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To Fix Teacher Pay, Start With Job Descriptions

Marsha Ratzel
Teachers are not the same. No, really. We're not. We should be paid based on the skills, knowledge, and expertise that we bring to the position.

While test scores could be one component of the pay equation, there are many more important factors in compensation. Factors that vary by teacher.

But before we get into any of that, let's talk about base expectations. What any teacher must be able to know and do. Right now, in many places, the same job description can cover a position teaching math, science, or social studies. As if the content knowledge and understanding of how to teach that content isn't important. Or as if it's implied!

So let's get real. Some parts of a description would apply to most teachers: understanding how to convert learning state standards into unit and lesson plans for the classroom, building positive classroom environments (both in terms physical spaces and social-emotional support), using technology effectively with students, and knowing how to evaluate student learning.

Then there are core concepts and supporting disciplines. For example, a social studies teacher needs to know the core concepts of social studies, but also must be able to teach students to analyze and capably communicate about texts and ideas.

Next up: content-specific pedagogy. Teachers must be able to implement the most effective instructional strategies in teaching their content area. For example, science teachers would use inquiry-based learning much differently than would English teachers. And social studies teachers need to know not only how to analyze texts but how to teach students to analyze them.

And then there's a final important factor: classroom management. Knowing how to engage students and how to guide them to behave appropriately—often without their knowing it.

Oh, and all that stuff above? The teacher must know and be able to do these things in developmentally appropriate ways for the students he or she is serving. What works in a middle school classroom wouldn't cut it in kindergarten.

Did I miss anything in this baseline job description? It isn't easy defining how teachers should get paid, and even the baseline job description is complex. But if you want to really discuss the issue of teacher compensation, I believe this is the place we should start.

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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