Thursday, July 15, 2010

How Much Are Teachers Worth?

I came across this article in today’s Chicago Tribune, titled “Chicago Area Teachers Top State in Earning Six Figure Salaries.” In the article, the following was discussed:
About 4 percent of teachers statewide earned $100,000 or more -- 5,457 teachers -- but the vast majority worked in the Chicago suburbs, with heavy concentrations in north Cook, DuPage and Lake counties. In all, 32 Chicago-area districts paid at least 20 percent of their teachers six figures -- five times the state average.
And this:

Teacher salaries are based on a pay scale that gives pay hikes for acquiring more years of experience, college credits and degrees. It's not unusual for teachers to get double-digit raises in one year when they can combine hikes for both education and experience. It's also common to boost pay by coaching sports teams.
Surprise, surprise. Teachers who acquire advanced degrees and work longer make more money, as do teachers who take on added work such as coaching sports teams. This shouldn’t be surprising to anyone. The article’s slant is fairly negative on the teacher pay issue, until:

National Education Association official Bill Raabe said more teachers should be making $100,000.

"If we're really going to attract people into the profession and do the kind of work we expect, we're going to have to pay them,'' said Raabe, the union's director of collective bargaining and member advocacy.
I agree with Mr. Raabe. The $100,000+ salaries are not starting salaries. My mom was a high school teacher in Michigan for over 30 years, and while she didn’t make $100,000, she came pretty close toward the end of her career. (She just retired and informed me that walking out of the building for the last time was the happiest day she’s had in a long time.) She made that money, in part because she got a Master’s degree and an Ed Specialist’s degree, and because she had been working for many years. She also chaperoned dances and was advisor on many student clubs. She spent hours after and before school tutoring students who were having trouble.  And I'll tell you, she worked hard, and came home exhausted every single day.

What does this country want?  Do you want intelligent kids going into teaching and good, educated teachers?  Or do you want to pay teachers a pittance?  Because the fact is, you can't have both.  On the one hand, there are complaints about the state of education and quality of teachers.  On the other hand, there are complaints about teachers making too much money.  (For the record, I don't think getting paid $100,000 after busting your ass for 20 years is particularly horrifying.)  What is fair pay for a teacher? Teaching doesn’t end when the bell rings. You have lessons to plan, papers to grade, parents to call, classrooms to decorate, after school tutoring, and many other tasks. You have to deal with kids who have no respect for authority.  You have to deal with parents questioning everything you do and blaming you when their kid doesn't feel like opening a book.  If teaching pay is limited – no matter how many degrees you get or how many years of experience you accrue – what kind of people will be attracted to this profession?  If we want better teachers, doesn't it make sense to offer some incentive?  How many will be motivated to get a Master’s degree in their field if it makes no difference in terms of pay? Isn’t it kind of nice that high school students have the benefit of teachers with advanced degrees?

Take me, for example. I was very good at math and science, but I never even considered teaching. (Well, in part because my mom strongly advised me against it.) I ended up getting an engineering degree.  If you want good teachers, you have to provide some incentive for kids to go into teaching over other higher earning professions, and money provides a lot of incentive. Granted there are people who do it for the love of it and to help people, but let's be realistic.  At the end of the day, teachers also have families to support and bills to pay.  It's a pipe dream for any to hope that you will get intelligent, good teachers continually entering the profession when they could be making more money doing something else.  After all, it takes a certain kind of person to choose to be a glorified babysitter of 150 or more kids on a day to day basis.  I'll tell you what, I couldn't do it.  Isn't that worth something?  Teaching can be a stressful job, and teachers have to put up with a lot of crap on a day to day basis. My mom has told me horror stories of what kids in her school and classes have done, on the pressure to pass kids who shouldn’t be passed, and of parents screaming at her and questioning their kid’s grade.  If you want better teachers and you want intelligent kids to go into teaching, you can't expect to pay them peanuts.  

Why do we put such a low value on teachers in this country? Why should someone in Congress make so much more than a teacher? Why should other governmental type officials who have been working for 20 or 30 years make so much more than a teacher who has been doing it the same length of time? Why should it be a scandal that a teacher with multiple degrees who has been teaching for 20+ years makes $100,000? It shouldn’t be. I know I complain about raising taxes, but I would not complain if my taxes were raised to increase teacher salaries, or for that matter, to increase police salaries. Both of these groups are seriously underpaid for what they contribute to society, in my humble opinion.


  1. Totally agree. I would love to see that whole "No Child Left Behind" program end as well. It's a shame that teachers' entire lesson plans revolve around one standardized test that determines federal funding.

    What do you think about raises based on student performance? Of course when an incentive is based on scores, some teachers will fudge numbers.

  2. I am against rating teachers based on student performance. Sometimes you just cannot force a student to open a book, do the work, and study. A teacher shouldn't be penalized for that, because there is only so much a teacher can do. Some students just don't want to do it and don't care about doing it. Parents also have a part in this, and I think people tend to forget that.

  3. It always infuriates me here in Richmond, VA (where the school board is riddled with crooks) how everyone wants to dance around parental responsibility.

    My dad had a few unwavering requirements of me when I was growing up. Don't get arrested. Don't get pregnant. Do well in school.

    The consequences would have been brutal, in addition to the obvious self-inflicted consequences. Why are those things so difficult to instill in a child? Those are reasonable things to demand of your child, right? It seems like a decent life kinda falls into place after that.

  4. My parents had the same requirements of me. And a decent life does fall into place if you comply with those requirements. But it's really amazing how much high school students have changed since even when we were in high school. I'm absolutely floored by some of the things my mom has told me that go on in her school. (Well, old school! She's so happy to be done with it all. What's sad is that she was a good teacher, and she liked teaching, but the kids just got so out of hand she couldn't wait to leave.)