Teacher Pay in the news

Regardless of what you think of it, the recent series in the Ann Arbor News on salary levels for teachers and other school employees has broken open a topic that has to be addressed as we work to build community support for our schools. There are a lot of misunderstandings, myths and suspicions that surround the topic of how much our teachers are paid, and these things really need to see the light of day.

Some of the responses to the articles have been particularly valuable, such as this op-ed piece by a high school teacher in Saline and this collection of letters from teachers and other community members.

The responses address some of the public concerns that were raised (but not always fully explored) in the original articles, such as the argument that teachers are paid generously because they get three months off, that salary “steps” are like giving someone a raise for not getting fired, and so on.

For me, the articles and the responses highlighted the fact that teachers really are (and should be) professionals, but that we (the public) have a hard time thinking of them in the same category as lawyers, accountants, and so on. [I think it’s also fair to say that public impressions of the teachers’ contract, with its detailed focus on minutes of work expected, encourages that sort of thinking.] That needs to change.

The responses to the articles make clear that teachers already work above and beyond the requirements of their contracts because that is what they feel they need to do to be effective. Added to that is the time spent on required continuing education and graduate credit, which qualifies teachers for higher pay after the fact but which is done out-of-pocket.

Does every teacher feel this level of responsibility to their students and their profession? Probably not. But every teacher I’ve had the pleasure of meeting in the AAPS certainly has. And that is the sort of person I want teaching my children.

What do you think?

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Thoughts on merit pay

The more I think about my conversation with reporter David Jesse about teacher pay (I’m “Bruce,” by the way), the more I think that the Scarlett teacher quoted in the merit pay article, Sean McBrady, hit the key point. The appeal and justification for most merit pay plans is that people are supposed to respond to financial incentives. Offer the carrot of higher pay, they say, and teachers will work harder (and therefore become more effective) in order to get it. But will offering more money really make a teacher “better” (however you define that)? I don’t think so.

On the other hand, I do think that teachers would feel better about expending the time and effort it takes to be a really good teacher if they received some recognition for it – and money is only one of many ways of doing that. While this might sound like the same thing, it is really very different. In my experience with educators at all levels, it’s become clear to me that teaching is really a calling, requiring a special kind of person with a special kind of commitment. What we need to do is to offer support for all teachers to be as effective as possible in the classroom; “peer assistance and review” programs, which offer extra pay to experienced and skilled teachers to help their colleagues develop their skills, might be one way to solve two problems at once. People who don’t care about preparing their students poorly, or meeting the needs of the children in their classroom, shouldn’t be teaching in the first place.

That’s really the key thing in my mind: why would I, as a parent, feel any better if one of the two teachers my child might get is paid more because his or her students test better? My child has only a fifty-fifty chance of getting into the “good” classroom; how does merit pay help me? What I want is for both the teachers to be great, and to be sure that my child will be taught well no matter which room he ends up in. And that requires a quite different approach, and probably different solutions.