How Do Teachers Get Paid?
The answer to this question is pretty straight forward. For example, if you wanted to know how much a teacher makes in, let’s say, Seattle, you go here: http://www.seattleschools.org/area/hr/sal.xml (it’s a pdf). How about Boise, Idaho? http://www.boiseschools.org/jobs/payscales.html
How’d I find that information? It was easy, I searched for the city’s school website and went to the HR page. Did you know you could find out exactly how much a teacher makes? It’s public information. So what’s the point? Teachers get paid by their level of education and the number of years they’ve worked. That’s it. No matter how good or how bad a teacher is, they get paid by these two criteria. There’s an upside and a downside to this, as a teacher. The upside is that I do not have to improve or do a good job at all to get a raise. In fact, I could decide that next year, I’m going to teach physics through movies. And no tests. If they show up they get an A. If not, a C (because too many kids failing would trigger people asking questions). I could conceivably do that and still get a raise. (As a slightly long aside to this, my raise depends on the school system having a big enough budget to support raises. This is not usually a problem, but in the currently economic climate, none of the teachers in my district are getting any kind of raise next year. And, unlike private businesses, if the economy picks up by the end of the year, we won’t be getting bonuses either. In fact, since I’m currently doing a project that pays me extra money, I stand to get a pay cut next year. This is not good for a young person trying to pay off student loan and other debt.) The downside, as a teacher, runs along the same lines. There is absolutely no reward or benefit to being a good teacher. No need to go above and beyond. No need to stay after to help students. No need to plan elaborate and interesting lesson plans. Why should I put in the time? I already spend hours grading and planning. Why would I do more? Every teacher gets the number on the pay scale, end of story.
Before I get into the debate of whether this is a good idea or not, let me add this one thing. We do get evaluated by the administration. I believe the process has much more to do with not being able to randomly fire teachers more than rewarding them. Ours goes something like this: Every few years we are on evaluation, and we have to meet certain criteria. We either do not meet, meet, or exceed on each of the 2o something ways to measure us. As long as we meet, we get a continuing contract. If we do not meet, they have to come up with a performance plan to help improvement, and then if there isn’t improvement, you can get fired. The joke is that there’s no benefit to getting exceeds. In fact, they say you have to show proof of exceeding to mark it down. Therefore, I can get “meets” and not have to do anything, or “exceeds” and go through and document things I do. Again, why do extra work for no reason? They don’t even decide which teachers to keep based on their evaluations. If they have to make a cut, the newest teacher goes. I could have all “exceeds” and another teacher could have all “meets” but if that teacher was hired even 1 day before me, I get fired. I could go on about this but I want to make my main point.
Shouldn’t there be a system that rewards good teachers? It’s called merit pay. Here’s the gist of merit pay: Teachers whose students perform better get higher pay raises than other teachers. Sounds great on the surface, right? I mean, here’s a way to guarantee that teachers will try harder, and even get rewarded for their hard work! I’m here to tell you it’s a bad idea. These are the reasons:
I survived my first year because nice, experienced teachers basically gave me their worksheets and tests. They showed me what to teach and when. Teacher retention is low to begin with and I don’t think many would make it through the first year without help. What does this have to do with merit pay? Why would an experienced teacher help a new teacher, or any teacher, if their great ideas were going to get them more money? If I have a method for getting students to achieve, why would I share it? I’d get more money for keeping it to myself. This hurts students in other classes. Teacher collaboration would stop because no teacher would be willing to give up their plans.
On top of that, if my pay was tied to my students’ performance on a standardized test, why wouldn’t I cheat for them? I know that’s not ethical, but if $5,000 was on the line, I’d have to think about it. It doesn’t mean outright telling the answers, but I could subtely shake my head, you know, try again kid. Maybe I wouldn’t do it, but your damn sure there are teachers who would. In fact, in places where merit pay existed, so did teacher cheating.
Lastly, student performance is highly dependent on your students. Let me rephrase. At the beginning of the year, you don’t know who’s walking into that class. You may have a great group of students who are motivated and, sorry to say it, smarter than the group another teacher has. That puts that other teacher at an immediate disadvantage. Even this year, I have one class that has consistently been 4-5% below my other classes. Part of that is my fault certainly, but part of it is the class I have. I would not want to have my salary tied to this group. Just like it wouldn’t be fair if another teacher had all honors and AP classes and I was stuck with lower level classes. It’s just easier for that other teacher.
Without saying too much else, since this is really long already, I don’t know what the answer is. My suggestion is to raise teacher salaries so that they are comparable to other professions. That way there will be more competition for teaching jobs and the bad teachers will be fired and replaced by better teachers. So instead of teacher shortages where they’ll take anybody off the street and put them in front of a class, there will be a number of qualified people vying for the job.
Music: “I Can’t Stay” by The Killers off of Day & Age