Why Not Give Teachers What They Need?

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Too much of the time, I hear the pro and con of giving teachers raises. I don’t doubt most teachers could use a little more money, especially teachers living in high rent districts. The thing is, having been raised by teachers, surrounded by family members who are or were teachers, and being friends with teachers, and even, in my older years becoming something of an educator myself (I know, hard to believe), I find the worst part about a teacher’s life isn’t the slightly lower pay, it’s the working conditions and long hours.

For the record, nationally, starting teachers make $39,000, compared to other starting wages for college grads of $48,000. The average teacher makes $61,000, compared with the average college grad who makes more like $70,000. The problem is the average college educated person, in other lines of work tend to have staff. For every engineer or scientist or lawyer, there is usually a lab assistant, a paralegal, etc. there are also often interns.

There are student teachers, and in overcrowded classrooms, because of citizen initiatives, there are often co teachers or assistant teachers. The thing is, the average teacher, with 20-25 students, gets to class about 7 am, may have bus duty, breakfast duty, or may have a few minutes to organize the classroom before the bell, then, from 7:30-8:00 until 3 pm, with maybe a few minutes for lunch, they are the educators, role models, care givers, and policemen for a room full of kids.

Then they need to spend a few minutes restoring the classroom before they leave unless they are again, on bus duty, or are working part time to pick up a few bucks running the in house after care program, then, about 4pm or so, they get home, and only have 2-4 more hours grading, planning, and other school related activities.

The typical teacher spends about 12 hours per day working on their school related job. Yes they get 10 wonderful free weeks in the summer. Except they usually don’t, there are required training sessions. There is pressure to take summer courses to advance their degrees for both job security and as well as incremental raises for a better level of a degree.

While the average college educated American spends a little over 2100 hours per year earning their $70,000, the teacher works around 2300 hours for $60,000. Effectively working an extra 5 weeks per year for 85% as much money. If the teacher had an in room assistant, for at least ½ of each day, if there was a master teacher, someone who had an advanced degree in education and at least ten years classroom experience, who helped younger less experienced teachers deal with learning and discipline issuses, if we required all student teachers to spend at least a full year assisting in the classroom.

Currently the number of Ed grads is down from around a million per year in 2000 to about 500,000 now. So even if an ed grad is spending a year in a classroom before becoming a full-fledged teacher, there are about 2.5 million more classrooms than student teachers. Of course, if the teaching profession begins to attract more students, this could change.

The point is, for now, we cannot expect to rely on student teachers to fill the gap for assistants in the classroom.

If we do not change the compensation for the classroom teacher, but we give them a lower paid assistant (maybe offer these assistants low cost tuition, maybe give them education credits towards an teaching degree), this assistant can learn from the teacher how to control and educate a class. This person can do basic things, including grading most of the papers from the students, can help keep order, can both cover for the teacher when they need a bathroom break or act as a substitute teacher without the students losing days of education because the substitute is almost always mostly a baby sitter.

On the other end of the spectrum, when a teacher reaches a point where the classroom is no longer enough, they either leave the profession altogether, become very frustrated and become s less effective teacher, or they move into administration. Great teachers do not always make good school administrators.

Creating a position of master teacher, who acts as an advisor, mentor and who helps the classroom teacher with planning, with discipline, and can cover for the teacher or the assistant/substitute when the teacher is out for illness or whatever. Currently, we invest a great deal in getting a 10 year plus teacher and then we either lose a lot of them, or lose a lot of their effectiveness. Of cpurse some experienced teachers may never want to leave the classroom. Ideally the master teacher slot would be available but not a required path.

The master teacher would be responsible for 4-6 classrooms and the pool of master teachers would be more suited to feed the administration positions as they would function as quasi administration quasi teachers.

Would this system cost more than the current system? Would it cost more than the current system with mandated pay raises to bring classroom teachers in line with other college educated professionals? And maybe more importantly, would this system deliver a better educated, more productive citizenry graduating from our high schools and universities?

The Facts

Currently, we pay about $190 Billion for K-12 teachers’ salaries. Some have proposed raises to around $240 Billion.

If we paid an assistant $20,000 for part time work and a master teacher $100,000 for full time work and had an assistant in every classroom for ½ day (or conversely pay them $40,000 for working in two classrooms each day), and each master was shared by 6 teachers, the costs would be around $288 billion.

Currently we pay about $8 billion in turnover/replacement cost per teacher, but there is no information on what the hidden costs of having students taught for weeks, months, sometimes entire semesters without a regular teacher, a swell as the cost to students taught by a teacher on “burnout” but who doesn’t leave.

Does America have $100 billion to invest in its public education? Would the investment pay off in better educated, more productive citizens? I believe the answer is yes to both.

America collectively earns $21 trillion each year, of which we spend about $600 billion per year, or about 3 cents out of every dollar of wealth created. If we spent one more penny out of each of those dollars, I believe we would increase the worth to corporations, the worth to individual citizens, the worth to the treasury, not to mention the improved quality of life for everyone living in America, the reduction in crime, and the lower long term need to give government assistance to a large number of our more poorly educated, less productive and lower income earning members of our society.

Is my plan a solution for every problem America has? Certainly not, but it should help. Would giving teachers a raise while leaving everything else in place, as it is today, make a difference? Maybe, but I think this plan would be most effective, with or without a teacher raise.


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