Here we go...
"Teachers Should Be Paid Like Doctors"
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there are somewhere around 3.2 million teachers in the United States. OK, so we good there? Let's go.
The current average salary of a teacher in the US is $46,000 and it, in salary alone (without benefits packages) costs the US $165.6 Billion. If we were to give our teachers a $254,000 raise, that would cost us an additional $812.8 Billion in taxpayer dollars. As a fiscal conservative, and reasonable person, I can't justify that increase. On top of that, we would then need to pay support staff, nurses, administrators, counselors, and others a much higher salary, which pushes our raise above the $1 Trillion annual mark.
You could say "but aren't we worth it? Let's just tax the rich" and you know it won't fly in the American system in which we currently live. I'm OK with that. But hey, let's say it flies (somehow, some way). Since we're getting paid like doctors, we need to be qualified like doctors.
I need to take a test to get into educator school, and it's a tough one. And it's expensive. Yikes, but alright, I can do that.
On top of the 4 years of undergrad and 4 years of medical school, doctors complete 3-7 years of residency before they are licensed professionals. Yes, they are practicing medicine throughout the residency on a modest salary, as we would be able to practice teaching. We would attend our undergrad, get loaded up on the basics, then spend the next 4 years going deep into the theory of education, relating pedagogical principles to the application of standards, and much more. Once educational candidates finish their schooling, they enroll in 3-7 years of residency where they would work alongside a series of master teachers to learn the craft, develop the skills necessary to become a practicing educator, and gain the confidence necessary to handle the grind of an educator's schedule.
Well, if we're going to be doctors, we need to have insurance. We're not--we are educators--but with this new role, we are now required to have malpractice insurance. Maybe we mess a kid up, we do something we shouldn't have, or we don't hold true to our license. Even still, since I live in California, I need to pick up malpractice insurance, and that runs me about $30,000 per year.
Whew! That hurts. But not too bad.
Then, before I get the keys to my first classroom, I get the bill from education school. Yeah, that hurts: $416,000. Unfortunately, I didn't get any help from scholarships or grants, so I'm on the hook for all of it. Financing this out over 20 years is painful, costing me a little more than $3100 per month. Ugh.
Speaking realistically, outside of all the finances, I don't believe our current university system is properly equipped to handle the influx of that many teaching candidates and for that long of an educational tenure, so we would need to bolster the university system and its requirements.
All in all, to be honest, I don't see this happening. At all. But it's fun to think about, isn't it?!
"Teachers Should Make $100k to Start"
I have to tell you, teaching was my last option. Not because of the money, but because I didn't find it appealing. I went into college wanting to be an architect, switched to mechanical engineer, then crime scene investigator, then blood spatter specialist, then mathematician to work on algorithms for aerospace companies, all before "settling" on an interview with a school district that turned into the best decision of my life. It wasn't the money that kept me away from the field of education; it was the monotony. I remember telling my parents that I didn't want to teach because it's doing the same thing 5 times a day for 180 days, then repeating it 30 times. And, because of that, I feel like it has driven me to become a better educator, working to not be the very definition I had drawn up in my head.
But hey, back to the money. For the same reason I don't think a $15/hour minimum wage will solve our problems, $100k to entice the best possible folks for the teaching profession won't work. $100k in San Francisco, California barely gets you a leg up, while $100k in Pahrump, Nevada is enough to get you a down payment on a home after your first year. That is not equity.
Just like the "doctor" scenario above, though, let's play along. All starting teachers are now making $100k!!! Wooohoooooo!!!
Well, you're excited unless you happen to be a teacher of, say, 12 years. How much does that teacher make? With the average salary of a starting teacher at $38,617 in the United States, that means we would all need a bit of a raise, right? To make it fair, we hike salaries by $61,383 across the board. Starting teachers make $100k and everyone else goes up as well. With that, and 3.2 million teachers, we are looking at an additional expense of over $195 Billion, and that's not including our support staff, nurses, counselors, administrators, etc. While far less than the "doctor" route, I don't believe it is reasonable to assume we can scrape that much money into a feasible plan to fund teaching without doing more to support the educators currently in the system. It doesn't matter who is in the Oval Office, who controls the house or the senate; nobody has funded education like that (not even Eisenhower), and it's doubtful that anyone ever will.
...unless we come up with a justification.
The Respectable Teacher Plan
We need to work more
Seriously, friends; educators work for literally half the calendar year (most certificated contracts are for 180-182 days). We are asking for an exorbitant raise while working 50% of the year, or so it seems from an outsider perspective. Industry members, lawmakers, and corporations don't care that you come in on weekends, stay in your classrooms into the evening, and work through the summer.
Therefore, I propose that, the first order of the RTP is to add work days to our calendar; 30 of them, to be exact. This would constitute a 17% increase in work days. These 30 days would not be student interaction days. Rather, they would be the week before school starts (5), one of the two weeks for Winter Break (5), three days of Spring Break (3), two additional non-student days during the school year typically taken off (2), and 15 days after school gets out (15).
The mandates on these 30 days would be under district guidance, but some would include built in time for grading (looking at you, Winter and Spring Breaks) and others would be mandated Professional Development days. Maybe it's attending a conference or two, or bringing consultants in to work with your colleagues, or structured time to do a book study, but days would be intentionally built in to give the time necessary to grow as an educator. You're already showing up to work as a dedicated and motivated teacher, so now it's time to honor that.
We need more support
Yes, we know that 40 to 50 percent of teachers are gone within the first five years. I truly believe that very little of that has to do with their salary. This profession is stressful, it is hard, and there is not a lot of support that we provide to the folks who are new to it. In fact, we often do the opposite. "Hey, you're new! Here are all the intervention classes and lower-performing students because you have to earn your way up the ladder, kid. Don't worry, you'll be fine."
With the RTP, all first year teachers would be in a co-teaching model with a master teacher. Not the current system where teachers are in their own rooms, then go to each other for support. No, you're in the same room with that teacher, co-teaching, modeling lessons, and getting paid to do so. You are coached, you are supported, you are respected. And when you aren't in the classroom, you are working with a district-level coach who works with you on the goals you set, the skills that need to be enhanced, and the theory behind what you're doing. Think of it as a residency-ish model, but without the lab coats or surgeries (hopefully).
In year 2, you still partner with the mentor teacher, but you are now in your own classroom. The coach still has influence over the goals and the monitoring of them, and for the next two years, you work with the coach and the mentor teacher to discuss scenarios, teacher moves, and pedagogy. Lots and lots of pedagogy.
In year 4, you are now granted tenure because you have successfully proven to your master teacher, your coach, and your administration that you are ready for the field of education on your own. Yay, you! That is, until year 8...
We need to adjust tenure protocol
I have yet to see a profession, as a whole, with more job security than an educator. As long as you make it to your third year and first day, don't make the news for a bad reason, and want to stay, you can be a lifer and cruuuuuuuuise on by. Think about someone you work with, or maybe someone you had as a student, and you can certainly come up with one. or two. or three...
Truth is, tenure has its benefits. It offers protections that allow me to take huge risks, try new things, and not be in fear of losing my job. All because I know that my students are going to be better off for it. However, if we are going to increase the respect of teachers, we also have to increase the accountability. For someone who has been in the profession for 24 years, it may have been 21 years since there has been any sort of real accountability. Some districts require PD hours every year, while others have evaluations every so often, but none are really pushing the veteran teachers to constantly improve.
With the RTP, tenure would be granted to all eligible new teacher candidates after year 3, day 1 of their time within the district. Assuming that all responsible parties have signed off on that teacher's evaluations, the next five (5) years are run under the protection of tenure. The teacher is free to take risks, try new things, and work with the appropriate teams to design meaningful tasks and lessons to engage learners.
At the end of that 5 year period, during year 9, the teacher is up for evaluation. If the teacher does not meet growth expectations, there is a plan in place from the administrative team to support the teacher. If, by the end of year 9, the teacher has not shown significant improvement using a set of objective measures, the teacher shall be excused from that site and possibly the district.
This model continues, so the next time a teacher is up for evaluation would be years 14, 19, 24, 29, 34, and so on (good for you if you're still teaching after 39 years!).
We need to be paid equitably
With this added amount of work, and added amount of accountability, and just a dash of human decency, starting teachers need to be paid more. I am very fortunate to have started my career in Palm Springs Unified School District and made my way over to Chaffey Joint Union High School District, two places that respect teachers by way of salary, benefits, and opportunities. In my first 2 years, I shared a 2-bedroom apartment with another new teacher, as she and I both wanted to save as much as possible. I was shocked when doing research for this blog post, and watching the news, that we are somewhat of an anomaly. For a long time, I thought about how ridiculous the thought of getting paid more was, knowing that everyone wants a higher salary and thinks they deserve it! (people even challenge Judge Judy. JUDGE JUDY!)
Rather than pulling a number that looks cool out of thin air, I want to propose something that I think is the cornerstone of the RTP.
Many financial advisors and asset management websites recommend that people pay no more than 30% of their monthly salary on their rent/mortgage. From SmartAsset.com:
"Why 30%? That’s the percentage that the government has used since 1981 to decide who qualified for public housing programs and initiatives. Households that spend more than 30% of their income on housing costs are said to be cost burdened."
With that said, and because we want to be respected and not just get by, I propose that the starting annual salary begins at 45x the average monthly rent of a one bedroom apartment for the city in which the school resides. Sorry, San Franciscans, you don't get the swanky downtown penthouse, but you could rent a place near your school without spending hours per week commuting. That isn't healthy for you, your family, or your profession.
The salary remains at that rate for the first four years.
Every year after the fourth year, teachers would receive a 3% raise, assuming that they make it through their tenure recertification. This accounts for Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) as well as a slight bump for successful years in the classroom (the Social Security Administration uses a 2.0% COLA).
On top of the salary, contracts would include a benchmark bonus, say $4,000 for making it through your first 4 years, $8,000 for making it through your 8th year in the district, and so on.
For folks in San Francisco, this means that some teachers would start at $100k per year, but it also means that folks in Pahrump, Nevada would start at $40k. In New Orleans, Louisiana, new teachers would start around $52k. To add incentive in high-needs areas, just as there is now, districts could offer financial packages to lure new teachers to the area, as well as retainers.
In summary, I think it is possible to ask for the respect that educators deserve, all while presenting something to the public, the lawmakers, and the ones who hold the checkbook that is reasonable, respectable, and fair.
What do you think? If you were in charge of funding public education, what would you do? Do you agree with the RTP? Disagree?
Share your thoughts below, please, as I am really interested in where you stand!
Happy "Respectability" Fishing