Friday, March 07, 2008

Breakthroughs in Education Department

My partner N pointed me to this article in today's New York Times about a new charter school in the Bronx where one of the innovations is: teachers will be paid well. The idea is that you could get high quality teachers to commit to teaching secondary school by paying them as though they were intellectuals who did valuable work.

Jeez, why didn't I think of that? Teachers should be paid professionals, rather than robots reciting a set curriculum. Or recent college graduates looking to do a little social service before law school. Or grown-up lawyers who have made their bundle and think that teaching is going to be a snap after thirty years of doing wills and trusts. Each of these solutions, regardless of what their individual merits might be, relies on paying teachers as little a school district can get away with.

"The school," writes reporter Elissa Gootman,

"which will run from fifth to eighth grades, is promising to pay teachers $125,000, plus a potential bonus based on schoolwide performance. That is nearly twice as much as the average New York City public school teacher earns, roughly two and a half times the national average teacher salary and higher than the base salary of all but the most senior teachers in the most generous districts nationwide.

The school’s creator and first principal, Zeke M. Vanderhoek, contends that high salaries will lure the best teachers. He says he wants to put into practice the conclusion reached by a growing body of research: that teacher quality — not star principals, laptop computers or abundant electives — is the crucial ingredient for success."


Now, I would just like to say that these teachers will be making twice the salary of a beginning assistant professor, and more than many (most?) full professors at private colleges and universities. It's 25% more than my base salary, and I have been a history professor for eighteen years. Of course, secondary school teachers work harder than I do too: ten months a year, five days a week, and more or less dawn to dusk. (Well, actually, that is exactly how hard I am working this year -- but I don't have to spend all that time with twelve year olds, a job for which I am not temperamentally suited. So I will take the pay cut, thank you.) And the energy that secondary school teachers have left over for other kinds of professional development -- conferences, writing -- is miniscule. So for this reason alone they should be paid as much or more than college teachers.

But I think this raises another point too, which is what we have not been willing to think about as a path to resolving the job crisis in the humanities more generally and in some of the social sciences: giving up the status distinction between different kinds of educational careers. Why shouldn't people with Ph.D.'s be teaching at the secondary level and be respected for it? Answer: because many of us in so-called higher education regard such teaching as low status work that returns few benefits. So instead we complain endlessly about the quality of students entering college today, and help new Ph.D.'s who don't get jobs put together tenuous strategies for staying on the job market as long as they can reasonably afford to do so. Those who do not make it into a tenure-track job move around the country for one year positions, put together brutal adjunct teaching loads, and so on. Then, when that stops working for them, these intelligent, outgoing people who really wanted to be teachers go to law school. What if teaching high school or middle school were actually regarded as high status work that did not close the door to a university job in the future? I'm thinking.

A very high salary that rewards the quality intellectuals who are already teaching in public school, and that draws more quality intellectuals who have been educated to teach ideas rather than tests -- would be one step towards thinking about education as a continuum, and dismantling the professional "tracking" system that stigmatizes community college and secondary school teachers as second-rank or failed scholars.

18 comments:

Tim Lacy said...

One solution on moving humanities folks to secondary school jobs is this:

Either find a comfortable way to incorporate certification into MA/PhD programs, or lower the certification barriers for those with MAs and PhDs in humanities subjects. Frankly, a secondary school job has its attractions, but spending 2 more years in school to gain full certification/eligibility for that is a joke.

I guess this comes back to the NEA and teacher's unions. That class of guild protects itself effectively from incursions by over-educated folks. Nobody wants dabblers, but it seems that better compromises could be set up. - TLq

Flavia said...

[T]hese teachers will be making twice the salary of a beginning assistant professor.

More than twice, in many places. In the humanities it's rare to see starting salaries much above 60K, even at an R1 (unless they're in a big city, most of my friends at R1s began in the mid or high 50s), and $40K is not an unheard-of starting salary at smaller schools. I'm quite well paid, relative to the kind of institution I'm at and the region I live in. . . but most of my friends who teach high school make more than I do (and have done, for most of the years I was in grad school).

I completely support the move to pay high school teachers more, and I agree that it may be the best way to attract and keep talent. I also agree that teaching secondary school takes more out of a person, with fewer compensations, than teaching college. But I wouldn't mind seeing more money thrown toward college teachers, too!

GayProf said...

$125,000 makes me ponder such a position...

Ahistoricality said...

You have to correct for local wages a bit, but the fact is that I never expect to make six figures as an historian in higher education. Not that I would mind....

Seriously, though, like TR I honestly don't think my temperment would deal well with middle-schoolers. But then, we've all had teachers whose temperments were poorly suited to their students. What matters more is whether they have any idea what their students are learning and how to make that work.

I don't think that certification is a "joke" as Mr. Lacy puts it: we can deal with college students like adults because they are adults (more or less, legally and biologically), but children think and feel and live differently and the responsibilities of a primary/secondary teacher are broader.

peripateticpolarbear said...

The blogger "What Now" has been teaching at a private high school for the last year (after years of college teaching and tenure at a Homophobic U), and it's likely a permanent shift for her...and a happy one.

I used to teach public school. Despite still having a valid certificate, I am unemployable in the public schools--I have too much education (no PhD even, just 2 masters) for anyone to be able to afford me. And due to unions, I could never voluntarily take a lower salary in order to get a job.

It's kind of funny to have too much education to teach.

Tim Lacy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tim Lacy said...

Dear ahistoricality,

I did not say that certfication itself is a joke, but rather that spending 2 more years---the time---to gain certification is a joke. It shouldn't take that long once you've amassed a certain amount of education (i.e. MA or PhD).

In sum, I most certainly agree that secondary and college students are different, and that teaching each requires a special skill set.

- TL

Irie said...

The school district I work for is having to cut $6 million dollars from its budget. There are neighboring districts that have cut teaching jobs because of Arnold's cuts to education. I teach 200 8th grade students and love my job. However, it's difficult to balance lesson planning, contact with parents, and grading with taking classes. The only way I earn substantial raises is to take more classes.

Susan said...

My advisor used to say that kindergarten teachers should be paid most, and those at R1s the least -- after all, at an R1 the teaching was easy, the students wanted to be there, etc. What's the problem? Mind, I've always thought that middle school teachers deserved hardship pay -- much worse than kindergarten, and at times you can see the hormones coursing through the air.

So it is a move in the right direction. I'm not sure I'm temperamentally suited to it, but still... And I agree with Tim Lacy about folding certification into an MA/Ph.D. program. Or providing an alternate route to certification...

Belle said...

That's well over twice what I'm making as tenured full; but there's no way I can see self teaching at secondary level. Like you, I don't have the temperament. I lack the patience and the people skills needed to cope with that age group.

I'm glad to see that somebody recognizes the value of these people; too bad those few are so rare.

The Constructivist said...

Gotta disagree with Tim on two grounds:

1) It's the union's fault that you need to get an MAT? Try accreditation agencies, assessment mavens, state laws first. Unless you think the NEA secretly controls all these bodies....

2) Unless you went to a very different PhD program than I did, about 99% of your graduate education was focused on research. When graduate students asked for more preparation in teaching, they were accused of "whining about teaching again." The teaching experience I did get was such that I considered a class of 20 very large. Admittedly, this is now verging on a decade-old view of the PhD at one place, and even that place has done a lot better on these issues in that time....

That said, I could see a way to agreeing with his central point that a better certification process is needed for people with post-baccalaureate degrees in the subjects they wish to be certified in. Preferably something fairly concentrated on theories and practices of teaching, with plenty of field experience.

And I wouldn't even be writing this if I wasn't working at a department where over half our majors are "English Ed" people and some of my favorite colleagues primarily teach courses specially designed for them.

The Constructivist said...

While I'm at it Marc Bousquet's latest onthis very topic at How the University Works is worth a quick read, at least.

Anonymous said...

I disagree. First, in an underpaid profession (college teaching) why take away one of the remaining perks -- status? Second, the idea that anyone can teach without any training is wrong. Third, moving the need for higher degrees into the high schools just inflates educational requirements in a way that makes a B.A. insufficient for the jobs it used to prepare one for, making it necessary for people to spend ever more years in training (and delaying family and economic independence). We shouldn't be doing that to teachers just because people with doctorates in the humanities cannot get jobs.

Anonymous said...

anonymous 11:11,

I don't know about everyone else, but the ED majors I had in my writing classes were often the LEAST capable of doing the work assigned.

I shudder to think of unleashing that bunch of imbeciles onto the High School populace.

In fact, it might explain why so many incoming undergrads have such a difficult time actually doing college-level work when they arrive, don't know how to spell, can't do fractions or ratios, etc. If their role models were idiots, it might explain why they feel compelled to follow in their footsteps.

I had some excellent teachers K-12 and it saddens me to think that the red brick equivalent of diploma mills have weakened my alma maters.

Anonymous said...

I agree. I taught elementary school full time and now teach college full time, and the elementary teaching was 1000% more difficult. College teaching in contrast is a neverending vacation.

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