Saturday, April 16, 2011

Teacher Pay

The next question in my series of questions from friends comes from my friend Susan, who is a fellow AF spouse.  I met Susan when I was part of the online spouses group, and she has been a valuable asset for me.  I know I can always go to her if I have questions regarding almost anything having to do with AF life, and if she doesn't know the answer she will find it for me!  She's also very intelligent and witty.  Susan is a wildly independent woman, jetting around the country on ski trips, and supervising the construction of their vacation ranch- I think you have to be independent to manage life as a military spouse.  We can't sit around and wait for our men or we'd be sitting forever.  Gotta live life NOW!  Thanks for the question Susan!

Susan asks: Why are teachers so grossly abused for such little pay?

Obviously as a teacher I will have a biased opinion about this.  But trust me, I don't have the answer to any of it!!  I think that it is unfortunate that teachers are having more and more responsibilities added to their day, well beyond teaching in the classroom.  Hall duty, bus duty, lunch duty, tutoring, sponsoring clubs, mandatory field trips, etc......things that have to be done.  However, when you add more students to classes, and you take away planning time that teachers could use to make copies, write lesson plans, grade papers- teachers can only give so much.   It is very frustrating.

On top of that, depending on where you teach, the pay you earn is really low compared to the education and training you are expected to have to get a job.  I know that when I was teaching in NC I was earning less than $27,000/year my first year.  I had a Bachelor's degree, and was licensed.  NC's teacher pay uses a tier system, and for every year that you teach you get bumped up to the next level, where you earn incrementally more money.  I estimate it takes about 6 to 8 years of teaching to reach a comfortable income where you don't feel poor anymore.  With the recent budget problems, teachers have been advancing to the next tier, but not getting the pay raise.  If you are part of a family where both parents are teachers- imagine the impact this has on your finances!  Add to that the furloughs that have been added to the equation last year, and you have the equivalent of not just no raise, but a pay cut.  It's disappointing to say the least, when you've worked hard to get your degree, get your license, work your tail off all year, and get no reward for it.  It's no wonder that many teachers quit the profession before they've even taught for 5 years.

In Virginia the only position I could find was a half-time position.  Since I had earned a Master's degree I was on a higher pay scale than if I had a Bachelor's degree- so with my 3 years of experience I was earning $21,000/year to teach HALF TIME.  I was very happy with that!  I was just glad to be working, and thrilled that I could earn that much and work 20 hours a week.  However, with the budget problems that Virginia (let's face it EVERYONE) is going through- since I was half time and didn't have tenure, I was in the first group of teachers laid off at the end of last school year.  Luckily we weren't living off of my income, but if we had been our family would have been having a very hard time!

One thing I DO think needs to be addressed and changed is the system of determining tenure, and attaching teacher pay to performance.  Tenure seems to be a good idea in theory, but I think it ends up protecting teachers that don't necessarily deserve it, making it harder for bad teachers to be fired.  As a military spouse I may never stay in any school system long enough to earn tenure, meaning I will always be on the chopping block first.......but what if I'm one of the best teachers in the school??  I'm not being arrogant, I'm just making a point- giving a teacher tenure has NOTHING to do with their ability to educate.

As far as using test scores to determine teacher pay.....I can see positives and negatives about this.  First, of course there should be some kind of system to determine who the good teachers are and reward them, and who the bad teachers are and either retrain them, or fire them.  BUT- using standardized tests does not seem to be working.  How long have we been doing this?  There have been NO MAJOR gains in the state of education in our country, and anytime people claim that they can use test results to prove is debated because of accuracy of testing data, and accusations of cheating.  Sometimes fantastic teachers teach their asses off, yet the test scores don't reflect the blood, sweat, and tears that went on in the classroom.  As an Orchestra teacher, there is no standardized test to prove what I am teaching my students, so how would they decide what to pay me?  How would I prove my worth in a system like that?

Many people say, "Oh it must be so nice to get the summers and holidays off" if we just sit back and collect our paycheck for not working.  There must be a misunderstanding- teachers work for 10 months and only get paid for 10 months.  Or you can have your paycheck spread out for 12 months and you get smaller checks.  Have you ever gone without income for 2 months?  It's pretty difficult! Some teachers even end up getting summer jobs to cover them.

I think teachers have become the unfortunate scapegoats in a world where we want someone else to blame.  At some point parents and students have to be held accountable for their own successes and failures as well.  Teachers don't choose the profession to get rich, or because it a nice, easy, cushy job.  With all the teacher bashing and union debates going on recently, it has certainly started to feel like being a teacher is not a respectable thing anymore, and that is a shame.

1 comment:

adrienne_sakura said...

my mom is a teacher in NC. she is being forced to go on a field trip to atlanta with her fifth graders. 7a-10p. planned for her enjoyment by the PTO. excellent right?
for the same reasons i agree that tenure is not a great idea. standardize testing only if the kids want to learn and success. which is sadly unlikely.
this is one of the country's biggest problems. it would be interesting to see how they deal with these issues.