Teachers, pay, and buy-in


I ran across an article today on Facebook about a private school trying out an idea to pay teachers $125,000 a year, and let’s see how student test scores are impacted.  Amazingly, there seems to be a positive correlation.

Okay, that sounds great:  pay teachers what they’re really worth, more along the lines of an attorney or a doctor — because after all, what are teachers doing?  They are creating the next generation of leaders in our society.  That’s a big responsibility, if a teacher takes his or her job seriously.

I was a teacher myself once upon a time and took my job seriously.  That year (1978) I made about $8,000, only because the teachers decided to go on strike for more money.  The contract I signed at the beginning of the year was for about $7200.  Not only did I teach eight whole classes every day, I also coached the junior and senior class plays, and essentially wrote my own English coursework for Short Story and Composition, because we did not have enough books to go around for every student in the class.  $8,000.  At the end of the year, and being 7 months pregnant, 22 years old, and so tired I just wanted to go on vacation for a year or two, I swore I would NEVER EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER AGAIN be a teacher, even if my life depended on it.

And it wasn’t the money:  it was the lack of support, the lack of students’ interest, the lack of parental involvement or concern.  The parents were concerned, of course, if their kids didn’t get a good grade in my class, but were not involved or concerned about what their kid was doing on a day-to-day basis in my class. I actually went through about a two-year period of PTSD after teaching, it was such a rough experience for me.  I was paranoid, I was “on” all the time, it was just one of those experiences that shows you you’re in the wrong line of work.  After my first-year-teaching disaster, I wanted to write a book about how education in this country needed to be changed, and I know it needs to change, but honestly I had no idea how.  Now, however, 36 years later, I have a few ideas.

That was my personal experience.  Now back to the article.

Here’s the setup:

It’s common to hear that teachers should be paid better — more like doctors and lawyers. In 2009, the Equity Project, a charter school in New York decided to try it: they would pay all their teachers $125,000 per year with the possibility of an additional bonus.

The typical teacher in New York with five years’ experience makes between $64,000 and $76,000. The charter school, known as TEP, would pay much more. But in exchange, teachers, who are not unionized, would accept additional responsibilities, and the school would keep a close eye on their work.

And the students did better, and the article shows a chart.

BUT there is more.

How TEP hired and trained teachers

The $125,000 number was eye-catching, but it was just the start of the school’s approach to teaching. Teachers were also eligible for a bonus of between 7 to 12 percent of their salary. The teachers, who are not unionized, went through a rigorous selection process that included a daylong “audition” based on their teaching skills. The typical teacher already had six years of classroom experience before they were hired.

Teachers at TEP also get more time to collaborate and played a bigger role in school decision-making than teachers in other jobs. Teachers were paired up to observe each others’ lessons and provide feedback, collaboration that experts agree is important but happens too infrequently. During a six-week summer training, teachers also helped set school policy. 

The workload at TEP, where teachers also take on administrative duties and had an average of 31 students per class, is fairly heavy even with the extra pay. But the school also had more teacher turnover than usual. Nearly half of first-year teachers didn’t return for their second year, either because they resigned or because they were not rehired. Teacher turnover has been found to have a slight effect on student achievement.

Overall, though, the results are promising. The researchers caution that this is just one study of a small school. It’s not meant to prove that TEP’s methods can work in every school nationally. But it appears to suggest that, at least, the approach worked at one school.

That’s my bolding in red.

My take-away from this article is this:  give people more responsibility for decisionmaking, give them time to collaborate, let them know they count, their opinion matters, and their part in the “big picture” is crucial. 

To me, that degree of respect, that buy-in, that participation, means more than any dollar you could give me.

Also, my experience in teaching:  I never, not once, got a thank-you from any student, ever, and not any parent, either, while I was teaching or tutoring.  I did when I was doing student teaching, but not when I was an actual teacher.  It was a HUGE contrast for me, then, when I became a court reporter and went in to just sit in to observe life in the courtroom as a court reporter, and then when I actually *was* a court reporter.  It was an everyday experience to be thanked by the judge, by the attorneys, by the participants in the case, by the jurors — jurors!!!  Anyone!  Just for being there.  They thanked me.

Not once, when I was a teacher.

To be thanked, as a teacher:  it would have made a world of difference in my world.




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