September 09, 2007
"If we pay teachers more, would we get better teachers?" On the one hand, I know of a lot of people who should be teaching, who could teach and do it well. Some of them homeschool their kids, and their kids are pretty intelligent. So I know that they could teach, IF they decided to.
But they don't. They're in private industry making six-figure salaries. They live in upper-middle-class communities, join country clubs, and drive nice cars. They support their local churches. Some teach Sunday School.
If your choice is getting your masters to take a job making $35,000 or taking one making $100,000, it's not a tough choice to make. $65,000 a year isn't worth giving up to get summers "off" (and ask teachers how much of their summers off are taken up by school so they can keep their license). And yes, most states are now requiring teachers to get their masters degrees to keep their licenses (Ohio is one of those states). So teachers have to have an advanced degree to make $35,000 a year. Is it worth it financially? Not for most people.
So who is taking the $35K job? A couple different groups of people -- one is the people who can't do the $100K jobs. The people who aren't qualified. The old adage "Those who can, do. Those who can't do, teach" is often quite true. So we're not getting the best teachers for the money.
On the other hand, there is another group of people who go into teaching. The people who want to make a difference in kids' lives. The people who want to train the next generation. These people would do it no matter how much they get paid -- and they do. They enjoy it. These are the teachers that kids remember years later. And their students go on to great things because of their influence and dedication.
I know teachers who fit both descriptions, and some who fit neither. I've read memos sent out by English teachers that didn't survive my own proofreading (and yes, I used a red pen on them!). I've talked to history teachers who were only in it so they could coach. I've also talked to teachers who could have been doing anything else, but they stay in the classroom year after year, because they care.
We're requiring more and more from our teachers -- more education, more accountability, more time. Shouldn't we be giving them more? Shouldn't we reward the teachers who could be doing something else, but aren't? We spend boatloads of money on just about everything else -- why aren't we willing to invest in our kids' future by paying their teachers enough to make it worth their time? Education is broken, it's true. Why are we expecting people who are making just above minimum wage to fix it?
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