Thursday, August 19, 2010

Incentives and my Degree.

Joanne Jacobs has this article on Lower pay for math, science teachers.
Math and science teachers earn less than their colleagues in 19 of 30 large districts in Washington state, reports the Center on Reinventing Public Education. That’s because salary schedules reward only longevity and graduate credits. "The analysis finds that in twenty-five of the thirty largest districts, math and science teachers had fewer years of teaching experience due to higher turnover — an indication that labor market forces do indeed vary with subject matter expertise.
She comments that "Differential pay for high-demand skills would keep more math and science teachers in the classroom."

I strongly disagree. What I see as far more likely is that those math and science teachers would get paid more,and since they don't have a clue as to the particulars of teaching, they'd leave just as quickly. Five or ten thousand bucks can't overcome that. Teaching is TOUGH -- TFAs and other dilettantes aren't going to stay no matter what.  Shoveling money into the pockets of a few teachers solely based on the course they teach is not conducive to cooperation, teacher satisfaction, morale, or the work environment as a whole. 

The fact that those with a STEM degree can and do move on to other options is unfortunate but also a good motivator. "Hey, kids! Look what applying yourself in these subjects can do for you. Mr. Smith just got a job paying  ... "

Importantly, you can never pay those folks enough to keep them in the classroom, if they are chasing the dollar. TFAs are only thinking of a two year commitment and then it's off to the "Real World" of 6-figure salaries.  No school can compete with that. $100k or more -- is this what you want to pay a teacher in their first couple of years before you even know if they can teach? (What is this, some freakin' NBA rookie deal?)

Also, remember that they were not trained to be a teacher. Teaching math and doing math are different. They were trained to build machines, or solve complex systems, or write enormous amounts of code. There's nothing there about dealing with math-phobic 15-year-olds and material you learned easily twelve years ago. My biggest difficulty in the beginning was that, by and large, few of my students was as capable as I -- I had to figure out how to reach all the kids.

I'm a math teacher with an engineering degree, but I'm okay with the salary schedule paying all teachers similarly regardless of course. English is necessary, too, you know. As is art and music and history and science and computers and languages and woodshop and tech program and forestry and, and, and. Only a few students are going to specialize in math -- one could make the argument that the other teachers are more valuable to more students. How can anyone justify paying one teacher more than another based on the job offer that someone else might have gotten?

On the other hand, refusing pay increases doesn't make for a good environment either. My principal can't even visit my classroom more than once in four years and can't understand anything I teach - how is he going to fairly set my salary? I don't work for him; I work for a vague entity called the "District." It's not his money and he has no incentive to save it. This is not the classic "Boss" everyone thinks about.

The pay needs to be enough to keep money out of the conversation. The best way to do that is with the salary schedule. Then, there's no administrative BS, favoritism, stupidity, etc. You don't get worthless teachers (albeit with shiny degree) getting 5-figure signing bonuses and still skipping out after a year or two. Fairness is an issue and the evaluation process is too unclear for people to bet thousands of dollars based on it. You also don't get people comparing notes or holding out for raises in the middle of the year.

For more on motivation, go here: Dan Pink's talk on motivation.

Of course, if you want to pay me more, I won't turn it down. It's not why I teach, though. I had many choices that paid more -- industry, entrepreneur -- but I chose teaching. I'm paid well enough, I get my vacation all at once instead of having every night and weekend free and a couple weeks in August, and I enjoy what I do when I'm teaching. For me, it's a good choice.


  1. I agree 1005 with everything you wrote here. Great points.

  2. To retain math and science teachers, more of them, teaching conditions need to be improved.
    1) more pay? that's not going to get more, and unless we are talking large bucks, and no one is.
    2) smaller classes
    3) better curricula. Especially math. Why do we have these lousy state standards?
    4) safer schools. Better physical plant. Better administrators.