Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Heresy about teacher salaries

It has been stated that we dont' value the teaching profession as we should, and that we don't pay teachers enough. In general, I agree with this.
However: I have some experience with school districts -- they're currently the majority of my clients -- and some of teachers' problems are absolutely self-inflicted. Specifically:

a) teachers' unions consistently resist attempts at performance-based evaluation of teachers. in many districts it is extremely difficult to get rid of lousy teachers, and IMHO the unions are largely to blame for that.
if we can't get tell who's a poor performer and who's a good performer, and as long as we have guaranteed contract renewal, then raising the salaries of existing teachers won't make them better teachers; we need to raise to entry-level wage to attract bright new people into the field. which brings us to

b) in my state, teachers at the upper end of the pay scale do quite well, thank you. it's the beginners who suffer. but when districts offer X dollars in wage increases, the high-end teachers (who are on the bargaining committees) block any attempt to raise the lower end of the pay scale by more than the rest of the scale, so the inequities persist. (and the unions continue to have those pathetic entry-level wages to parade before the public.)

c) finally, as i said before, teachers *are* underpaid. but the wages we see are *never* grossed up to the equivalent of a 12-month wage. A teacher making $42K/yr typically works 180 days, minus holidays and various types of professional enrichment days. An engineer with an BS degree typically works 260 days minus holidays and 15 days of vacation. So if that teacher had a full-time job instead of getting the summer off, he/she would be making somewhere around $57K.
Furthermore, published salaries never include the incentives many unions have bargained for -- from federal grant $, to stipends for special duties, to -- in some cases -- extra money apparently just for breathing.
That all makes the total wage picture not nearly as bad as it seems at first, and teachers do the public a disservice by not telling the whole story.


At Wed Mar 09, 03:02:00 PM PST, Blogger No_Newz said...

It's really a shame the union won't get rid of lousy teachers. That is one of the reasons I send my kids to private school. The teachers here are old fashioned and set in their ways and make a hell of a good salary. I get so angry paying these outrageous taxes too! Stopping now, feel rant coming...
Lois Lane

At Thu Mar 10, 12:07:00 PM PST, Blogger unca said...

I agree with most of this. As a former high school teacher, however, I feel an obligation to add some thoughts here--nothing that really contradicts the points you‘ve made--just some perspective. I taught high school biology for two years and have nothing but the highest respect for anyone who daily enters a high school or junior high school with the courage and pluck to mingle with the creatures inside. Teaching is extremely hard work. My situation was pretty typical. I taught two different subjects so had to prepare two separate presentations every day and deliver them in an entertaining fashion to five different classes while trying to maintain order. I had one hour free each day during which I could create lesson plans and correct papers but I usually ended up taking work home with me anyway.
In some jobs, it’s possible to “coast” a bit when you don’t feel well or especially enthusiastic --you can vary your speed, procrastinate a bit and make up for lost productivity later. If you’re teaching, this is nearly impossible. It’s exhausting--physically and emotionally. If you haven’t taught, consider this thought experiment: you give five lectures every day to a class full of kids who would rather be somewhere else and don’t have any reservations about telling you so. Would you trade your current job for this even if you got three months off during the summer? Maybe. I can state honestly that I worked harder in those nine months than I did in any 12 month job I’ve had since.
It is true that most teachers work a nine month year. Most of them also work during the summer at another, lower paying job to supplement their income. I worked in a pizza plant for something pretty near minimum wage.
I doubt whether raising the entry level salaries higher would do very much to attract bright young people to the profession. As you’ve already stated, the salaries do become reasonable after a few years with (as you note) mostly automatic raises). I would think that prospective teachers would be aware of this. It’s also my opinion that teachers in general do become more effective and proficient as they gain more experience so the automatic raises are not wholly out of order (and certainly exist in other professions as well). I remember being greatly impressed with some of the veteran teachers when I was but a novice. Unfortunately, there remains the mistaken impression that teachers become complacent after awhile because of the guaranteed raises and perks. I’m sure this is true in many cases but for the most part, it’s a myth.
I agree wholeheartedly that teachers need to be evaluated for effectiveness and the unions are wrong-headed in preventing these efforts. The question remains, though, on how best to do perform such evaluations. I believe nearly all teachers are evaluated subjectively throughout their careers. The sticking point is how to evaluate objectively and still maintain fairness keeping in mind the myriad characteristics that make for a good instructor.
Operating in an environment of organized labor, any union can become the last refuge of the totally incompetent (I have been on the management end of this and it can be extremely frustrating). In the case of bad teachers, the stakes are huge and the community is justifiably outraged by the boards’ inability to fire incompetents.

At Sat Mar 12, 03:23:00 AM PST, Blogger bryan torre said...

thx for your comments.
unca, i can't disagree with what you pointed out.

At Fri Mar 18, 04:08:00 PM PST, Blogger No_Newz said...

Still no update? Man, even that slacker guy over at Not Totally Inept has updated already. Did you hear he paid off his Pacer? You could really learn a lot from him. :P
Lois Lane


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