We need to first get past this idea that there is a single educational system out there that is in need of fixing. There isn't. If you're White, if you're (non-Southeast) Asian, if you're affluent, if you're living within commuting distance of a major city, but remain cartographically separate from the metropolis, things are just fine. This may be obvious, but accepting and fully understanding the essential cleave is critical to mounting any kind of reform.
ME: You tell people you're a lawyer and what's their first question?
[BRANDEIS]: What kind of law do you practice.
ME: Right. And that's fine, but for teachers, it's the wrong question. For teachers, it's not what you teach, it's who.
Then I say this: Pay every teacher much, much more. A lot more.
Start at like $100,000 more a year. Screw it. See what happens.
Not because we deserve it. Not because we work so hard. Not because we love the kids so. Not because it represents reparations for generations of self-inflicted deprivation in pursuit of some noble ideal. No, no, no, no.
Do it because it might help bring about the change we're all working toward. I don't believe the education system -- either version of it -- has a problem that can't be realistically addressed with the simple influx of more talented people into the system. This is one of the reasons the charter exodus seems like such a waste: How could all this disastrous inertia possibly stand up to the vast talent level that is currently splintered and tangential? What bureaucracy or burdensome system could possibly resist the reforming might we have kicking around, unfocused?
More talent will yield better results. And talent is attracted to two things: 1) challenge, and 2) prestige.
Teaching has enough challenge to choke a goat, but we've inaccurately communicated the challenge, constraining the sweep of narrative with tales of annoying parents, unwieldy kids, paperwork, pop-in evaluations, grade deadlines, administration-required photocopying (you know who you are), and the meeting that runs two minutes past contract. These are petty annoyances that come with the territory, and by continually pushing them to the forefront of the conversation, we mask the true, vitalizing challenge of this profession. We never get around to talking about the rigor of instructional design, lesson delivery, assessment creation, the creative demands of teaching nineteen different ways, nor the vision and skill necessary to motivate, manipulate, and empower.
We talk about teaching too much in terms of standardized testing, scripted (or not) curriculum, and just wanting to (cue: heartfelt sigh) touch young lives. Too much about stamina and the ability to work with all those poopy principals. We do not speak of it enough as the mechanism that ensures meritocracy, as democracy's safety harness, as the toolbox of social and economic mobility.
If we reject the surface-dwelling-and-complaining model and learn to truly discuss the challenges in this profession, we still encounter the trouble with prestige. Career paths are prestigious occasionally for the awe-inducing job titles, but increasingly for the money. Money equals respect and admiration, at least in the abstract, and teaching is hurting big time here. If we drastically increased the pay scale, for teachers, for admin, for district office managers, this equation could be changed. What would happen if you could make as much money teaching second grade as you could investing people's money, or googling, or developing commercial real estate. What then? What if you could make as much money principaling as you could lawyering? What if you could make as much money superintendanting as you could venture capitaling? Seriously, what then?
This is a complicated, multi-faceted job requiring an array of skills to do well. It should be discussed and compensated as such.
That's what I told [Brandeis], and however it looks in the harsh light of sobriety, it sounded pretty damn good during that period in which I had been dramatically over-served.
Clearly spurned by the force of this blog, the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research has published a report entitled "How Much Are Teachers Paid?" The report, which claims that teachers work about 36.5 per week (I think I hit that number by Wednesday), asserts that teachers are paid more than other "professional speciality and technical worker[s]." The authors then use this glaringly flawed low hours-worked figure to calculate a relatively high hourly "wage" number, making it appear as if teachers are making substantially more per hour than they really are. The study fails to look at whole wage, wage relative to training, nor does it factor in post-tax classroom expenditures, only a tiny fraction of which are tax deductible.
The real flaw here, however, is perpetuating the notion that because teachers work relatively little, their pay is not only satisfactory, but actually higher than it ought to be. Which is great, except you'd never here that same argument applied to commercial airline pilots. Now those guys barely work at all. Taxi the plane to the runway, take-off, and then chill for a few hours while flight attendants bring you coffee until it's time to land. They put in a few hours, maybe, each day. The navigating computer does the rest. They're printing money, but no one would ever accuse them of being over-paid based on total hours actually worked.
Why? Because what pilots do during their actual working hours of taking-off and landing is fundamentally, critically important. As in, life or death important.
Teaching is no different.