The Electric Commentary

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Poll Question: Teacher Salaries

I'm just curious. Let's say that you have high school age children. Would you rather that their teachers be licensed by the state, or make $100,000 per year?

I would rather see them make close to six digits, because that would ensure that the brightest, most qualified, most productive individuals would be interested in teaching my child. It is, of course, quite possible for some idiot to scam his way into a $100,000 job. It happens all the time. But at that level of compensation the teacher pool is also drawing from the doctor pool and the engineering pool and the lawyer pool. That's one smart pool.

As it stands now, the teaching profession can't really compete with the other professions in terms of pure monetary compensation (although that whole "summers off" thing is quite attractive in its own right), and I suspect that the overall quality of applicants suffers somewhat as a result.

This is not to say that today's high school teachers are bad. I had several very good teachers at my entirely mediocre public high school, but I would say that the bad outweighed the good by a substantial margin. Some people truly love teaching, and they will probably do a good job regardless of pay and benefits, but some people (most people, probably) need a bit more.

On the other hand, I am of the opinion that state regulations are of no value whatsoever in ensuring quality and ethical standards in a given profession. I'm a member of two state Bar Associations, and I see no reason that either organization should exist. Bar Associations, as far as I can tell, are basically unions which drive up the wages of lawyers by limiting access to the workforce, and which, in turn, engage in rent-seeking by charging outrageous dues and by requiring attendance in Continuing Legal Education classes which are, to be perfectly frank, a complete joke.

While neither factor should be the sole criterion in deciding which teacher is better, I would feel slightly better with the well-compensated teacher.

15 Comments:

  • Triple digits?

    By Blogger Nye!, at 11:41 PM  

  • Whoops! I think I was thinking in terms of "100K" in my head. The error has now been fixed.

    By Blogger PaulNoonan, at 7:14 AM  

  • The summers off are appealing, but I think people who have never taught don't understand that the concept of "time off" is more complex than just saying teachers get a lot of it. For instance, in my current job, I can take time off whenever I feel like it, if that time off comes in a small increment. If I want to take 10 minutes off to go to the bathroom, or get a drink, or check a blog, no one is stopping me. When I was a teacher. I got five five-minute breaks and a lunch break, and that was it. If I had to go to the bathroom, I had better do it quickly enough that I could fit it in between classes. If I wanted to go get coffee, too bad. There wasn't a place I could get coffee in five minutes. (Some schools may have coffee in the teachers' lounge, but mine didn't.) If my boss at my current job came to me and said, "We're offering a program where you can get three months off in the summer, but if you take it, you can never take a break of more than five minutes at a time during the rest of the year," I'd decline.

    By Blogger MDS, at 9:59 AM  

  • That makes sense. It would be weird to have all of my breaks be the "3 minutes between class" that you have in school.

    By Blogger PaulNoonan, at 11:26 AM  

  • Doctors, lawyers, and teachers are often mentioned in the same breath as ‘professionals’, yet for all purposes, the income discrepancy has always been enormous. Some districts will pay in the $80K range (still less than most doctors and lawyers I know) for teachers with 20 years and a masters or doctorate—both of which are hard to attain on a younger teacher’s salary. This obviously makes it difficult for Joe Average teacher to even get to that level without a mountain of debt.

    Having summers off sounds attractive…to people that have never been teachers. Not only is mds right about the break situation (it is absolutely impossible to leave a room of 2nd graders alone for even a restroom break), but most teachers end up working somewhere all summer anyway because they aren’t making enough money during the school year.

    You know my take on the state certification systems, especially given the great variation in the organization and efficiency of said systems (ugh, makes me ill just to think about it). State certification will happen for anyone willing to jump through the right hoops, take the right classes, and pay the fees (huh, not much different than the Bar). This renders all state certification boards I’m familiar with all but useless. I taught with some disengaged, incompetent, uninterested teachers with top-level certificates from that particular state.

    I am a fan of National Board Certification (http://www.nbpts.org/). Independent, nongovernmental, with a strict application and selection process. It costs in the neighborhood of $2500, but I would pay it if I had six figures waiting for me on the other side.

    By Anonymous Nicole, at 11:43 AM  

  • One problem I think is that while getting the most challenging students to excel is extremely difficult, learning the subject matter for teaching is not. How well a teacher does with challenging students is harder to judge until they start. Thus is easy to make the qualifications for being a teacher, at least compared to doctors. More competition would change this though.

    Another problem is that teaching is not a profession that directly creates profits/wealth. Thus it is undercompensated compared to its societal value. This is why public defenders and assistant district attorneys make so little compared to other lawyers - in fact, they often don't make much more than teachers. Meanwhile, if I go show people houses as a job it wouldn't be unusual for me to clear $200K annually.

    By Blogger Scott H, at 12:55 PM  

  • the lamest thing about the bar exam is that you have to go to law school in order to take it. (at least that's how i understood the rules when i looked into it)

    if the test is really a certification, why do they care where you got the knowledge required?

    By Blogger ahren, at 6:05 PM  

  • Couldn't agree more. If a law firm wants to say it'll only hire people who have both finished law school and passed the bar, that's fine. But what would it hurt if, say, a person with five years of experience as a paralegal wants to demonstrate his knowledge of the law by taking the bar exam?

    By Blogger MDS, at 9:03 AM  

  • I agree with you Ahren. I also find it a bit crazy that the Bar Association pushes lawyers to do lots of pro bono work while simultaniously limitng those who can practice to members of the bar. If they were really concerned about providing legal services to people with less money, they would be better off letting people practice without law degrees. Sure, the law degree is pretty useful whe you're doing complex work for big companies. But your average social worker could handle a divorce. They certainly could with a three month course or something. The same is true for public defenders. They're so overworked right now. But they wouldn't be if they let non-lawyers do the job. You don't need to be a lawyer to handle 90% of what public defenders see. An apprenticeship type of program would do the job just fine.

    By Blogger JesusIsJustAlrightWithMe, at 9:37 AM  

  • In fairness, I believe that the state of California does allow anyone to take their very difficult Bar exam, whether or not they've gone to law school.

    By Blogger PaulNoonan, at 11:23 AM  

  • True, but in fairness, some would suggest that that is the reason you think their bar exam is very difficult.

    By Blogger DannyNoonan, at 11:54 AM  

  • I would rather the three months, plus spring break, plus, winter break, plus christmas break. Are you kidding?

    I remember having "reading time" when I was in elementary school. Come on now, what about when you have different kids read from the book? What about film strips? Don't get me wrong, it is a hard job, but it ain't working on the line or construction in the winter time. You got to get up early, but class is over before 3:00. I know there is a lot of work after, but still. I'm not saying its not really hard to be a teacher, I would go nuts and be very bad at it, but, don't act likes some of it isn't pretty sweet, like the part where you can eat animal crackers, paste and do art, and get all that vacation.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:36 PM  

  • I haven't had a summer off since I was fifteen. Not any of the nine summers I've been teaching, and not any of the summers in the forseable future, either. Though once I get the last of my student loans paid off, it'll be a little easier--but that's the point at which I replace my 1997 Saturn.

    Sigh.

    By Blogger Jay Bullock, at 10:15 PM  

  • Today is the midpoint of my summer vacation. (I teach 10th-12th grade English at a public school.) I am currently taking 6 graduate credits, not for edification (that's incidental, and I already have a masters degree) but for the salary increase. Without these credits, my raise would be only 2.2%, which is offset by the annual increase in my share of insurance premiums.

    To anyone who thinks teaching has some "sweet moments", let me correct him or her. You know what I'm doing when that kid is reading out loud for the class? I'm anticipating stopping points, helping with pronunciation, providing corrections, formulating potential questions, devising future assessment...plus ensuring the 29 other kids remain on task. A teacher has to make 1000s of decisions a day, often in a split-second and often several at the same time. Do people "on the line" or in construction do that? By 3:00, I am mentally exhausted from the interaction with the 135+ students who march through my classroom every day, many of whom don't want to be there and are either passive in their resistance or outwardly oppositional. Perhaps I am even physically ill from the germs they leave behind. And sometimes I am even emotionally upset over something a student or parent said or did. None of this I can show, though.

    I am starting my 5th year of teaching this fall and I'm already considering other professions that pay more. Teaching is the only thing I ever truly wanted to do though. I am damn good at it. But I can't afford to do it much longer, and that kills me.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:16 PM  

  • To answer your question, yes. Others do have to make thousands of decisions a day. Other jobs leave people emotionally exhausted as well, and they don't get summers off. I didn't say teaching was an easy job, it is hard. I don't disagree. And good teachers are important and it is hard to be a good teacher. I'm with you. I just don't understand why so many teachers act like the summer off, even if they work another job, isn't a huge perk. Saying it is doesn't make teaching any less hard or important, and I will agree that teachers make low salaries compared to how important their job are.

    But hey, six credits during the summer is not a heavy course load by any means. I have friends friends' parents who are teachers. I have noticed they have a lot of time off in the summer, excellent health care, decent homes, and can retire with solid pensions at 55. Maybe that's changing, but that sort of security is changing in a lot of fields.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:04 PM  

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