Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Unpopular opinion time again

Saw this on Facebook this morning:

It points out to me again the odd dichotomy I constantly see from any number of my teacher friends on Facebook:

  1. Teachers are the bulwarks against stupidity and take extra special care of your precious snowflakes and teach them all they need to know to make it in the world, so you should pay them a lot more than they are already paid.
  2. If a student fails in school, it's not the teacher's fault but someone else's.  It is therefore unfair to judge a teacher on the performance of her students and want to fire teachers whose students underperform.
Again, I say: you can't have it both ways. 

If teachers are superheroes who deserve--as I have seen claimed--to be paid on the level of pro athletes or executives, then there must be a way to winnow out the poor ones, and reward the good ones with higher pay just the way we do with pro athletes and executives.

If, on the other hand, teachers aren't responsible for their students' outcomes, why pay them even what they're paid now?

Here's the data from Salary.com for elementary school teachers in San Antonio (to the best of my knowledge, there's not actually any difference in pay for teachers at other levels, but this is how the website breaks it down):

Now, according to the website of SAISD, the largest district in the city, brand new teachers without a single day of experience start out at $47,900/yr.*  Quite frankly, I can't think of too many other careers where you walk out of college after four years and into a $47K/year job.

To put that in further perspective, according to the chart above, the median income of a school teacher in San Antonio is $48,753.  The median income of San Antonians in general, across all careers?  According to the Census Bureau folks, it's $42,613.  Now, I realize the median income is fairly meaningless, but this still says the following: Teachers in San Antonio make enough to be in the top half of wage earners in the city.

It's at this point where I am forced to admit my blog post took a different turn than I had intended.  I was going to reiterate my usual point that teachers can either be paid well and be held accountable or they can not be held accountable and be paid like the daycare workers they really are (if they're not responsible), because you only get high pay and zero accountability in politics.

I am not, mind you, saying that teachers are paid too much.  Some of them are, a few are probably paid too little, and the rest are probably right on.  I don't have a problem with teachers making more than the median if they will accept at least some responsibility for student outcomes.

I'm not saying "fire them if standardized test scores aren't consistently high."  I'm saying "fire them if they consistently send out e-mails to parents containing multiple spelling and grammar errors" (I've been on the receiving end of that recently).  Or at the very least, deny them tenure and replace them as soon as they find someone better.

I won't bore you with my stories about sub-par teachers, but I will say this**: everybody who has gone through the public school system in the US has had an experience with teachers who need to be fired, and yet the current system makes it nearly impossible to do so.  I will also say that pretty much every other job out there--even ones that pay minimum wage or nearly minimum wage--have mechanisms in place to weed out poor performers, so the claim that teachers shouldn't face any sort of evaluation and consequences for sucking is specious as hell.

* I very nearly published this calling SAISD the largest and lowest-paying school district in the city, because it was true when I first researched the issue back in '04.  Over the course of the last decade, they have gone from being the lowest-paying to the highest-paying district in the city.  My experience with the district as a parent did not give me any indication this has paid off.

** OK, I'll give you this story.  Esther's first Kindergarten teacher (we moved very early into the school year) spoke English so poorly I couldn't understand half of what she said and Esther understood even less; she is the one who famously said she was going to "pre-pair" children for first grade...that woman makes at least $48K.  That actually really fucking pisses me off.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think teachers and parents are accountable (with some overlap) but for different things.

It isn't a teachers responsibility to teach morals and manners. It's the parents.

It isn't the parents job to teach the facts and figures of history/science etc. It's the teachers.

But parents are responsible for inoculating a willingness to learn and listen appropriately. I disagree with the 'one size fits all approach' of modern teaching but I also disagree with the Little Johnny can't sit still and it's not his fault mentality.

Teachers are paid well. They also get more time off then the average folks during the summer. This is balanced by the time some (not all) teachers spent before and after class. -- the 8 to 3 myth is just that for most. After a few years, many teachers have their routines and subjects down enough to have fairly decent hours though.

I would love to see teachers evaluated like any other professional who has to deliver services; not necessarily by the performance of the students but by objective observers covering skills like class room management, ability to present materials in different fashions (appropriate to the individual) efficiency in tasks (good grief our kids had some teachers weeks behind in grading papers), etc

I would also like to see administrator positions opened up to non-teachers. As the current system is structured, a person almost can not become a principal, district exec without being a teacher for years. Few other professions are so limiting in admin roles.