Teacher Pay

In a stack of papers called Instruction.

  • Feb
  • 04
  • 2006

An interview with Eric Hanushek about the public education system in California piqued my interest while channel surfing this afternoon. The idea of paying teachers by measure of salaries of the other jobs being passed up listed among his many suggestions.

That sounds completely absurd to me; that kind of supposition should never enter into determining anyone’s pay. We cannot begin to guess the types of jobs that an English major might lead to anymore so than what career field my students will make their ways to within the next 10 years. There are too many variables, not the least of which are personal interest, motivation, and intelligence.

Just because someone has majored in math or science does not mean that he or she is ready, willing, or able to go into some skyrocket-pay career. Should schools need to pay that person more simply by viture of the subject area of the degree held?

Public schools shouldn’t necessarily pay more for math and science teachers simply to lure them away from other jobs in the private sector that would otherwise pay more than public schools. There’s no guarantee that the extra money paid will be worth it and no guarantee that the math or science teacher would even make it into the career field we think we’re pulling them from. Just as possibly, those people would go into a job that pays less than teaching.

There’s also the idea, implicit in this concept and explicit in so many discussions of this topic, that math and science teachers are worth more to schools and society because the skills learned in those classes seem to be directly applicable to the world we live in.

Howgwash. Businesses across the nation want their workers to have literacy skills. Content-area knowledge can be learned on the company dime, but those basic literacy skills are what workers need to have when they walk in the door. Doesn’t that bump Language Arts teachers to the top of the heap? Math and science skills are truly important, but without literacy, those math and science skills are worthless.

All of this, combined with what a friend mentioned to me a few weeks ago, leads me to a core question: should teachers all be paid differently based on value to the school and not years of service? Or maybe as determined by the amount of training it takes to become a proficient teacher in that field? If it takes 6 months to become an adequately trained PE teacher and it takes 4 years to become an adequately trained calculus teacher, should their pay be the same? What about pay determined by the amount of responsibility put upon the teacher to assess students away from campus? I’m thinking of the huge difference between PE or performing arts and science or English teachers with that last idea.

We should move away from a predetermined pay scale and start paying teachers what they are worth. I am open to the discussion of how we determine that worth, but let’s at least start that discussion instead of assuming that a teacher who has been in the district for 23 years is worth more money than one who has been there 3 years. Right now, unions maintain that seniority is the way to determine pay and, as a result, the good teachers are paid just as much as the bad; the teachers who work hard are rewarded just as much as those teachers who don’t give a crap about the kids or the work they’ve just collected. That must change if we are to start believing in the promise of public education again.

Hanushek’s suggestion means that we get away from a “business as usual” mindset and start experimenting with the way the system runs, looking at options so that teacher pay is equal with teacher skill. His final idea was that then, and only then, will we see a revolution in public schools. And I agree.

Face it: students are guinea pigs and so are teachers. Let’s experiment until we find something that works better then the current paradigm. Hey, we have plenty of “control” schools: thousands of schools are teaching the same tired curriculum that’s been in place for far too long, running according to the same rules that have been in place for even longer. As long as we take enough caution not to jeopardize a student’s future, there’s really no harm in setting up some tests to see “what happens if…”


1. CaliforniaOperator says:

[2/9/2006 - 11:56 am]

Did you say set up tests???????

In the State of California we take Tests…
A beginning teacher takes:

They have a Mentor from the BTSA program for 2 years every time they start a new job.
I hear tell of another teach I can’t verify that.

New teachers go in having taken these assessments to prove their ability and knowledge prior to being able to stand in front of a classroom.

My question to you is; could a teacher with 10 years or more years experience endure and pass these tests? Therefore, yes there should be tests, but they should be for those teachers with experience to prove that their education is continuing as well as that of their students. Going to a few Seminars every few years does not mean these individuals are learning.

When I have been to seminars I have learned one thing, teachers are the worst students. Seminars are often a time to go meet with old friends, chat during the lecture and have a nice lunch all at district expense. Meanwhile, the guest speaker stands up front struggling to be heard and get there methodology heard over all the visiting.

Something to think about next time you ask your students to be quiet while you lecture.

2. MO says:

[2/9/2006 - 12:35 pm]

something needs to change about the way teachers are paid. I agree. I am a math teacher in a very poor urban district. I am only a third year teacher, (with no background in education – majored in engineering)…but i know that i work MUCH harder to ensure student success than some of the veteran teachers that work alongside me. there is a teacher at my school that never grades a paper – just gives all students a 70 on their report cards. i grade every assignment, with meaningful feedback. i take a personal interest in my students, and devote ALL of who i am to my work. i raised the state standardized test scores of my students by 14% in my first year – that has to be worth something…a bonus?? heck – i dont even need the extra money, a working copy machine, paper and textbooks would make me happy…so i wouldnt have to drop my personal money at Kinkos every morning on my way into work.

but the question now becomes, how do we determine which teachers get paid more? because, clearly, years of experience is not evidence of good teaching.

do we look at standardized test scores? but not all subjects are testable. and teachers in low-income areas work much harder for smaller gains.

do we look at principal evaluations? but then there is the dilemma of subjectivity. the state could set a rubric – but not all schools within a state are created equal (see lack of copy machine statement above).

do we look at hours put into work? but how do you trust teachers recording the time put into grading papers on a couch during a football game?

i do believe that teaching salaries should be merit-based. i just am not sure on the best way to measure merit…i guess that is the next big question to tackle…

3. Todd says:

[2/9/2006 - 3:28 pm]

CA Operator:
You misread my point in the closing paragraph. By writing “set up tests,” I was in no way suggesting that teachers endure even more standardized testing. I’m not really sure how you reached that conclusion, though maybe you read that line out of context. I wasn’t even talking about teachers taking tests; that never entered my article. I was refering to experimenting with the public education system as a whole, not teachers specifically. We should be testing the way things do and don’t work by changing things around. And as far as those tests listed that CA teachers take, I only had to take the CBEST and my credential was earned a mere 8 years ago. I agree with you in terms of showing that you are still worthy of that credential. Maybe not paper tests, but something that shows you are doing good things with your kids.

Take a look at Teachers Have It Easy. They do a good job describing a few reforms in teacher pay. The book discusses a pay system in Denver, which passed just recently. Let’s see how it works.

4. Harveen says:

[9/28/2006 - 4:27 pm]

I justed wanted to ask how much years does it take to become a teacher, how much money does it take to do a degree in a university, for teaching. How much is the salary for a day. I live in Ontario, Canada. Thanks

5. Anonymous says:

[3/5/2008 - 10:40 am]

how much they pay a pe tacher

6. Todd says:

[3/16/2008 - 12:37 pm]

A teaching credential is typically earned through a year of additional classes past one’s undergrad degree. During that year of additional classes, there are sections of student teaching to take.

The first block of student teaching usually requires several hours of observation and a two-week stint as a teacher of one class.

The second block of student teaching usually involves taking over two periods for an entire semester of teaching (roughly 90 school days). That means the person is the teacher for about 60 students. Also during that block, the person teaches a full load of classes for two weeks. In my district, that means that there are five classes to cover for two weeks. This is all voluntary, unpaid work.

As for the salary for a day, that depends on years of service, units earned beyond a bachelor’s degree, and the budget of the district. All teachers are paid using the same scale, regardless of subject area.

Sorry this took so long! Anyone have requirements in your state that are different than what I described?

7. tammy says:

[9/9/2009 - 1:02 pm]

I am currently in school to become a teacher of secondary English. I can tell you it is going to take five years of school to receive this degree I have to get a masters. I think that if you look at what a teacher gets paid compared to the amount of education it takes it should be more. I think that if half the people had to spend the day with 30 hormonal teenagers they would definitely want a lot of money.