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...Teacher Salaries Aren't the Problem.

Economically, teaching should be a wonderfully middle-class career. You should be able to buy a house in the district you teach in. You should be able to afford to send your own children to college. You should be able to teach for a career and then retire with a pension. You should not feel like teaching is unsustainable, economically.
- Chris Lehman, Principal - Science Leadership Academy

The quote above was taken from a piece that looked at merit pay for teachers from a slightly different angle. It contends that striving to make teachers rich is anathema to what our mission is and should be. This post won’t deal with that issue, but Mr. Lehman’s words still apply.

I wish I could pinpoint when, exactly, in the public discourse over education it became fashionable to blame teachers and their “exorbitant” salaries for the ills of society.

I remember when I was in school, and how it was the joke no matter where you were. Teachers don’t get paid a lot. Ha ha ha!

Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining about what I make. Teaching is my second and final career. I entered this profession later in life, completely aware of the monetary sacrifice I was probably making. And you know, it’s worth it. I’m doing really important work. If the events from this week at our school taught me anything, it’s that.

What bothers me is that where I once swelled with pride when telling people what I did for a living, I now feel like I don’t even want to admit it for fear that an unwarranted and unwanted political debate may break out.

Things are tense in my district right now. Thanks to a combination that includes diminished property values, slashing of state funding, increased unfunded mandates, and rising facilities costs, we are faced with cuts totaling around 23 million dollars. If we don’t pass an emergency levy in March (It failed overwhelmingly in November), jobs will be lost (Some actually already have been.). Programs will be reduced. All extra-curriculars will most certainly be gone. (Some jobs, programs and extras will probably still be permanently cut) All the while the loudest segment of our community contends with all their might that everything would be fine if we greedy teachers would just volunteer a big pay cut.

It’s entirely possibly that I’m being a bit over sensitive here, but I’m tired of feeling like I have to justify every bit of my compensation. We as teachers are open to much more scrutiny. It’s not because, in most cases, there’s excessive waste happening in school districts. It’s because, for many people, it’s the only tax they happen to have a say about. Consequently, since education is a labor intensive industry – usually between 80-87% of a district’s budget (We are at 82%) – the first place people want to focus their attention is at us fat cat teachers with our mink erasers, diamond encrusted chalk holders, and iron grip on the bathroom pass.

By every rubric that our state uses to measure schools (if you put any stock into those metrics as a measure of learning – we’ll leave that for another post), we are very successful at what we do – garnering the state’s highest designation, “excellent with distinction”. We’ve done it by spending less per pupil than any other school in our region awarded that title. The time is coming, very soon, where we will not be able to maintain that level of quality. Too much is being cut, and it doesn’t have to be.

In every aspect of life, most people understand that you get what you pay for – quality comes with a price…except in education.

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