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With Teacher Pay, Context Matters

Brooke Peters
Spending time in schools across the country this year as part of The Odyssey Initiative has opened my eyes to some of differences in teaching contexts that exist in our 50 states. We visited schools where teachers have prep time every day and also have adequate time in their workday for professional development and planning meetings. On the other hand, we visited a few very small schools where teachers are with their classes for the entire school day and do not have prep time or planning time during the work day. Many schools have one teacher in each classroom and others have co-teachers in some or all of their classrooms. Some teachers are supported closely by instructional coaches and special education teachers, while in many schools teacher support is scarce and teachers have no choice but to go it alone. We even visited one school where all of the staff members are paid exactly the same amount each year.

This is only a sample of some of the factors that impact a teaching context, but there are many more in terms of whether teachers are teaching in high-need, under-resourced areas, high special education populations, children of migrant workers, and many other situations that add layers to the delicate teaching and learning landscape in a school. Because the contexts are so vastly different, I don't think there is any way we could or should have a one-size-fits-all approach to compensating teachers in our country.

The vision for Compass Charter School, the new school the Odyssey Initiative team proposed to the New York State Education Department, embodies shared ownership in the education of our future students. We do not envision the effectiveness of one teacher to be based on one set of test scores. All of our classrooms will be co-taught by one general education teacher and one special education teacher, and those teachers will be supported by the directors of curriculum and instruction, a learning support coordinator, and several curriculum specialists and learning specialists. All stakeholders will be responsible for ensuring that our students meet the goals outlined in our charter application. We will meet regularly to discuss individual student progress and make plans for remediation or enrichment as needed. Our hope is that we will be creating a non-competitive shared environment where our staff works together to meet the needs of each child in our school.

We spent a lot of time and energy as we crafted a plan for compensating teachers at Compass Charter School. Our school day will be slightly longer than the average New York City district school's, and our teachers will have two weeks of professional development before school starts. In order to compensate our teachers for this additional work, we plan to offer 10 percent more than the NYC teacher salary scale. We chose this number by looking at our budget and determining how much we could add to teacher salaries and still stay afloat as a new school.

We also made sure to include an adequate budget for teaching supplies and materials that will be needed for our focus areas of sustainability and the arts as well as our philosophy of progressive and experiential education. In addition, we plan to reserve a large portion of our budget for classroom libraries. We also plan to include some money for field trips and experiences outside of school. This thoughtfulness regarding the budget enabled us to created a plan that we feel will put more responsibility for materials and supplies on the school rather than on the teachers. We do not want our teachers to spend any money out of pocket or feel the need to purchase their own supplies. For many teachers, not needing to purchase supplies and books would help them to net more take home pay. It is also basic respect for teachers and the profession. It is our hope that providing adequate supplies as well as an additional 10 percent in salary will make our teachers feel that they are being compensated fairly for their work.

Brooke Peters is co-founder of the The Odyssey Initiative, a teacher-led organizing planning to launch a new school in Brooklyn, N.Y.

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