What the NFL referee lockout tells us about education

Teachers are valuable to the future of our country and yet we continually underinvest in education.

Teachers do an enormous amount of training and preparation during summer for the school year [GALLO/GETTY]

We can all breathe a sigh of relief. The NFL referees are back to work. The botched call heard around the nation on last week’s Monday Night Football was apparently the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. 

The bad call drew ire from far and wide, exacerbating frustrations for fans, coaches and players alike; even President Obama and presidential candidate Mitt Romney weighed in on the need for an expedient end to the lockout. 

NFL referees are part-time employees who make an average salary of $149,000 to work a maximum of 20 games per season. Sounds like a pretty sweet gig. However, in addition to salary and pension issues, the referees cited growing expectations for what has become an increasingly complex job. 

They can spend up to 35 hours per week preparing for Sunday – watching film, studying new rules and staying physically fit for the demands of running up and down the field. Then there’s the added stress of making snap decisions and being scrutinised when mistakes are inevitably made. 

And of course, there’s the added responsibility of player health and safety, as we get smarter about the potential long-term health side effects for football players. There’s obviously a lot more to this job than your average fan might think. 

At first glance, NFL referees and teachers don’t have a lot in common. In fact, there are a number of parallels between NFL referees and the teachers I know. Teachers spend hours each night and on weekends writing lesson plans and practicing delivery of their classes. They are expected to adjust to changing expectations for student achievement and a bar that is (necessarily) set higher and higher every year. 

“At first glance, NFL referees and teachers don’t have a lot in common. In fact, there are a number of parallels between NFL referees and the teachers I know.”

Teachers spend hours on their feet, whether it be talking to a group of 5th graders from the front of the room, or moving around the classroom to check in on students’ work. At KIPP, our teachers are frequently observed by peers or by school leaders, who share strengths and opportunities for growth in their instructional practice. 

And of course, there’s no more important responsibility than shaping the young minds of those who will lead our communities, our country and our world in years to come.  

The parallel is particularly apparent when I think about teachers like my sister-in-law, Kristy Allen, who is a fifth grade teacher. She makes about $50,000 a year and works 12 hour weekdays and most weekends. 

Kristy did an enormous amount of training and preparation this summer as she planned for the school year. The expectation that she tailor her lessons for 42 children requires nothing short of engineering and project management. She generates and analyses data and develops action plans for every student in her class. 

According to her, teaching in this environment is a science. It’s disheartening for her – and to me – to hear that continued cuts to education funding may mean another year without compensation that reflects her work and expertise, not to mention the resources she needs to do her job. 

As the election season comes to a close and we hear from the candidates in upcoming debates, I hope we’ll hear more from President Obama and Governor Romney regarding the critical investments that need to be made in our schools. 

We need to ensure that teachers like my sister-in-law stay in the profession, and have the resources they need to truly serve our children. Not to begrudge NFL referees, but teachers are arguably more valuable to the future of our country. Yet we continue to chronically underinvest in the teaching profession. If only we spent as much time as a nation obsessing about them as we did the lockout. 

April Allen is the Executive Director of KIPP DFW, a college-prep charter school focused on preparing students from underserved communities for success in college and in life.