Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Do we really want the best teachers?

As a country we talk about wanting the best people to be teachers, because if we put students first a great teacher makes a huge difference.  Society says that's what we want, the culture says that's what we want. But I just received my contract for teaching next year. And there's a disconnect between what we say we want and what we do.

In my former job in the private sector, you would never think to sign a contract with blank spaces. Yet my teaching contract for next year had a blank spot for salary. And that blank spots' meaning cannot be lost on us and what it implies.  (Also I don't blame the school where I work for the contract I received. They are slave to state funding, they have little choice but to give a contract that the state dictates by their budget.)

It implies that while we say we want the best teachers; we truly are unwilling to do the things that brings and keeps the best people in education.   Unfortunately we really don't want the best teachers, we want smart charitable people. The best typically will go where the rewards are.

In my case I cannot even be rewarded with a guarantee of what my next year salary will be, if I want a job I need to sign it.  Due to how the state does school financing my school cannot even write in the amount that I made this year. How do we expect to attract the smartest and the brightest people to make a real difference?

I was successful in my former job, I was good at my former job. I wanted to teach but it shouldn't have to be charitable. We should want the brightest for education and should be willing to go get them.
I hear and read that teachers make the most difference in a student's progress, yet they're the ones we abuse. We do not make teaching a desirable position, and overall we don't respect the position much either.  I find myself more respected than other teachers. People will say "Oh, you're a teacher."  and I reply"Yes, I teach math," and they go"Oh I couldn't do that."  That implies they could teach anything else but math, not everyone can teach.  And to be good at it, and to keep the good people in it, the public sector must treat its best employees like the private sector.

The interesting part is people talk of what 'has to happen in education.' But there really isn't any drive to fix it. It takes great teachers in education to make a difference, and we are not going to attract great teachers.  Overall you get what you pay for, and with salaries and benefits going in free-fall compared to inflation simply means we will get mediocre teachers. (And the occasional few who was simply want to teach no matter what the financial reward.)

I love teaching. But every year, at about this time,  I have to consider the pay and what I could make in engineering, my former career. If the pay for teaching was simply a little more, so I was not constantly struggling, and if the respect a little more, I'm sure I wouldn't make that consideration.  But those things are not there in education presently so every year I think about leaving teaching.

I'm at a loss for how to change the culture and dedication to education of the United States; how we change how we treat teachers. I'm also at a loss for how to put students first, meaning how to get great teachers. If you put students first, and I usually do, they need great teachers. That means compensation for the best, and a contract with a blank spot for pay doesn't make the best want to stay.