Home > Teaching > How Do Teachers Get Paid?

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

Categories: Teaching Tags: , ,
  1. Suzy
    February 4, 2009 at 1:35 pm

    I agree with almost everything you said. The part that I do not agree with is that teacher collaboration would decrease. I don’t think that is an absolute. If sharing increases everyone’s pay all around, why would anyone be against that? Also, teachers get into their profession for a reason, right? I mean, I hope that they do! They are there to teach. Why would they not share their tried and true methods with others so as to reach even more students?

  2. Richard
    March 26, 2009 at 2:35 am

    Suzy is missing this one. I will assure you it will not be the same. I will never tell you the real story even if i liked you..I will be too busy…just like it is done in business everyday. Solve your own problems.

    What about the teacher that uses intercourse to get the pay raise or the teachers that uses golf or some sport to get a raise.

    • teacherconfessional
      March 26, 2009 at 11:17 pm

      I totally agree with you, Richard. Teaching would become a cutthroat profession and would not benefit students at all. Why become a special education teacher? We don’t need teachers competing with each other.

  3. Paul Theberge
    November 29, 2009 at 4:10 am

    I think that many of your concerns about merit based pay are completely legitimate, but they assume that the system works in certain ways. What if merit based pay were to be based off of previous student achievement/improvement instead of their position compared to the average intelligence rate? That would eliminate your worry about AP vs. regular classes because AP classes would already have high grades, and therefore would be harder to improve to gain money. Regular or lower level classes would give more of a platform for a teacher to earn more money because they would be given a large amount of area to improve the students, but also present more of a challenge.
    This would also avoid creating a cutthroat environment for teachers because they would not be competing against others, but rather their student’s own improvement rates. And if student testing were to be held in completely different classrooms with different teachers, wouldn’t that take away any possibility of cheating? I believe that this system would work well with most classes – but electives like art and music where achievement is impossible to measure could retain the old way of paying teachers. This way of paying teachers would not only give incentive for teachers to work well, but also provide a fair system of pay, one we do not have presently. What’s your opinion about this system? Many technicalities would need to be worked out, but hopefully this expands your view about the possibilities of a merit-based pay concept.

  4. June 9, 2010 at 9:25 pm

    well i disagree with suzy because some not try to listen and don’t like to listen to all that school stuff because sometime i don’t even listen to all that school stuff.

  5. October 13, 2010 at 8:13 am

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  6. Harry
    January 4, 2011 at 6:06 pm

    Interesting blog. In middle-upper class, and most middle class, suburban Chicago schools, teachers are well paid and have good benefits and job conditions. Chicago is mostly a mess, so I won’t speak to it. Their union collective bargaining agreement stipulates the maximum number of hours they have to be in front of a student, how long before and after school they are required to be physically at the school, and much more. Teachers don’t offer to come before or after school to help a child. Parents get 1 parent teacher conference a year, or if they ask, can get one at the end of the other 3 quarters. If the parent calls the teacher and specifically asks for extra help for their child, the teacher will meet, but the result is the teacher may give you a few things to do at home, and if the grades suggest, may talk to staff about testing the child. The test reveals if kids do or do not qualify for math or reading club. If they don’t qualify, no extra help is offered. These underperforming kids fall thru the cracks. The teacher will try to help the kid as best they can in the class, but they have for instance 28 this year. Not to a parent, but you will hear teachers complain if they had extra aides they could better help the kids. Now I don’t know the answer, but the above scenario is not the answer. I fully recognize teachers have a challenging job but in the environment I describe above, I am convinced their is a better way for the student to learn more.
    I the business world, the amount of assistance experienced people provide new employees is hit or miss, even if the experience person is compensated for mentoring. But, the new employee is incented to work harder even if he doesn’t get help, if he wants to advance his/her career. Although competition does have its downside, in just about every realm of life competition produces better results than no competition. I say “just about” because I don’t like absolutes, I can’t think of a situation where competition produces worse output than no competition. So what I consistently hear from teachers is “so and so is so sweet”, “he’s so good at such and such”, here’s a few weaknesses, here’s a few strengths. That’s all good, but I would also like to see a teacher give me a piece of paper stating here’s what you can work on at home if you so desire. I seldomly get that, I have to ask for it. Now the existing system is not terrible, but the teachers are far too complacent, and it could be better. When you talk to parents and teachers in private schools, you get an improved story. That’s why I think there is room for Education Reform. Thanks to teachers out there, it does require a lot of energy and effort to teacher children well.

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  1. March 15, 2009 at 4:53 pm
  2. October 28, 2009 at 6:32 pm

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