Thursday, November 1, 2012

What Do Teachers Make?

About a month ago, it was World Teacher Day. It's okay if you didn't notice. We don't tend to do much to celebrate teachers in the U.S. the way that many other countries do. Teachers here work about 500 more hours a year for about 40 percent less pay than our counterparts in countries that often best us on national tests.

Hours worked and pay received are just two measures of value, but I think they are important ones. These measures can be compared across professions and they are a quick way to discuss the problems of expecting teachers to move data-driven mountains without giving us the resources to attract and keep the best and the brightest.

One professional facet that isn't as easily measured is respect. For educators with at least a bachelor's degree, teachers are the bottom of the pyramid. Becoming an administrator constitutes a "promotion." And while the job of an administrator is also extremely important, stressful, and time-consuming, it isn't classroom teaching. We need classroom teachers who feel like they can stay classroom teachers but also have room for professional growth. In just a year and a half as a classroom teacher, I have seen colleagues leave for more lucrative careers with less stress or decide to start phoning in their instruction because their job can feel like a bit of a dead end.  Both of these outcomes hurt students (as does the incredibly high teacher turnover that many Title I schools face).

So, what can we do to help teachers feel more respected in this country? A report McKenzie did while I was still in graduate school suggested that starting teacher salaries at $65,000 and topping them off at $150,000 would encourage 68 percent of high-achieving college students to consider teaching. That sounds awesome, and I'm for it, obviously, but I think in this economy it's not feasible to demand that sort of pay. Nor is it very empathetic toward the millions of Americans who struggle so much more than my colleagues and I do to make ends meet.    

But what about a national campaign to recruit teachers? To explain the importance of teaching? To highlight just how hard these often bombarded people work? EdWeek had a blog post about how countries around the world encourage caring, high achieving folks to become teachers. I'd never really thought about how we don't celebrate teaching nationally, although it makes perfect sense as a recruitment strategy. Every year at my university, hundreds (thousands?) of kids sign up to be wined and dined by executives in the finance and consulting industries. They are willing to do a job that consumes their life because they feel special for even considering it. And sure, the money helps.

Here is my favorite video EdWeek shared. I got a little teary at my desk and challenge you not to as you remember all of the teachers who encouraged you to do your best even when you had no idea what your best might mean. How cool would it be if we spent a little time and money encouraging people across the country to do the same?

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