I've never taught elementary or secondary, so I really can't contribute to this thread from the teacher's point of view. (Plus, I'm one of the dreaded ADMIN now!) However, all three of my kids are going through our public schools, and for the most part, our experiences have been very positive. Sure there are lazy or incompetent teachers out there, and I'd agree that there aren't enough great ones, but that's also true of mechanics, doctors, sales clerks, and so forth.
Second, and this may be a district-by-district thing, we've found that the various schools our kids have attended have encouraged artistic and intellectual creativity as much as can probably be reasonably allowed in a public school setting. My fifth-grade daughter is just now finishing her team's "roller coaster," a series of tubes and trackways the student teams design and build that send marbles along complicated pathways. The purpose is for the students to use and understand basic concepts of physics. Different parts of the contraptions are labeled with "inertia," "potential energy," "kinetic energy," etc. I'm sure the teacher had to help them out, but each one is vastly different. We got to see demonstrations the other day.
Of course, we don't live in an enormous city with serious budget problems, and since this thread is about teachers and not schools/school districts, it really would be a disservice to focus on that. Budgets aside, most teachers have great hearts and try their best. They go into it for the love of seeing others succeed, not for the money (God knows) or the prestige (ha!).