Teacher compensation – what is it good for?

I was just talking to a friend and we got off on teacher compensation. Everyone wants to pay teachers more, but is that how we get productivity and guided enthusiasm?

Using myself as an example, I cite the way I started teaching, coming off a very bruising job, and was given large classes and little support. Recently, I discovered that my first full year of teaching was also the first year I taught Russian.

That first year, with my salary quite low, I took a second job, 20 hours at a mental hospital. I think I worked there the following summer and the next school year, although I don’t quite remember. I do remember sitting in a chair at 3 in the morning going over fl teaching techniques, making notes, and drawing up lesson plans.

What could I have done? I could have followed the textbooks in history, government, and Russian. Later, when I added Latin and Spanish, I could have done the same thing, standing at the board explaining the demonstrative adjective paradigm, assigning worksheets, playing a song, and then letting the students work.

Being an outgoing person, I am sure I would have done things to make the class a little interesting here and there – a guest speaker, a film, etc. – and would have engaged the students in spritely conversation. I would have seemed the good teacher, doing his job, being fair to kids, trying to make the class interesting, and my salary would have continued to rise.

What I did instead was to put in those long hours I could steal in the dead of night to go over books I had gone to great effort to find. At home I developed lesson plans, trying all kinds of things to reach kids. It was during these first 2 or 3 years that I watched tapes by Krashen and practically memorized them.

Was I perfect in my work ethic? Hardly. I was tired a lot of the time and grading was not my strong point – we need to talk about that some time. Other than being slow on grading, I always had lessons fully developed and delivered. My observations and ratings were good. Eventually, I stumbled into an exercise program that got me to sleeping regular hours and exercising so that my energy level climbed as I moved into my fifties.

So the point I am making is, how would a better salary have helped? For one thing, it would have allowed me more time to develop my methods and lesson plans; more energy, too. But would it have sent me to conferences where I acquired inspiration, friendship, and resources? No, I did that without good compensation. Would it have sent me to the library searching for more books on fl teaching methodology? No, I did that anyway. Would it have sent me to my friend, Brian’s, room 3x a day to drink coffee and talk methodology? No, I did that anyway.

We did have a merit pay type program. I got on it when it was first offered – the money was very good – but got off right away when it appeared to be b.s. Now there are some teachers in my district who would really take me to task for saying this, but to me it rewarded people who were meticulous but not innovative, good at color-coding tabs but not aware of the effects of their methods, anxious to complete a task but reluctant to question the value of the task. And so on (ducking brickbats).

I always helped other teachers who had to be on it for the money but always felt it allowed teaches to feel they were accomplishing something without really questioning what they were accomplishing, and that drives me nuts.

Teacher compensation, IMHO, should be fair and adequate and teachers should have their dues and conference costs paid and books and journals should be made available to them, but salary compensation is not going to get someone to go the extra mile, to question what they can do for that one lost kid in the back, to get excited about their field. You have to chose those teachers, and they will, for good or ill, do those good things regardless of the compensation.

P.S. Don’t tell the conservatives this. They’ll reduce teacher salaries to minimum wage.

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