requiring a rewrite. One of the engineers who built it pointed out "Well, we built this app a year and a half ago, of course it's unmaintainable, what do you expect?". I choked on my drink.

Eh, I haven’t seen any evidence that experienced professionals can build a website that will last for 5 years either. Business requirements inevitably requires hacks and kludges, and abstraction layers implemented to deal with the problems of today become tomorrow’s layer that everyone wants to rewrite or refactor.

Refactoring over the five years is the opportunity a good developer gives you.

When I say the architecture “seizes up” I mean it gets to the point where

1) a refactor that would shave 100 points off your annual planned work costs more than 100 points

and 2) hacks are slowing your pace to the point that a realistic estimate for your annual planned work is growing faster than your team is working it down.

Note that in such a situation you will still be “getting things done” but your costs are rising while your output is decreasing. Eventually that grinds to a halt and your team will demand a costly and often fatal 2.0 cycle.

A good developer can refactor as they work, and say no to unworkable plans, such that your cost per point grows only linearly, so you can maintain stable feature output while growing your staff linearly.

> I haven’t seen any evidence that experienced professionals can build a website that will last for 5 years either

You need a team of experienced professionals, which virtually no longer exists. You could work at 10 different companies back to back and not come across a team that can do it. That's the industry now.

It's easy to make a website look pretty - which is what I find bootcamp people can be good at.

That's a very small part of software development.

They've, in my experience, struggled with highly distributed and scalable applications/systems.

Most people don't need to make their own solutions for that anymore either, since we have AWS, GCP, GKE, etc.

However, we software engineers (as well as computer scientists and devs) tend to underestimate how much we've already learned and internalized. It becomes painfully obvious when you try to teach someone, and realize that you need to start at a much earlier point than you expected.

What's funny is that I have only worked for the big tech companies since I graduated and I know how to do all the backend stuff really well and thus I can do it in a few weeks for my side projects. However, the fronted code kills me and I keep stalling and getting confused on my new projects trying to figure out all the js/html/css to make it look really good for normal users...

Just make it functional with react/redux, then hire a designer to give you feedback on it.

Very true. The most important thing you mentioned is this one IMO:

> even if they pay for them without realizing that

In health care, you have doctors, physician assistants, nurses, administrators, etc. They have very different background, schooling and certifications as well as salaries.

In software, you have some differences (individual contributors, tech leads, managers, etc), but it's not granular at all within the categories. While the self taught html dev is making 90-100k, the MIT graduate builting complex systems with 5 years of experience is making 150k (Using round numbers here, don't read too much into it), when the difference is significantly bigger.

People are quick to point out at flukes: there's totally exceptions, the CMU grad who can't code themselves out of paper bag, and the random highschool dropout who has been coding since they were 7 who are now world famous geniuses...but they're exceptions yet treated as the rule.

Agreed. I've seen people trained as other engineers (EE,ME) who have taken one programming class, get jobs at similar salaries as CS grads, but then need a long time to ramp up and are a "burden" to their coworkers who have to train them while also doing their own work. It's strange how much leeway people can get in this field. I understand anyone can be trained, but still is a luxurious field.

Programming has already been commoditized. No one has to learn anything. Simply outsource the code to a shop in India. Done.

It's easy for those small problems. It's hard when you're designing products that need to get to market quickly and solve a difficult problem without product sinking bugs. That's why developers and engineers get paid a lot more.

I won’t make any predictions about the future of software engineering opportunities, but your line of reasoning will never have any inherent connection to job opportunities. As the cliche goes, life’s not fair, and working harder preparing yourself for your career has never meant that you will make more money than someone who didn’t work as hard.

Absolutely, there's no full correlation between how hard you work and how successful you are, there are situations where the contrast is totally out of wack. We're (unfortunately) used to execs taking home insane pays for dubious reasons, but right now we're seeing something similar with every day people.

The supply of people who can reliably turn time at a keyboard into code that solves problems people are willing to pay to have solved is wildly outstripped by demand. You're just continuing to see that in a world where most other industries don't have a supply problem.

Also, as rationale people will be happy to tell you, buying my employees lunch is a screaming deal.

An employee going to lunch takes at least an hour: walk to takeout, wait in line (everyone gets hungry at the same time), walk back and eat. I can recover at least 30 minutes by paying to have lunch delivered every day. Plus, for better or for worse, it costs me roughly $16 pp per day but it would cost me probably $25 to pay an employee $16. I didn't write the tax rules, but I can optimize within them.

Note there is also not a single person in my company who makes less than $32 (16*2) per hour. So I'm very happy to pay $16 to recover, on average, 30 minutes of their time.

Why not make them work through lunch and provide overhead delivery of liquid nutritional supplements and coffee through a rubber tube? And you could have their desk chair plumbed to the sewer line so they would not need to take bathroom breaks. You might recover another 60 minutes of time during the day.

You snark, but the lunches are a thing. I had mine provided by the company for this exact reason.

Unfortunately this particular company had a penchant for saving every possible penny, so the quality of the food wasn't too good either.

Dude, people die in ditches far from their home for a tenth of what I make in a year living in comfort. Society values people based on perceived economic impact not perceived job difficulty. And that’s probably a good idea.

No, it's less than half who could do it with a gun to their head, less than a quarter who would choose to over pretty much anything else.

Those are very loose upper bounds, too.

I think we should treat teachers better and pay them more. I agree we should value other professions too. That being said, I’m not following how attitudes in software engineering are related to the topic of this post.

The freebies, on call outrage, etc is inherent to the tech industry with venture capitalist money or otherwise insane net profits... the longer term sustainability is questionable, but fresh college grads or others early in their careers having unreasonable expectations of reality are not so different than your average political science or psychology major taking on egregious levels of debt only to struggle with making student loan payments.

Again, I agree with valuing other disciplines. I think there’s also something to be said about supply and demand. The Googles and Amazons of the world typically hire people at least somewhat competent in CS. Sure you could pick up pick up Ruby on Rails or whatever framework to join the gig economy, but your chances won’t be great at becoming a engineer at a Google caliber company.

The issue with teacher pay isn’t just about what society values but is more nuanced. My conservative friends don’t see the value in public education and insist on sending their kids to private schools. I don’t know how those teachers are paid, but for the public school system that I participated in, the argument becomes well my kid doesn’t attend so why should I pay for it?

In my opinion, it’s very short sighted and destructive for the country in the long term. It’s not only teachers we are devaluing but an entire generation of children whose parents are not able to absorb the exorbant costs of private schools.

> That being said, I’m not following how attitudes in software engineering are related to the topic of this post.

Sorry, I probably made my point poorly. It wasn't about attitude in software engineering. It was how insanely overvalued the field is, with a completely out of wack investment to reward ratio. Few to no other fields come even close, and its siphoning people from all other fields as well as creating unreasonable expectations from them. That's obviously not the root cause, but it's something to ponder.

Essentially, all I was saying is that the article made me think about how crazy the contrast between those 2 professions is.

The worst part is that on average developers are still often underpaid. In some cases grotesquely. Some individual engineers can easily account for millions in revenue in a year to the company they work for, but they are only paid upwards of a few hundred thousand. On the flipside there are certainly a lot of people employed in industry making their companies negative revenue - costing developer hours to make up for their mistakes or ineptitude worth less than the working code they produce.

Software is eating the world in almost all regards. Being able to perform that act - the eating part - makes you way more valuable than the effort required. But so long as characters can translate into dollars for someone the one making the characters will remain very valuable.

Don't for a second be "ashamed" if someone is offering to pay you large sums of money for what you think isn't worth it - the ugly fact of reality is that we don't get to set the value of our time, those with the money to buy it do. Society is offering little money to teachers and that sucks, but that has nothing to do with code being so valuable as to justify abnormal incomes relative to the average of the rest of the working class.

The “out of whack investment to reward ratio” is the fundamental mechanism of capitalism. It’s how we get enough of what we need, motivating self interested actors to provide it. We should be terrified if it isn’t happening somewhere, or else rejoice that every demand everywhere has already been met.

I think we should pay teachers more as well, but not the same teachers we have now. Based on my experience in public school (and my own opinion, obviously), teachers on average earned what they deserved, or more than they deserved.

Is this a product of supply and demand?

This is a very valid point. While I don't have all the answers, but it seems like if a person is pulling an honest 40 hour week they should afford at the very least a real minimum standard of living, regardless of what that person does. I know this sounds hairy and anti-capitalist and "who is going to pay for this", etc. But this is what real value is in my opinion.

What if I spend 40 hours a week making paper hats? Should I be entitled to a living wage?


If you choose to dedicate the bulk of your waking life to creating wealth for your employer, you should be compensated, at a minimum, well enough to feed, clothe and house yourself.

or there should be something like UBI in place to allow employers to decouple the cost of keeping their employees alive from the cost of doing business.

How does that change if 100m people want to live in a city that realistically houses 10m?

A bit of an unrealistic scenario, but my city has a very low vacancy rate, and you can't live there on minimum wage / just above. There are just too many people making more money.

The point of this example is that making paper hats creates little to no wealth. No one is going to compensate you handsomely for whatever random activity you choose - there has to be demand.

A living wage, or even minimum wage, isn't being "compensated handsomely," it's being compensated at least enough to survive.

If having someone make paper hats 40 hours a week is a bad business model, that's not the employee's concern. Why should the person running the paper hat making business expect to make a living at it, but not the person making the hats?

If there was enough demand for 40 hours worth of folded paper hats, yes.

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