How to Pay Teachers Right — Even on a Budget
By Matthew Lynch
It is no secret that teachers in the United States receive little recognition and a salary below their abilities, and that their training after hire consists of professional development that rarely fosters much growth. There is also little incentive for teachers to strive to earn more because pay isn’t based on excellence, but on time on the job. This can lead to quality teachers feeling burned out, with no recourse for better pay for their efforts. With a little creativity, this truth can be reversed—even for districts on a tight budget.
Teachers on an assembly line
There is a tendency for American teachers to be treated like factory workers. The No Child Left Behindprogram holds teachers entirely responsible for their students’ performance on state achievement tests, regardless of the many variables that influence students’ performance on these tests. For example, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to prepare a sixth grade student reading at a second grade level to perform well on a state achievement test. It is no wonder that standardized testing has caused schools and teachers to panic.
In addition to concerns about job security, low compensation, and student performance on high stakes test, teachers must also worry about subpar principals who are overcompensated for the successes of teachers. Although administrators deserve to be fairly compensated for their work, their pay does not seem equitable compared to that of teachers. If administrators are to be compensated fairly for the job performed, then teachers, too, should be fairly compensated.
But what about the bottom line?
When considering these issues, a major mistake made by reform groups is to table efforts at improving teacher salaries because the expenditure does not fit into the school budget. If children are America’s most precious commodity and the focal point of the nation’s educational system, then the lack of funding is no excuse to forgo efforts. Many school reform efforts are cost-effective and can be implemented by resourceful educators. When there is a lack of money, change is contingent upon the faith and commitment level of the faculty and staff. Money should not be wasted on model programs and unsubstantiated trends.
Considering factors such as teachers’ professional development, while at first may seem unrelated, can be a key factor for successfully improving teaching salaries as well. When analyzing budgets, it is important to set aside money to hire teachers with the ability to create and teach in-service professional development programs. The ability to train the staff and educators internally will save the school money, and will give the teacher/expert a feeling of usefulness. For instance, a teacher with 30 years of experience and a demonstrated ability to obtain amazing results from her specific teaching strategies might create a professional development seminar to share her expertise. This saves the school an enormous amount of money, and saves the administrator the trouble and cost of hiring a consultant. These savings can then be passed on to the teachers, perhaps in the form of bonuses, etc.
In the end, schools operating with limited funds to support reform efforts will need to be both resourceful and creative in order to affect positive change and strive toward equitable pay for superior teachers. Forward thinking leaders, committed and imaginative teachers, and a supportive community can contribute to change that improves the working environment of our teachers – and their salaries too.