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Making Job Differences Matter in Teacher Pay

Marsha Ratzel

Once you have the baseline job description written for each kind of classroom that will be offered in a school, you could then start defining how each one of these categories changes over time.

It is simply unrealistic to believe that a first-year teacher's job description should be similar to that of a 20-year veteran.

As witnessed in the conversation throughout last week, that may be kind of a controversial statement. But nevertheless it's a topic that more and more teachers are willing to consider. Differentiating teaching positions on the basis of skill levels and experience will certainly "rock the boat" but it could also change the way teachers imagine their careers—and give them motivation to plan and carry out ways to increase their skill sets.

Many states now issue teaching licenses that indicate differences in teaching skills. Novice, Experienced, Master, and Accomplished are the designations in my state. School systems could use such categories to distinguish between different types of teacher jobs and expectations. As a teacher progresses through their career, gains in skills and expertise would be reflected in assignments and responsibilities.

Inevitably, teachers will ask, "Why should we teach assignments or subjects that pay less than others?" or "What happens if principal assigns a teacher to something that pays less than other things?" Those are fantastic questions that have no single right answer and that should be the basis for in-depth conversations!

So why go to all this trouble?

  • We all agree that the single step salary schedule that has been used for decades is old, outdated, and unrealistic for the future.
  • Pay cannot be differentiated if it's not clear why someone earns more money than someone else. Discussions that are centered on defining job descriptions can de-escalate the emotions that will be involved in fixing salary schedules. It will work towards building consensus.
  • This kind of exchange of ideas moves us away from teacher evaluation conversations that are so focused in on test results that they miss a huge part of a teacher's job. Sure test results are easy to grab onto, but knowing what's inside a teacher's job will reveal the more complex elements of the work and skills entailed.
  • A clearly defined path for career advancement is missing right now in the teaching profession. Under the system I've outlined, everyone would know exactly what is needed to move to the next pay level.
  • The discussions that would be needed to build understanding of what is required, how to define it, and how to implement it would sort out what's valuable and clarify thinking around teacher quality and improvement.

Change is tough of course. So let the conversations begin; there is much to be learned from talking to each other and, from those exchanges, we can hammer out solutions.

Marsha Ratzel is a National Board-certified teacher in the Blue Valley School District in Kansas, where she teaches middle school math and science.

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