from a public HS teacher (Gov't, Religion, Soc. Issues), who is eclectic (Dem-leaning) politically and Quaker (& open) on everything else. Hope you enjoy what you find here.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

A political issue -- Teacher Pay 

Okay, so since I am a teacher, people will think this is self-serving.  Actually, I offer this diary not because of my own-situation:  I am well-paid by national standards, and because (a) I bought my home well befoe I became a teacher; (b) my wife is a GS-13 at Library of Congress, our financial situation is not as dire as that of many teachers.  

For many teachers, however, the financial situation is not as comfortable, as is shown in a piece entitled Let's Enact No teachers left Behind (in salaries), which appeared in the July 2 Long Beach (CA) Press-Telegram, and which has also appeared elsewhere. If you are concerned about the quality of public school teachers, you also need to be aware of their financial realities.  I will offer some selections below, but as always I encourage you to read the entire piece.

Here's the opening paragraoh:

This is a bizarre and unsettling time in the lives of students, parents and teachers. It is a time when school lets out, and hundreds of thousands of teachers start their second jobs to keep their rents and mortgages paid. One day they're shaping minds, a moral force in the lives of the young people they teach and know, and in some ways the architects of the future of the nation. The next day they're serving cocktails and selling plasma TVs at the mall.

The authors offer a statistic that says it all:

Not counting those who teach summer school, about 20 percent of the country's teachers have second jobs (often during the school year, too), and a majority of those jobs could not be construed as enhancing universal respect for those who teach.

The article gives many examples of the kinds of work.  They talk with one man who works selling electronics at a Circuit City during the year, and this summer does that and runs a dlivery business.  At the store

He works alongside an old friend, who makes double selling electronics what Benner does teaching.

Earlier the article had talked about encountering people like AP Bio teachers working as travel agents or English teachers painting houses.  Then one reads this:

If you live in the Bay Area of California, you might find the head of Redwood High School's science department helping customers at the Plumpjack Cafe select a wine to complement the soft-shelled crabs. Skip Lovelady has not missed his Saturday night waiting shift there in 12 years. He can't afford to. If he could get more shifts this summer, he might take them. But they're not available, so he's teaching summer school.

Something of the reality of teacher salaries:

But teachers' salaries are well below what similarly educated professionals expect. The average salary for a teacher in 2003 was $45,771. A teacher with a master's degree might get an additional stipend of anywhere from $500 to $2,000. Across all professions, however, the average beginning salary for those with master's degrees is $62,820 about what a teacher might earn with 15 years of experience. It is no surprise, then, that in a Public Agenda study, 75 percent of teachers considered themselves "seriously underpaid."

Here I note that I work in an expensive area, I am paid on a Masters + 60 credits schedule (which few districts have), I have 10 years experience plus credit on the salary level for several years of military service.  I make a bit more than the cited beginning salary in other fields for those with Masters degrees.  Even so, after 10 years of teaching, I am still making less than I earned in 1994 when I left my civil servant position in data processing in local government, a job which paid about 10% less than I would have made in the private sector.  That is, after 10 years, with two masters degrees and most of a doctorate, I still make less than I did in a job which did not require a masters, and for which a bachelor's degree was desirable but not necessary.

The article goes on to note that while NCLB requires highly qualified teachers for all students, it really does not provide the resources to help increase teachers' earning potential.  It then offers the following:

Imagine that situation in the private sector. A chief executive decides he wants better performance from his company. He issues a mandate that all employees be highly qualified. Then he proposes, as No Child Left Behind does, that the staff members be more tightly controlled, that they conform closely to his top-down directives and that they be tested yearly to keep their jobs. And he wants all of this without raising salaries a penny. Who would want to work for such an outfit?

This represents a major part of the crisis in education: hiring and retaining qualified and dedicated teachers.  Not only is the pay low, but so much of what teachers are increasingly required to do is preparation for standardized tests whose results are used punitively.  That is not teaching.  And consider the following:

Add to that the prospect that if they're unmarried, or if their spouse doesn't make a good deal of money, their ability to buy a home or car will be limited, unless they take on that second job. It's no wonder that only 18 percent of recent college graduates say they would ever consider teaching.

The authors note that we place demands beyond those of increasing "academic performance, and that this leads to real and darkly humorous problems:

We have unarticulated expectations that teachers be morally and ethically unimpeachable, possessed of dynamic, compelling personalities and agile minds and capable of guiding the learning, for example, of 35 hormonally charged 13-year-olds right after lunch.

After asking that of them, we pay them so little that they have to find work selling electronics and cleaning our houses. Is it any surprise that 45 percent of new teachers leave our schools within the first five years?

The authors talk about how increasing teacher salaries can make a difference,  They give an example from Montana.

A few years ago, the residents of Helena, Mont., decided that their schools needed improvement. So they started with teacher salaries. They increased average pay some $8,000; pushed starting salaries to $30,000 from $23,000; and built incentives for improving performance, working on professional development and taking on responsibilities outside the classroom.

In years past, a vacancy in the Helena school system would attract perhaps a dozen, mostly underqualified applicants. Last summer, Randy Carlson, principal of Capital High School, needed three new social studies teachers. He got to choose from a pool of more than a hundred candidates.

The authors suggest that using bonds to increase teacher salaries is at least as justified as using bonds to build a sports stadium.  Now, while long-term debt for ongoing expnses such as salaries might not seem to make sense, the authors argue

The district would get the best teachers, families would get better schools, businesses would settle in the city with the great public schools, property values would go up, and everyone would be happy.

They also argue that the increased salaries would attract and retain better teachers, which in the long run would benefit everyone.

I offer this article as a "think piece."  Most of the teachers I know are not driven primarily by money, but many I know who leave the profession do so because of financial pressures.  They want to have a decent -- not extravagant - standard of living.   If you remember what I said about my salary, I should point out that the average single family home in Arlington VA where I now live is well over $500,000.  Even in Greenbelt MD, where I teach, it is around $260,000.  I know about second jobs -- I have done SAT prep, and I coach.  I know that often the 2nd jobs can be far more remunerative:  one fellow teacher used to work every Friday and Saturday Night at one of the fanciest restaurants in DC as a waiter.  In those two nights he made more than he did as a teacher with a Masters degree in the Arlington schools, whose pay is about the highest in the DC metro area.  I know teachers who paint houses, who work in stores (primarily for the employee discount).  When it is necessary to do this during the year, something has to give.  Either one takes away time from the preparation for working with your students, takes away time from your family and your partipation in the world away from school, or both.  

And at some point for many teachers it becomes too much.  So they leave.

I am now 59.  I came to teaching late.  We do not have children, so we do not face the future expenses of college.  My parents are dead, so I have no burden there.  My wife's parents have enough resources that we should not have to shoulder support responsibilities for them.  And as noted, my wife makes a decent living from her job.   Thus we are financially far better off than perhaps 90% of those households containing public school teachers.  I can afford to stay in the classroom.

Were I 24-25 years old, and wanting to start a family, I'm not sure I could withstand the financial pressures teaching places upon one's life.  Thus I choose to speak out about thjis issue precisely because I am speaking on behalf of others.  I am also speaking for the future of public education in this nation.

Money will not solve our educational problems.   But lack of money will prevent solutions.  It is a little discouraging to think that people are willing to devote resources  that wind up as corporate profits for testing companies and for -profit entities running "charter" schools because "test scors" are low, but will not provide the same resources to improve the quality of teaching.  

If we do not improve the financial conditions for teachers, we will continue to lose good teachers and be unable to hire others who would be good teachers.  Of equal importance, far too many who are willing to remain in the classroom will not be able to give it all the attention and energy it deserves, because they will have to take on the second job during the year, the job during the summer.

I hope this diary has some value to those who read it, and I hope that number is huge.

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