Time Magazine’s recent articles, “‘I Work 3 Jobs And Donate Blood Plasma to Pay the Bills.’ This Is What It’s Like to Be a Teacher in America.“ and “13 Stories of Life on a Teacher’s Salary” highlight what has been all too clear for those of us teachers working in a public school system and raising a family in the 21st century – teacher salaries in many school districts are simply not high enough to make ends meet. (1)

The end result is that good teachers too often leave the profession in order to pursue more lucrative careers – or seek administrative positions that are rarely made available to teachers within their home district.

Adequate salaries also limit the ability if school systems to attract teachers in increasingly competitive and emphasized areas including math, science, and technology. (2) This means that an increasing emphasis STEAM-focused education will only exacerbate inequality between the haves and have-nots school districts.

If we are going to capitalize on the ability of technology to level the playing field, we must find avenues to increase teacher compensation in our poorest districts. Simply spending money on the stuff of 21st-century learning – networks, devices, and applications – will not produce results if we don’t also invest in people.

Some other thoughts on teacher compensation:

 

  • Paying teachers more would allow us to recruit and retain higher quality teachers

 

No one chooses to go into teaching for the money, but teacher salary levels can play a role in the decision to go into teaching, in particular for math, science, and computer science graduates.2

We also need to retain our most talented teachers and competitive salaries will help in this effort.

 

  • Merit pay programs only pay off when they promote professional collaboration rather than competition – but even then they are not worth it.

 

The use of merit pay to improve teacher effectiveness is counterproductive when such salary schemes pit teacher against teacher. The price paid in terms of collegiality and cooperation is not worth any increase in motivation. My opinion is that merit pay that is offered to entire schools is not worth the administrative price. We are better off paying all teachers more and encouraging the type of professional collegiality that promotes higher student achievement.

(1) Reilly, K. (2018). ‘I Work 3 Jobs And Donate Blood Plasma to Pay the Bills.’ This Is What It’s Like to Be a Teacher in America. Time Magazine, 192(12). Retrieved from http://time.com/longform/teaching-in-america/

(2) Rickman, D. S., Wang, H., & Winters, J. V. (2017). Relative Teacher Salaries and the Decision to Teach. Contemporary Economic Policy, 35(3), 542-550.

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