Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Let's Pay Teachers $100,000 Per Year And Expect Transformative Work

I recently posed on Twitter, as well as FTF, my proposal to pay teachers $100,000 per year. Naturally, I got a mix of reactions mostly asking how, why and what for? Beyond figuring out the finances (which I admit is a daunting task), what would be the rationale(why) and the expectation(what for)? Well, here you go:

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The Rationale

There has been a dramatic decline for years, each year now, in the numbers of people choosing to enter teacher credentialing programs and ultimately the teacher profession. As an example, enrollments in teacher preparation programs in CA have declined by 75 percent over the past decade – from 77,700 in 2001-02 to 19,933 in the 2012-13 school year, the last year for which figures are available ("New California Teaching Credentials Decline for 10th Successive Year." EdSource. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Nov. 2015.).
The reality is that too many young people, who are educated and career focused, are not seeing teaching as a viable career option - either financially or professionally. Many have the chance to pursue other career options that more than likely will initially and long-term pay better, as well as offer more autonomy, creativity and mobility. At least that is their perception. We have faced teacher shortages before, but none at this current level in terms of new people entering the career. There are many indications of a new, globalized economy and this could be one of them: smart, creative, innovative and educated people do have options. And currently, teaching is not seen as one of them - at least to many of them.
So, to fix this problem we will have to naturally figure out ways to make the professional more attractive. There are many ways to make working for an organization, or a profession, more attractive. However, in a competitive environment, nothing may matter more than financial compensation, especially if you have college debt. The idea of offering more money to get teachers may seem unusual or strange, but make no mistake it’s already happening. For example, many school districts have recently offered signing bonuses for teachers to sign with their district. During a shortage, districts have to compete. It’s a seller’s market and teachers now have, in many cases, more than one choice on where they teach or work.
But the idea of paying teachers considerably more than they make now is not just based on attracting them to the profession. It’s also about keeping them in the profession. We’ve all seen dozens of reports that about half of all teachers quit the profession within five years. And even if this is statistically exaggerated, or inaccurate, even 25% is too many. We can’t sustain professional growth and development this way. And if fewer are entering the profession, these numbers will have an even larger impact.
However, what I mean by all of this is that we need to transform the job. If we pay teachers what they deserve (and believe good ones are worth more than we could ever pay), we can truly redefine the profession - and ultimately the experience for our students.
All of us have known for a long time that great teachers do a whole host of things naturally. The problem is that many of these things are left up to those that choose to be great. We’ve allowed great to be an option and not an expectation. And the great ones have done this without compensation from the system. Indeed, they often have to work around the system in order to be great and serve students.
As we know, the world is in the process of dramatic change and transformation. Our students truly need a new type of educational experience. It is going need to be one that is more specialized, technical, creative, innovative, personalized and dynamic. In order to do that, we need teachers who are going to accept and embrace a new professional challenge.  And here it is:

The Expectation

We have struggled for years to define what an “exceptional” teacher really looks and acts like. Let’s not dance around it and redefine it for this new economy and educational demands.
Again, let’s acknowledge that the majority of teachers are hard working, sincere folks who have the best intentions in mind. However, we also know that the sometimes cliched teacher, often portrayed in modern culture through films and TV as a quintessential government employee - more concerned with their own rights vs. student success - does exist.
So, let’s lay out the expectation of a successful and well-compensated 21st century teacher. Here is at least the start of a list (feel free to add on or amend):

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  • Lifelong learner - this is an old idea that not all have embraced. Well, we’ll need to require this. All teachers will, each and every year, continue to collaborate and learn with their colleagues. This will not be an option, nor will it cost them anything. We need to pay for and provide regular opportunities (so many hours per year) to attend professional events, take FTF or online courses, work with one another and industry professionals on projects and planning, and more. One can’t opt out. Teachers will have choices on how to meet the requirement and there will be no out of pocket expenses. All teachers will have to be leaders in some aspect of their profession and not only participate in lifelong learning, but also lead aspects of it as well. All teachers will need to help train and lead other teachers. That is real lifelong learning.

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  • True Collaboration - the days of hiding out in a classroom and working in isolation are gone. No other professionals can do it and teachers are no exception - especially if you are being compensated appropriately. Teachers will have to not only collaborate with their on campus or school-based peers and colleagues, but also with professionals. They will have to regularly work with business leaders, community leaders, parents, government officials, politicians and others on how to serve their students through projects, community-based work and more. All teachers will have to have Professional Learning Networks - again online and FTF. All professionals in other industries know this and embrace this in order to be successful. Again, teachers cannot be the exception. Again, time during the school year and in summer will be created to do this. And again, they are being compensated properly to do so.

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  • Leading and Facilitating Entire Learning Experience - all students need at least one go-to mentor and advisor. Naturally, more than one is even better. But all teachers will be expected to have a caseload. For elementary teachers, this is your class and you’re essentially use to do doing this. For HS folks, many of you have seen this before with things like an advisory period. But we have to go way beyond a cursory advisory period. All teachers need to have a caseload of students that they have an extended role for throughout the student’s educational career. In HS, for example, all teachers need to have a group of 25 students that they are globally responsible for during the four years. This responsibility includes advising, counseling, mentoring, tutoring, home and family communication, career advising, internship and externship coordination and more. Some of this work has been handed off to others not in the classroom. Their positions may be reduced to help pay the $100,000 per year so teachers will have to assume the role. Many, including HS teachers, have already been doing this forever. But now, it’s an expectation of all and they will be paid to do so.
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  • Extended Work Time and Planning - the idea of three months off - without planning and creating for your students for the next year and beyond - will now be part of the past. Again, most teachers, especially the great ones, have been working in the summer - on their own time and dime - forever. Well now, they are being paid to do this. The new economy will need teachers who stay connected to one another and their communities over the summer. They will need to plan relevant, real world and engaging projects and learning experiences for all of their students. This will take time and cannot be done in its entirety during the school day and school year. This will take summer time as well. How long? I don’t know. But all teachers will have to work an extended summer contract. This won’t really be an option. But again, you’re getting paid at least $100,000 to do so. While we’re speaking about time, let’s not pretend that one can get this job done between the hours of 8 and 3 each day. Let’s have teachers on campus from 7:30 - 4:30, or something like that. Let’s have teachers on campus the entire work day so they can collaborate, meet with community and parents, etc.

In summary, this is naturally unfinished. Like most ideas with potential, it needs revision and refinement. However, compare this to our eternal struggle (s) going on now with this profession and the product (s). Additionally, I know we have not figured out out the math and how to pay for this (however it was eluded to momentarily earlier). But I guarantee you that the money is there. Anyone in education knows that it is. It will take a serious redesign of all positions (top to bottom) in order to find the money. But, rest assured, it’s there. Meanwhile, we are stuck with a system that doesn’t work for many and will continue to struggle in finding the next generation of teachers.

Works Cited
"New California Teaching Credentials Decline for 10th Successive Year." EdSource. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Nov. 2015.

(images courtesy of Foter)