Imagine a world in which teachers were the real superstars, their every lesson plan and employment offer analyzed and debated on primetime.
Impossible you say? Not in the alternate reality of Comedy Central’s Key & Peele, who recently debuted a hilarious send-up of the breathless sports journalism of the SportsCenter variety.
In the comedy duo’s “TeachersCenter,” teachers are treated like high-profile athletes. Impersonating a pair of hyperbolic sportscasters, the pair report on the latest developments in the fictional career of “star English teacher Ruby Ruhf,” who has decided to move from Ohio to New York, much to the delight of teaching fans nationwide.
“Apparently, PS 431 has made Ruby Ruth an offer she couldn’t refuse,” the hosts crow, detailing a compensation package—$80 million over six years—closer to the operating budget of an entire New York City high school than to the salary of an average city educator.
The spot’s superb use of ESPN-type jargon and tropes makes “TeachersCenter” a strong parody. But like so much of Key & Peele’s work, there is a darker truth beneath the slickly-produced surface.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, public school teachers in the US made an average salary of $56,383 during the 2012-2013 academic year.
Compare to the average salaries of professional baseball athletes ($3.82 million during the 2014 season), professional basketball athletes ($4.9 million for the 2013-14 season), and professional football players ($2 million for the 2013 season). Even the minimum salaries for all three professional sports leagues—ranging from just over $400,000 to $500,000—leave the highest-paid American public school teachers in the dust.
As Slate’s Aisha Harris noted, “the lament about how our culture privileges athletics over education is an old one,” but it’s still useful to periodically remind Americans of our rather absurd and hypocritical prioritization of resources.
As the proud daughter of a lifelong teacher, I personally think obsessing over one’s teachers isn’t just a normal pastime, it’s a noble one. (Shout out to Elena Bennet crushing it over at Sacramento Country Day School!) The US education system has more than its share of problems and controversy. But it is also an incredibly important network of millions of men and women working very long hours in the hopes that one or two of their students will someday thank them for it.
There’s no time like the present.
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