Why Teachers are Severely Underpaid
I spent the last week in three parent-teacher conferences and my takeaway is that all my kids’ teachers are amazing. We are so lucky to have great teachers at our school. It probably isn’t a coincidence that elementary school has great teachers: average teacher salaries are $76k, our teachers get 1/2 days on Tuesday for development and training plus various 1/2 days on Thursdays, and the parents at my school shoulder their fair share of the burden — we attend curriculum night, show up for our parent-teacher conferences, hire tutors if our kids are behind (or ahead), and make sure the homework gets done day after day.
It’s hard to get a teaching job at my elementary school. Typically, the teacher has 5 years of teaching experience under his or her belt and many “audition” as long-term subs first to get a coveted slot. Now the spotlight is on getting students to perform by teacher “pay for performance.” Does this make sense? Not entirely. Think about it. If you teach at my wealthy suburban school, there is pretty good chance that kids in your classroom are going to score pretty well overall on the standardized tests. Why? Well…that’s the history of the school and supported by parents who seem, at least 1 out of 3, to have a) graduate degrees, b) teaching credentials, or c) ivy league educations. And many have d) all of the above. “Pay per Performance” seems a little like a witch hunt with a war cry that says, “There are no bad students, just bad teachers.”
If you use my old neighborhood (inner city Boston) as a comparison point, “Pay for Performance” doesn’t make sense. At that school,there is a high percentage of children for whom English as a Second Language. There are just more teaching challenges at inner city schools for a variety of reasons but mostly out of the control of the teachers. Now take a newly graduating teacher fresh with an Master’s Degree because that is what it takes to teach at my elementary school. “Highly qualified” is the term. This person is never getting hired at my school because new hires have at least five years of experience so this new grad will mostly likely get a position at an inner city school. If this teacher can’t get the class to perform on the standardized tests — regardless of what shape the kids are in from previous years — this teacher is now “failing?!!” I know that there is a lot of attention on getting “better teachers.”
Here’s an article from the Wall Street Journal about Bill Gates and his ideas. What I don’t understand is why NO ONE in politics seems to think parents are also responsible for their child’s education. What about a tax break for getting your child to school with homework completed? I am being facetious, but it’s no more ridiculous than to think that education is 100% the responsibility of teachers! And what about all these budget cuts that hurt education and those non profits that support it?! I think that we have plenty of weapons of mass destruction so let’s cut there instead. There is no magic bullet to improving education. It takes investment which equals $. Tax money.
I’m not the only one who thinks our education strategy is loony. At the International Summit on Teaching, the take away was: “… The United States has been pursuing an approach to teaching almost diametrically opposed to that pursued by the highest-achieving nations.” The difference? The highest-achieving nations INVEST in teacher education: “Officials from countries like Finland and Singapore described how they have built a high-performing teaching profession by enabling all of their teachers to enter high-quality preparation programs, generally at the masters’ degree level, where they receive a salary while they prepare. There they learn research-based teaching strategies and train with experts in model schools attached to their universities. They enter a well-paid profession – in Singapore earning as much as beginning doctors — where they are supported by mentor teachers and have 15 or more hours a week to work and learn together – engaging in shared planning, action research, lesson study, and observations in each other’s classrooms. And they work in schools that are equitably funded and well-resourced with the latest technology and materials.”
The article (in the Washington Post) concludes with: “How poignant for Americans to listen to this account while nearly every successful program developed to support teachers’ learning in the United States is proposed for termination by the Obama administration or the Congress…” I’m not bashing Obama; the budget fiasco is something he inherited from the previous administration but the current path we are on is alarming.
On this note, to honor teachers, I have a really funny and yet so completely true YouTube video that my husband sent me by Taylor Mali on What Teachers Make. Taylor Mali is a four time slam poet champion and a High School Teacher in New York! Let’s honor our teachers, not bash them. They are unsung heroes, every one of them! Watch this and send it to your child’s favorite teacher.