The truth about teacher salaries

I want to prepare you for an unfortunate inevitability:  One of these days you’re going to read the last Radical post.

It’s not that I don’t want to keep writing.  I love the intellectual community that we’ve gotten started here.  And it SURE isn’t because I’ve run out of things to say.

#notpossible

It’s simply because one afternoon as I drive home listening to the local right-wing radio hack spouting the party line about “the exorbitant salaries” that teachers are paid, my head is going to explode.

#notpretty

What makes me so frustrated is that 98% of the facts that he spews just aren’t true.  He talks about the fully paid state pensions that we receive without ever mentioning that teachers contribute nearly half of the funds in our own retirement accounts.

He claims that teachers in North Carolina are treated better than other workers without ever mentioning the fact that we rank somewhere near 45th in teacher pay nationally.

He argues that teachers need to “feel the pain that people in the private sector” are feeling without ever mentioning that we haven’t seen an increase in our salaries in three years.

#nottruthful

Now don’t get me wrong:  I’m remarkably thankful just to have a job in such a difficult economy.  As I watch friends and family members struggle to just hold on to their positions in a sluggish corporate workplace, I realize that the stability that comes along with a career in the classroom is pretty darn rewarding.

#notunemployed

And I get it.  The way that we pay teachers has got to change.

For starters, we’re just plain crazy to think that teachers working in affluent suburban communities should earn the same salaries as teachers working in communities that are plagued by poverty.

A quick glance at the differences between the qualifications of teachers working in the ‘burbs and teachers working in the inner city can probably explain the high dropout rates that has our nation’s educational leaders so darn perplexed.

But how surprised can we REALLY be that accomplished teachers are taking their skills to the suburbs.  If you were asked to do a much harder job for the same salary that you’re currently making, would you take it?

#notlikely

What’s more, we’ve got to rethink the strategies that we DO use to differentiate pay for teachers.  I mean, the State of North Carolina has been paying me a 10 percent stipend every year for the past 15 years because I earned a Master’s Degree in—get this—Advanced Teaching back in 1997.

Stew in that for a minute, would ya?

What are the chances that the techniques that I picked up in my “advanced teaching” classes back in ’97 are still relevant today?   

Yet every year, I “earn” an extra $5K because I sat through those classes.  If nothing changes, I’ll make almost $120,000 in additional compensation for that degree before I retire.

As a teacher struggling to make ends meet, I’m thankful for the money.

As a taxpayer, I’m pissed.

#notsmart

Finally, we’ve GOT to find a way to reward our best teachers for making a difference in the lives of kids. 

Everyone—from the teachers in our workrooms, to the parents in our communities, to the policymakers who are butchering our schools with poor decisions making underinformed choices with little first-hand experience—-knows that some teachers are “worth more” than others.

Ignoring that reality is intellectually dishonest.  It cheapens our profession in the eyes of the people who pay our salaries.

But let’s get something straight:  Rewarding our “best teachers” has to begin with communities coming together to develop shared definitions of what good teaching looks like.

Are we satisfied with the teacher who is inspiring and memorable but can’t produce meaningful learning results in their students?

More importantly, do we really want to define the success or the failure of teachers by the numbers that their students earn on one test covering one part of one curriculum that is given on one day at the end of the school year?

#notreally

In the end, I’m completely open to conversations about changing the way that teachers are paid.  I’m just fed up with the suggestion that we’re useless overpaid leeches that are bleeding communities dry.

Not only are those conversations untrue, they’re unhealthy.  Demonizing an entire profession with well-orchestrated half-truths and outright lies ain’t likely to lead to long-term solutions, y’all.

#notproductive

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Related Reads:

Where Gates Gets It Right on Education

Merit Pay for Teachers a Poor Idea

The Wrongheaded Quest for Cheap and Easy

Staffing High Needs Schools

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