Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Is it really about the money?

US Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, was a part of a panel discussion held at the University of Michigan School of Education recently (watch it here). Part way through, the discussion turned to teacher pay and Secretary Duncan again called for a substantial increase in starting teachers' salary. (To be fair, the issue was not raised by the Secretary - see around 46 minutes.) For some reason, the idea that paying teachers more is a solution to our educational issues rubs me the wrong way.

Don't misunderstand, I would accept a pay increase no questions asked. It would help me to get some things done around the house and might allow me to pay someone else to do my chores so I can focus on teaching issues - maybe. Here's the thing, though. I didn't get into education for the money. In fact, I got into education in spite of the money.

My first real job was as a computer programmer. It was only a paid internship but it was enough for me to know that it was not the kind of work I wanted to do for the rest of my career regardless of the money. Contrast that with my internship as a teacher (what we call student teaching). Not only did I not get paid for that work but I had to pay to do it.

Still, I loved it! I got up early, stayed late, and volunteered for lunch duty. And I know I am not alone. Nowadays, I work with teachers doing various internship experiences and I see all the extra responsibility that they willingly take on at their placements. Many times they do this along with some other job that pays them so they can turn around and pay to do what they love - teach.

Because of this first teaching experience, I struggle attaching my paycheck to my teaching. Each time I get paid I am grateful for the support I receive. However, getting paid more or less would not change the way I go about my professional efforts. Most of the teachers I work with seem to have the same mentality.

The idea that more pay would get current teachers to work harder to improve their teaching or get better people into teaching is insulting. From my perspective, many of the best and brightest are already in education or training to be a teacher. Increasing teacher pay simply to attract someone attracted to more money does not seem wise.

Should teachers be better compensated for their commitment to our most precious national resource? Absolutely! Does our educational system need to be improved? Constantly! Let's pay teachers more and let's improve education. But these are two separate issues that seem to be getting confused.


  1. *Compensating* teachers more seems wise- just not monetary compensation. Give teachers more time, safer environments, more trust... Those things seem in much shorter supply than money.

  2. Good point Robert--more custodians so I don't have to spend my free time cleaning my classroom so it's sanitary and presentable!!

  3. These are great examples of things we can do to improve teaching and attract teachers. Here's another idea: rather than doubling new teachers' salary, how about hiring twice as many teachers? This would keep teacher-learner ratios low and could promote more collaboration between educators.

    Your comments just go to show that we need people in education making the decisions about education.