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Teacher Compensation: You Get What You Pay For

Contrary to what some “reformers” seem to believe, basic laws of economics apply to the education profession, too. An extremely talented teaching candidate who’s bright enough to earn $50,000 in another field isn’t likely to settle for $25,000 to teach, especially when current policies have turned the job into a thankless slog.

So when we look at our schools and conclude that we’re not getting the kind of performance we’d like, maybe we should ask what would happen if legions of smart, committed people who want to teach, who think that teaching is the noblest of all professions, who have the capability to change young lives on a daily basis, what if these people don’t have to choose between their passion for cultivating the minds of the next generation and their basic need to earn a living wage. What if they don’t have to spend their own money on supplies for their classrooms? What if the workload makes it possible to have something like a normal family life at the end of the day?

This isn’t intended as a blanket indictment of the abilities of all teachers. Make no mistake – we are currently blessed with many who have the talent to do anything they want, and who nonetheless choose to make the sacrifices required to follow their passion for education. I’m fortunate to know a few of these people, in fact. However, the sad truth is that there aren’t enough of them. The pool of talent from which our nation’s schools draw their teachers could and should be stronger – far stronger – and no outstanding teacher I have ever met has told me otherwise. One of the quickest and surest ways to accomplish this critical goal is to improve pay levels across the board.

If elected, I will make teacher compensation one of the first tasks I tackle after taking the oath of office. It won’t be a simple process, and we won’t begin to see the full results for a few years – perhaps not even until after I have left office. We have paid lip service for decades to the nobility of teaching, to how teachers are the real heroes in our society, to the value they represent in our communities and in the lives of tomorrow’s leaders. If I’m elected, our children will spend their days working with the brightest and best teachers our nation has ever seen, and we’ll begin to enjoy the rewards of putting our money where our mouth is.

Some will ask how we’ll pay for this. There’s no question that the EdF1rst initiative will require a significant increase in our total spending on education in the short term. We will not, however, lock ourselves into a “find more money” funding model. Instead, we will adopt a true education first approach. Our teaching and learning initiatives will be funded first – before defense, before social programs, before everything. We will then prioritize the remainder of our spending. This doesn’t imply that other programs aren’t worthy or important, only that we should put first things first. And nothing is more important to Americans than their future.



1. angliss - January 3, 2007

Allow me to say something that may sound egotistical – I’m a damn good electrical engineer. As such, I’ve been asked by technical and community colleges (think ITT Technical Institute, or Adams State College in Colorado) to teach night classes. And when I was unemployed for six months several years ago, I seriously thought about it, but only for one reason – to help defray the bills that were piling up over nearly 6 months of unemployment. I had no intention of ever teaching full time, and one of the reasons is that teaching could not pay my monthly bills.

I’m not saying that I’d be a good professor (and I know I’d be a terrible elementary, middle, or high school teacher), but that I’d at least be willing to consider it in 10 or 15 years if there was enough money in it for me to enjoy the quality of life I presently enjoy.

2. sirpaulsbuddy - January 3, 2007

At some point you’ll have to address the problem of those who enter teaching for the reason that some enter medicine, law, or other better paying fields – mercenary behavior. You can argue all you want about self-interest leading one to help others, but at some point there will have to be conversations about teacher preparation – and the crap there….

3. drslammy - January 3, 2007

I imagine you’d be a pretty good prof, Brian. And I say that as somebody who has a decent understanding of what is required. But every time I turn around, I hear the same damned thing from somebody I expect would be good.

I wish I had a way to quantify how many potentially awesome teachers there are in America who are doing something else either for finanical or the-job-is-a-pain-in-the-ass reasons.

4. drslammy - January 3, 2007

Mercenary behavior doesn’t bother me so much per se – enlightened self-interest has been the cornerstone of so much American ingenuity through the years that it’s hard to imagine wanting a “how pure is your soul?” criterion.

However, teacher prep is an issue, as you say. I know we need reform there, but I also wonder what percentage of what’s wrong on that front traces to a need to prepare the ill-equipped. What happens to that system when it’s all of a sudden full of world-beaters?

Feel free to have a whack at that, because you’re far better qualified than I to speak on it.

5. Teacher comp plank posted « Dr. Slammy in 2008 - March 25, 2007

[…] teacher compensation platform plank is posted here, and can also be accessed off thePlatform page. As always, comments are […]

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