Paying teachers more money is critical for education, but teachers are professionals; so we also need to pay them more respect.
Teachers are always in the crosshairs. We expect them to do more and more (and with fewer and fewer resources), but do not pay them very well. Some years back there was a local legislator who frequently boasted that what we were paying teachers was higher than the salary of the average Louisiana worker.
He stopped soon after I asked him how much the average college graduate makes.
Teaching as a Profession
I am an enthusiastic supporter of increasing teacher pay, with a couple of caveats. First, I would like to keep the pay just below the point that people who shop for incomes – rather than those who are driven by passion and profession – would start choosing the field for the money.
Because that’s my main point here. Teachers are professionals, they are deeply committed to their students and the impact they have on the world. Those who do it well should make enough money to be comfortable. But we need to encourage the greedy and self-serving to go elsewhere.
Which is the second caveat, they are professionals so we need to treat them as professionals, we should be paying teachers respect. I know teachers and former teachers who have worked with school boards and the Legislature, and what they report is disturbing. Governing bodies make sweeping changes to education, and raise enormous barriers to teaching, without talking to teacher one.
I can’t imagine that bills and governmental regulations would be passed in the fields of law, medicine or construction without talking to attorneys, doctors or engineers. They’re the professionals, and implementing arbitrary laws in their disciplines could be disastrous.
It’s certainly disastrous in education. In law, medicine and construction, however, changes will create problems quickly.
The problems created in education, however, have a very long, very slow fuse. The effects are so delayed, in fact, that it’s almost impossible to prove that careless management was the source. Which is why it is critical to listen to teachers. But we don’t, and so lawmakers with weak educations make decisions which weaken education for everyone else.
This is why paying teachers more money will help, but it will not begin to solve the problem. Good teachers don’t do what they do for money, for a simple reason: they never did. Teachers have never been well paid.
For most of history, however, they were respected and admired, and they were held up as prominent members of the community. They were listened to, and their opinions mattered.
We definitely need to pay teachers more money. But education is a calling, a passion. It is a profession.
So along with paying teachers more money, we also need to pay them more respect.
Picture, c. 1880, courtesy Old-Print.com.