You Get What You Pay For: A Teacher's Opinion of the State of Education
In Jessie J’s popular song Price Tag the lyrics to the chorus are “It’s not about the money, money, money”. However, the longer I’m in education the more I’m convinced that just like any other profession, it is about the money.
Why does society pay sports figures, surgeons, anesthesiologists, and dentists so much money? Because they want the best. I’ve heard it said that those who can… do. Those who can’t… teach. I disagree with that to an extent, but there is a rising level of discontent growing among educators today who are becoming disillusioned with the entire field of education. Those who leave often do it because they can make more money with fewer headaches elsewhere.
The Secret to Increasing Education Quality
If we want to change the quality of education as a whole, somebody is going to need to step up and fight for the salary of educators nationwide. Any educator can tell you that there is money in education (massive amounts of money); unfortunately it doesn’t go to teachers. It funnels itself into companies that provide software, surveillance, testing support, and a myriad of other educational and consultative services.
Many of these companies are born by teachers and administrators who leave the field because they saw an easier way to make more money in education. Unfortunately, those who have the acumen and ability to successfully build companies like these are also the highly competent ones that we need to keep in the schools working with students.
I’ve read the popular essay about how education is not a business and how educators have to work with everything they’re given. We can’t throw things out or only use the finest ingredients. It’s a great pat on the back for educators and brings up relevant points, but I don’t think it emphasizes the issue as well as it could. It doesn’t tend to make people really stop and think about what is going on in education from the outside.
The ugly truth is that great teachers are leaving and bad teachers are staying. Not only are bad teachers staying, but after receiving tenure, bad teachers become difficult to get rid of and I would argue that many times their teaching gets even worse. I’m not against tenure, but that’s a different discussion altogether.
So somebody from outside our education bubble might ask “why keep a teacher if they are bad”? Unfortunately, many times they are kept because of one of two reasons:
1) Administrators already know what they have. Bad is better than “really bad”.
2) Bad is also better than nothing at all (from a logistics standpoint).
Nobody wants a classroom with NO teacher. If there is a hiring freeze (increasingly common for districts) or a lack of candidates applying, you could potentially end up with a room with no adult. Which means an administrator or somebody else will be forced to spend the day with the students. This is impractical as well. Think of a CEO being forced to do something that others can do, but because his company refuses to pay enough to get somebody qualified to apply, he has to do it every day. The question then becomes, who does the job of the CEO if he is busy with other things? Somebody has to do it. Many schools in this situation end up hiring a long term substitute, which usually doesn’t help with student progression.
If the salary was attractive enough, we would have an abundance of teachers instead of a teacher shortage. That alone would increase the quality of those who are hired as well as give administrators and districts more leverage and options when they do have a teacher who is not performing well.
Studies show that the biggest factor in student achievement and success is quality teachers. We will never attract and retain quality teachers by spending large sums of money on programs, technology, and “professional development”. The best teachers are the best people and to attract the best people you have to offer wages that compete with what they can make elsewhere, whether we want to admit it or not. It’s not a matter of putting more money in education; it’s a matter of redistributing where we spend the money that is already there. Until we take care of this fundamental problem, education will continue to flounder in this country.