No Money, More Problems

Recently, I posted a little diatribe on the ills of education, placing a chunk of blame on the shoulders of teachers as well as the programs that prepare them. The feedback I received was mixed; emotions ranged from mild interest to unfriending on Facebook (the 21st century’s contribution to our emotional psychology). I’ve given these responses a great deal of reflection, and have devised a piggyback to clarify and expand upon my previous entry.

Part 2: No Money, More Problems

two of America’s top educators (unfortunately)

Part of what I noticed in terms of the negativity surrounding my prior analysis was that it appeared that I was solely blaming teachers for the breakdown of effective education. Allow me to contend that by saying there are multiple culprits – teachers being just one silhouette on the lineup. Although I think each individual should take personal responsibility for the improvement of their students, the fact is teachers are perpetually on the wrong end of a raw deal.

a great prequel to Schwarzenegger’s hit documentary, Kindergarten Cop

Tying it back to my prognosis that teacher education programs attract untalented candidates and push them through easy courses, this is not a plea for sympathy, but an investigation on why that seems to be the case. I’m sure this will come as no surprise, but the problem starts with teacher salary.

The average salary of a newly hired teacher in the United States is $35,180 ($52,770 for tenured teachers). That’s not bad, right? In fact, it’s relatively aligned with the average income of college degree-holders. Insofar as entry level salary is concerned, teaching is about the same across the country as working for Enterprise Rent-A-Car full time right out of college. Seems like an odd comparison; not to diminish the importance of car rentals, but the education and development of our future generations is much more important, difficult, and laborious.

But let’s consider exactly the services teachers provide. Obviously, teaching requires the delivery of curriculum, administration of homework and tests, and the subsequent evaluation of the material. Cool, but let’s look at it in another way. When parents are away, who do they call to look after their children? If family isn’t available, they get a babysitter of some sort, who essentially is there to make sure the children are occupied and don’t get into trouble while the parents are away. Unlike Enterprise, teachers provide an additional service of freeing up the schedule of parents, which enables them to work. See the parallels?

If this was what your child’s teacher did, how much would you pay them?

Teachers often lament that they are glorified babysitters, since that’s how many parents treat them. Monetarily, however, that’s not an accurate comparison. Let’s lowball how much babysitters make and say they get paid $5 an hour per kid to do nothing more than make sure the kids have something safe to do that won’t get them in trouble while parents are away. Sounds like a pretty meager wage. Now let’s apply that same rate to teachers, who provide the same service (watching kids, making sure they have something safe to do to not get in trouble while parents are at work). The average school day is from 8:30-2:30. Subtracting lunch and recess, that’s roughly 5 hours of direct oversight a day (again, a lowball figure). With the average class size in America being 25 students, that’s 125 dollars an hour for 5 hours a day ($625 a day). Multiply that by the shortest school year in the country (160 days), and a teacher’s salary should be $100,000 a year. That’s lowball figures for doing nothing more than babysitting, let alone investing time, energy, effort and emotions into trying to make the students better people (which is the purpose of learning, in my opinion).

100k salary is more than double what I make a year, but by no means am I saying that an adjusted pay rate would make me a better teacher; pay me twice as much and I won’t be twice as good a teacher. That being said, what kind of people would be more willing to become educators if the average salary was six figures? That’s the problem with the current pay scale. Low level pay equals low level candidates, a problem that we keep coming back to.

So how do we fix it? If the problem was simply to throw more money around, then education would have been fixed with Race to the Top and other government programs years ago. The problem is that we’re currently still mired in the doldrum of mediocre teachers who came into education due to low competition as a result of low salary. In order to justify increased pay, the process of becoming a teacher needs to be more rigorous (as mentioned in my previous article). I believe that, at least in terms of teacher quality (which, again, is just one of the many problems in education), teacher education programs need to require more years of specialized, content-focused training, which will result in the justification (and hopefully the implementation) of higher salaries. From there, brighter, higher-quality people will be willing to look at education as a viable career. This is a measure that, if taken, won’t yield any results for a while, but it is an investment in future teachers. As they say, you can’t put students first if you put teachers last. Paying teachers according to the services they provide is the first step.