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$125 G's


Whenever I saw a new piece of artwork hung up in the school hall, or when the school purchased a new fleet of Chevy Malibus, I would get petty and think to myself: They could have just added that to my paycheck. I imagine that is so at most schools. A lot of money is spent on stuff that doesn't necessarily add direct or close-indirect value to student learning-- a lot of money that could have been added to my paycheck.

Now, an up-and-coming New York City charter school is doing just that. No, they're not adding to my paycheck per se, but they're scrimping and saving and focusing their funds on stuff that direct has an impact on student learning. They plan to scrimp and save so much, they are holding themselves accountable to paying teachers a whopping $125,000 salary.

"The school will open with seven teachers and 120 students, most of them from low-income Hispanic families. At full capacity, it will have 28 teachers and 480 students. It will have no assistant principals, and only one or two social workers. Its classes will have 30 students. In an inversion of the traditional school hierarchy that is raising eyebrows among school administrators, the principal will start off earning just $90,000. In place of a menu of electives to round out the core curriculum, all students will take music and Latin. Period.

While the notion of raising teacher pay to attract better candidates may seem simple, the issue is at the crux of policy debates rippling through school systems nationwide, over how teachers should be selected, compensated and judged, and whether teacher quality matters more than, say, class size."

Increasing pay is fabulous, especially in terms of getting high-performing teachers to teach in high-needs areas. Apparently, finding the funds to pay teachers the salary they deserve is possible, and a necessary component to getting talented teachers to stay in the field.

I can't help but wonder, however, if this is something that can happen at a nationwide scale where not every teacher is great. As with most things in the education world, this school leads us back to the question of: How do we teach all teachers to be great?



Whose definition do you use to establish greatness? The greatest teachers I had were those who had the courage to reach beyond the traditional curriculum, rather than the teachers who followed all the "rules" as promulgated by Schools of Education and administrators.

The metrics used in a charter school may not be the same as those used to evaluate public school teachers, and the idea of evaluating a teacher based upon the test scores of his or her students would seem, to me, to reduce the attractiveness of a high needs teaching assignment to a great teacher.

In a similar vein, to suggest that National Board Certification be a criterion of "greatness", as has been suggested in other forums, leads me to speculate that, as in many other areas of the education world, the way to get ahead is to engage in activities which result in less time spent preparing and executing the business of educating kids!

I applaud your sentiment, but remain skeptical as to an objective means to establish the criteria for "greatness" and how to teach it to others. "Greatness" comes from within, and often is not recognized by students until long after graduation, if at all. How do we as a profession treat those teachers who are not recognized as "great" by the education community, but whose influence is great upon the leaders of the future?

Ahhhhhhh, we get back to the basic question: What does good teaching look like? Many researchers in the field of education, Roland Barth for one, I believe, tried to address this question with a degree of legitimacy, and did a good job of doing so. Lee Shulman, I believe, also effectively addressed this question.

Nevertheless, good teaching is difficult to define. Robin Williams' character in "Dead Poets' Society" would fail most modern teacher evaluations miserably. Imagine throwing out the established curriculum: pedagogical blasphemy!! And yet- he inspired his students in ways few teachers could.

"Good teaching" is not like good nursing or good doctoring, where often there is a set course of action for a certain malady. Most people who have a broken arm will have it set the same way, with a few exceptions. Teaching is quite different. Ten students with dyslexia may have to be approached in ten different ways.

There are some things we know in terms of what good teaching looks like: good teachers have a sense of structure, consistency, they truly care about the learning of the students, among others. One thing that must be understood, however, is that good teachers generally take years to develop effective teaching and behavior management strategies.

School systems must understand a key component of "good teaching," however- teachers must be supplied with what they NEED to be effective: technology, good training, mentoring with highly effective teachers, and the necessary support services. Too many times, the problem is that we bombard new, potentially very effective teachers with bureaucratic minutiae (lunch counts, collecting student fees, endless ineffective in-services) that compromise the time that could be better spent in preparing to serve the students. Feeling overwhelmed, they either quit or do what they have to do to survive.

Define good teaching, instruct the art of good teaching, and support good teaching. That would be a big step to teaching all teachers to be "great."

If you look at the website for the school in New York, they have a clearly defined set of expectations setting out what their definition of a great teacher is http://www.tepcharter.org. If I was a Middle School teacher, I would bust my tail to get on board at this school - take a look at what their expectations are and how the support structure is organized.

Great teaching starts with mastery of subject matter, continues with outstanding communication and observational skills, and culminates in the continual process of self assessment and reinvention necessary to improve effectiveness. It is an art, a skill set that can only be accumulated through rigorous applied study, application, and experience. TEP has it right - teaching is the job that deserves the highest pay in the educational environment. Until such time as this occurs, people like Jessica will leave the classroom and move into positions where the pay is commensurate with ability and the opportunity to impact learning and teaching is greater.

Basically - we have to step back and realize that a socialist (state run and evaluated with a captive consumer base) system such as public education is designed to simply sustain itself, not reward innovation or support progress. Step back for a second and really take a look at how your state's educational system is structured, look at the levels of bureaucracy in even the local districts, perhaps even in your school.

I am no fan of school vouchers, nor do I think private schools are any better on the whole than public schools, but look at the institutional obstacles in place - there's no recognition and reward for outstanding work on an individual level - I was constantly angered that 35% of the teachers in my last school got bonuses for work they had no part in. I left the classroom because I went completely off the top of the pay scale by taking a private sector position - a pay jump that would have taken another 15 years, no matter what efforts I made in the system.Such institutional mandates make it less likely that driven, talented people will join the profession in the first place, and that many will leave as they realize that motivation, effort and innovation are not recognized nor rewarded.

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