Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Teachers and the Future: Why Won't We Pay Them More?

I am excited to participate in this blog and be part of a unique exchange of ideas that are expanding beyond the traditional channels of education reform; moving from academics to the world of social entrepreneurs. I hope my input will bring greater focus to the teaching profession and the need to elevate its status. Now, more than ever, we need to recognize and value teachers and reward them for the significant role they play in our nation’s economic future.

While a classroom teacher, I became deeply aware of the deterioration of the teaching profession. As the need for better education grew, the respect, and power of teachers became significantly less. Teachers became the problem and the scapegoats; we were being held responsible for everything wrong with the system and not having any power to influence the decisions that directly affected our ability to be effective. Then, adding insult to injury, trying to live on an annual salary of $32,000.

In 2004 I started a non-profit for teachers. It is called EPIC (because that is the kind of reform we need). Real and meaningful change to the education system will happen when we start paying greater attention to the teaching profession and its status.

Who in a young person’s life is most directly responsible for their academic success? Studies have shown teachers.

If we are as concerned as we say we are with our nation’s economic future, shouldn’t we be doing all we can to make sure our children receive the best education possible? So many have answered "yes", but it stops there.

EPIC is currently working on developing a pilot project that aims to solve the recruitment and retention crisis in the teaching profession through higher pay. One is already happening in New York, The Equity Project (TEP) Charter. They are paying their teachers $125,000 a year. The EPIC Project consists of individuals who want to expand those efforts into the Public School System.

Isn’t it time teachers made $125,000 a year? Currently, the average salary of a teacher is $31,000. When you look at the amount of education teachers receive, the level of responsibility expected and their value to society and then compare it to other professions, one could argue teachers should be paid much more.

As the only non-profit focusing on this issue, we believe that targeting recruitment and retention through higher pay will significantly transform the profession and the system. In exchange for paying teachers more, teachers will be expected to do more. They will construct curriculum (which is dominated by curriculum companies---curriculum is expensive!), direct school policies, handle administrative duties and be expected to work all year. Most teachers I know want this control especially if they are going to be compensated for it.

To make it possible to pay teachers more, would require a major shift in attitudes and perceptions. It will also challenge us to re-examine priorites and the current role of administration and other forces that have dictated much of what goes on in our school systems. Do they help or hurt education? Are prinicpals necessary? What other forces have caused our schools to suffer?

If the priority is, and always must be, student achievement, then we have to honestly ask ourselves hard questions about what are REAL needs in education. I know that if your give a great teacher a cardboard box, they will build a castle.

Simply put, if we want to give our children the best education to strengthen our nation’s economic future, we must attract the most talented individuals to the profession and keep them. Pay them!

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1 comment:

Matt Mello said...

I couldn't agree more! Great discourse on the significance of teacher compensation.

- Matt Mello, Director of Technology, Holly Area Schools