Back in 1998 when I was embarking on my 10th year as a teacher, I had an op-ed piece published in the Los Angeles Times about paying good teachers six figure salaries.
In the 16 years since then, little has changed.
The argument for more money is based on respect, not greed. In society, how much a person earns is directly related to how that person is perceived. Teachers have little leverage in their profession and that is due to their pay. Higher teacher salaries would translate into increased clout.
As President Obama referenced in his 2011 State of the Union address, in South Korea teachers are known as “nation builders.” A significant reason they have this perception is that their salaries are equivalent to other professions in that country; not so in America.
Here a teacher’s salary is not only less than comparative careers, but is ranked third out of four pay divisions at a school: administrator, counselor, teacher, clerk in high to low order.
In Glendale Unified School District, the fourth largest district in Los Angeles County,, the starting salary of a teacher is $46,868, of a counselor is $49,391, and an administrator is $63,622, while the highest salary for each category is $90,802, $106,862, and $142,337, respectively.
The salary of a first-year administrator is equivalent to that of a 12-year veteran classroom teacher. Twelve years is about one-third of a person’s working life. No wonder many administrators exit teaching after a short stint in the classroom.
Over the course of their careers, a teacher can’t quite double her salary, a counselor can double her salary plus $8,000, and an administrator can more than double her salary plus $15,000.
At the bottom of the pay scale, the salary of two administrators doesn’t quite equal the salary of three teachers. However, at the top of the pay scale, two administrators’ salaries surpass that of three teachers. In other words, with more experience, the separation between administrators and teachers lengthens, implying that the value of an experienced administrator is worth more than the value of an experienced teacher.
It is interesting to note that the turnover rate among administrators is higher than that of teachers even though they are paid more.
And, don’t forget, counselors and administrators have secretaries to assist them. Not teachers.
The main argument opposed to higher pay for teachers is that there is no money for it.
Yet, there is money for so many other things whose impact on student learning is questionable including extensive diagnostic testing. One cannot minimize the impact that a qualified teacher has on a young person’s life.
And the competency of that instructor rests on a wing and a prayer.
Without financial incentives, principals can’t motivate their teachers to work harder because they can’t offer a bonus or a promotion. Principals can’t threaten teachers if they don’t perform at a certain level of competence since teacher tenure locks in instructors for life.
Paying teachers solely based on experience and education breeds a lack of quality control. With no reward for more effective work, the only variable separating a good teacher from a poor one is that teacher’s personal work ethic, a trait not taught in credential courses or staff development, meaning that too much of quality teaching hinges on pure luck.
I am not proposing that the salaries of my colleagues in the counseling and administration departments decrease. However, as long as teachers rank third out of four pay classifications, the power they wield will remain minimal, and the prestige of the teaching profession will continue to languish.
No matter how often people articulate the importance of teachers, the proof is in the pay scale.
Nation builders? Not in America.