Crazy things people say to teachers – and how to respond


by Cindy Long, this article originally appeared on

Ah, the holidays. ’Tis the season to gather round the hearth, feast on turkey and pie, and enjoy the company and conversation of loved ones we see but a few times a year. And thank goodness for that! You love them dearly, but it’s exhausting fielding all those annoying questions about the teaching profession from your well-meaning but clueless family.

With that in mind, we’ve compiled a list of comebacks to crazy questions, so at this year’s holiday dinner (or any other time your professionalism is called into question: legislators, are you listening?) you can show the whole family why your profession is worthy of their highest respect.

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Teachers are just glorified babysitters!

OK, you can pay me what you pay your babysitter. Ten dollars an hour for six hours (even though I actually work 9 or 10 hours a day) is $60 a day, times five days a week (even though I often work weekends) is $300, times 36 weeks a year (even though I’m taking classes and professional development year-round), is $10,800 – but that’s just for one student. Multiply that by 30 students and that’s $324,000. That’s a good start.

All your union cares about is bargaining for higher salaries and more benefits! What about the students?

Actually, when state laws allow us to, the National Education Association routinely bargains for student-friendly conditions like class size limits, staff training to improve student learning, collaborative time for sharing effective classroom techniques, school building health and safety, desperately needed classroom materials and equipment, and joint union-management problem-solving on ways to better teach students in low-performing schools. But shouldn’t we also have competitive salaries so we attract the best teachers? Don’t the students deserve that?

Teachers have tenure. You can’t be fired no matter what kind of job you do.

Tenure does not mean a “job for life.” It means there needs to be a just cause to be fired and you have a right to a fair hearing to contest charges. Any tenured teacher can be fired for a legitimate reason, after school administrators prove their case. If I want to thrive in my profession, I need to do a good job

Ooh! Must be nice to have summers off!

During my first weeks “off” I will be mapping out curriculum for the next year, cleaning and organizing my classroom, and catching up on professional reading and professional development coursework. So what do you say….want to trade places?

You’re way too educated to be teaching young kids. You should be doing something more challenging. Don’t you have an M.A.?

Teaching is a calling, not just a job. Compared to the challenges (and rewards) of the classroom, graduate school was a cakewalk.

It can’t be that hard to control a bunch of kids. Just have clear expectations.

Classroom management is really an art, and it’s not that simple. But if you think you have some special tricks, I’ll bring 30 kids over to your living room tomorrow morning to watch you work your magic.

If my current job doesn’t work out, I could just become a teacher!

If you have the desire and commitment to put 50-plus hours a week toward a large group of extremely diverse learners of varying abilities, please consider it. We always need more passionate teachers.

Is it true that the lunch ladies and custodians and bus drivers are members of NEA? What do they contribute to our kids’ education?

They’re called Education Support Professionals, and yes, they’re union members. They are on the frontlines of our schools every day – driving students to and from school safely, keeping our schools clean and environmentally sound, making sure our kids eat healthy meals, assisting students in the classrooms, and ensuring the front office runs smoothly. And they’re all essential to a well-rounded education for our kids.

You teach kindergarten? How nice to play with paint and glitter all day!

Sure, we finger paint in kindergarten. Not to mention learn the fundamentals of reading, math, and science that set the stage for the next twelve years of learning.

Why do teachers object to merit pay? You should be paid what you’re worth!

The trouble is defining the value of a good teacher by test scores. Unless, of course, you think your SAT score was the ultimate predictor of your worth?

Reader Comments

  1. cindy, your retorts are weak. you should have run these objections by a few people with better debate skills before publishing. my parents were both teachers for over 30 years each, both with master degrees. my wife has been teaching for over 15 years and has two master degrees. both my sister in-laws are teachers. not once have i seen them grade papers or do any school work at home. they work(ed) 8 hours per day. they do not clean or organize their classroom other than the two ‘in-service’ days they are required to attend at the end and beginning of the school year. lunch ladies and custodians and bus drivers are Not on the front line. they are in support roles, which are very important. and finally, No teacher is taking classes and professional development year-round. i chose just a few points in your article that need a much stronger comeback. if you’re going to arm your readers with witty retort, please do better than a C-.

    1. I have no idea where your relatives work, but my sister and several people I know have been teachers for over 20 years. they are always bringing papers home to grade and my sister is over all the teachers in her grade and is constantly working on school work at home. She never gets out of school @ 3pm, she has to wait untill the students are all gone from campus, sometimes the parents don’t pick them up until 6, after they have run a few errands. She has always taken classes in the summer or taught classes at the college. She usually has about 3 actual weeks off, thats less than most people who have her education and years in. She started teaching because she loved young people, she teaches 8th grade. She now cannot wait to retire because the parents don’t care and don’t want to be bothered with knowing anything their child is having problems with at school, they say “your the teacher, that’s your problem” or they come to the school and scream at ther because their child is failing, of corse that’s her fault too. I’m ready for them to blame her because their child is on drugs or pregnant! She is very good with young people, Everytime we go shopping or out anywhere, children she has taught over the years stop her to say hello and hug her neck.

      1. It’s great that your sister is such a wonderful teacher who really cares about kids. Unfortunately, in my experience, she is rare. For every really good teacher out there, there seems to be several lazy, terrible teachers. Tell her to keep up the good work. It’s great that are such an advocate for her.

        1. No matter what vocation we talk about, half the people are below average. The many average teachers that I personally know will spend a lot of time on work related to teaching and care about their profession. The above average teachers that I know personally will spend even more time and care in their vocation. The below average teachers, exist but happily they leave this lowest paid profession with the highest rewards.

    2. I can barely discern a starting point to reply. One hopes this person is not indicative of the performance of his relatives in the education system. Although we all acknowledge there are always SOME who get by on as little as they can put out. So I have two questions for Matthew…where do his relatives work AND who DOES organize their classrooms??? And am I the only one recognizing how RIDICULOUS is his comment that “no teacher is taking classes and professional development year round.”?

    3. Matt, I do not agree with you. Cindy’s retorts were excellent & on target. I hold a Bachelors degree in Special Education ( Gr. K-12 ) & Masters Degree in Early Childhood Education ( Gr. Pre-K-6 ). I graded papers/tests/Writing prompts & filled out Progress reports ( 3X/yr.) and report cards (4X/yr.) & wrote lesson plans for Reading/Narrative story writing/Spelling/Math/Science/Social Studies, every week for 34 years. From the time I entered my school ( 8 a.m.) until I left ( 4:15 p.m.) I was working, other than 25 min. to wolf down lunch. Every teacher I ever worked with came into their classrooms at least 3-4 days prior to the academic year beginning. Attractive bulletin boards were expected, along with charts & posters covering all subject areas. Silent, reading books were expected to be organized by “level” or subject area. ALL personnel, in a school building, are on the “front lines”. There are daily events when they are called upon for assistance. Teachers DO take classes & professional development year round. CEUs were required for 20+ years of my tenure. In order to “keep up” on new strategies/techniques, this is imperative. What kind of background deems you able to “grade” Cindy’s response” with a C-?

      YOU remind me of all the Bd. of Ed. members, politicians & billionaires who feel they have the right to make decisions about America’s education when they haven’t stepped into a classroom for years, if ever, or personally have been on the “front lines” during their lifetime. Shame on you.

      Cindy, I agree with ALL of your responses. I give you an “A”!

      By the way, where did your wife, sister-in-laws & parents teach?

    4. I am also a teacher. I get to work an hour early and stay an hour late daily. Summer is 8 weeks. I use this time to clean out and reorganize my classroom. Work on curriculum, attend professional development, and making material. My weekends consist of grading papers, writing lesson plans, and making sure I have all of the materials needed for the next week. Of course there will be people who do the bare minimum! But most put in more hours than people who work outside of the profession.

    5. Perhaps some teachers don’t take professional development classes year-round, I’ll grant you that, but depending on the subject one teaches, after school work is a given for many educators. I taught English and always had to bring work home with me or find myself behind the eight ball. The volume of paperwork for an English teacher is considerable. My husband taught music and occasionally brought work home but not as frequently as I needed to do. That your relatives and wife never (never??) brought schoolwork home with them is not indicative of any weakness in Cindy’s comments. It is admirable that your family members have masters degrees, but that has no automatic bearing on whether they are passionate and committed teachers. Lastly, and importantly, always keep the secretaries and custodians on your side. Respect them. They are invaluable support personnel to the educator and student body.

    6. I am a teacher. I have been for the past 18 years. I regularly bring papers home to grade, take professional development year round, go back to school weeks early to prepare my classroom for the next year. I would love to see the classrooms your family members taught in. I can’t imagine what a classroom of someone who works the bare minimum. In my experience all the teachers I work with have to work above and beyond every school day and year to be the best they can be. There is not enough time to get it done in 8 hours. They should write a book to help us all.

    7. Just because you never see them do work at home doesn’t mean that they don’t. Are you really that aware of the work habits and schedules of your parents, wife, and sisters-in-law for 30 years back? Do you do any work yourself? Weird.

    8. Wow! Excuse me for saying, but Matt knows very little about teaching. I have been teaching for 22 years, have a master’s degree, and many hours of professional development.

      Here is a typical day for me: Up at 4:30–shower, pack lunch and breakfast very well, as I will have 25 minutes to eat lunch at 12:06.

      Get to school by 6:45- make sure materials, classroom, are ready for three different lesson plans.

      Students begin arriving at 7:40-asking for help or to use my computers, etc.

      Begin teaching at 8:00AM–teach two different lessons/levels until 12:06. Straighten room, lock doors, restroom, eat from 12:15-12:40. Back in classroom, start teaching repeating one lesson plan and teaching a new (#3) one. Classes over at 2:50. Begin tutoring from 3PM-4PM. (not paid) or work in library duty(paid).. or detention(paid.) or go to meetings.
      Return to classroom, grade papers for 220 students, make parent phone calls, clean up and prepare materials, lesson plans for next day. Wednesdays are my club meetings, which I usually have extra responsibilities. If it is time to publish the school newspaper, I stay with editors sometimes up to 7PM( I pay for their dinners.)

      Get home at 6:30PM.. eat and go to bed by 8:30PM and repeat.

      I try to teach summer school, if possible(6 weeks.) Last year I spent a week(my own expense) at at immersion Spanish classes, in order to communicate better with my Spanish speaking parents. I grade at least one day every weekend. If 160 students hand in an essay-it is 10 hours of grading.

      I begin preparing for the school year a week before classes begin.

      I wonder if Matt’s relatives work in a state which pays teachers very little. I worked in a state where after nine years of teaching in the same school, earning (and paying for) a master’s degree, I was making $30,000. a year, just enough to pay rent, help support my three kids and make a car payment.

      Luckily for me, my students and their parents, I now work at a school where my salary was nearly doubled immediately(13 years ago.) Thanks to a good union, I have gotten two raises in 13 years.

      I will not get rich, but I feel secure.

      Last year I spent $2500 on supplies, supporting school fundraisers, and professional development. I know teachers (music teachers) who spend $10,000 (or more) of their personal salaries on the programs because funds have been cut drastically.

      They do this in order to provide terrific opportunities for students. Our choir program auditioned and was accepted to perform at Carnegie Hall, for example.

      Well I have ranted enough…

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