And Now it’s Time for Teachers to Rise

As of this publishing, the Oklahoma teachers are in their fifth day of a statewide strike.  The starting salary for a teacher there is $31,600, third lowest in the country.

The teachers began their walkout after rejecting a 6 percent pay raise over three years, and $50 million in education funding. Why?  Because the last time teachers in the state received any raise was in 2008.  Several school districts in the state are only open four days a week because they don’t have the money to literally keep the lights on.  Their demands:  a $10,000 raise over three years and $200 million in funding.

It’s not just about more money in teachers’ pockets, but more textbooks in students’ hands.

Last month teachers from West Virginia went on strike for nine days to earn a 5 percent pay raise.  Last week there was a sickout in Kentucky to protest cuts in their pensions.  Now Arizona teachers are pondering action as well.

Whether inspired by the #MeToo movement or the student-led March for Our Lives, teachers now feel emboldened to speak out on the national stage about their working conditions, charging en masse to state capitals.

While I have reservations about teachers going out on strike, such action is rattling the status quo.

Upon hearing what the teachers want, Oklahoma governor Mary Fallin told a reporter that teachers wanting more money was “kind of like having a teenage kid that wants a better car.”   Such a condescending comment underscores how teachers are perceived by some.

Taxpayers who have no sympathy for higher salaries base it primarily on the amount of time teachers are at a school.

While hours from 7:45 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. may not seem overwhelming, the teacher is working nearly every minute of that timeframe, hosting club meetings at lunch, tutoring students after school.

Yes, teachers have many holidays and summers off.  It is the off the job hours, however, that justifies a higher teacher’s salary.

When do teachers develop lesson plans, create assignments, and grade work?  They do it at home, at their children’s practices, in doctors’ waiting rooms, stealing away minutes whenever they can.

Then there is the mental toll on teachers, always thinking about the next lesson, even while celebrating Thanksgiving, or lugging a bag of student papers while vacationing over Spring Break.  Rarely is a teacher’s mind not thinking about how to spark students’ curiosity.

Some teachers are paid decently, no question.  California teachers do enjoy the second highest average salary in the nation at $78,711, but the state has the second highest cost of living as well. The majority of teachers who work in Glendale can’t afford to live in Glendale.

The rent for a one bedroom apartment goes for $2,284 based on Rent Jungle averages; the median home is priced at $816,500 according to Zillow.

National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen Garcia told the New York Times that recent teacher uprisings is an “education spring.”

Time will tell if these events are the beginnings of a sustained movement or just a passing phase.   Still, it is refreshing to see educators get out of their soft shells and show how much they care about their work with America’s youth, and how much Americans should care about it as well.




Make Teaching Attractive Not Ugly

If one wants to attract the best talented people to teaching, the recipe is to make teaching attractive.

But that recipe concocted by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing is not what is happening in teacher training programs.  Gordon Ramsay, where are you?

This week I drove out to CSUN for a three-hour late afternoon meeting with other cooperating teachers (those who work with student teachers), a rare chance to share triumphs and challenges of assisting up and coming instructors.

Instead of having a forum with free-flowing conversations, we were corralled into three separate pullout sessions on new strategies introduced in credential courses.  One was on how to differentiate instruction, one on how to incorporate UDL, and another on MTSS.

What, you don’t know what UDL and MTSS stand for?  Neither did I until that evening.   The initialisms stand for Universal Design for Learning and Multi-Tiered System of Supports.  Has quite a ring to them, as in “my head is ringing with more education gobbledygook.”  Now I know what my teaching has lacked over the past 28 years.

Instead of recruiting vibrant people to the profession, allowing them to flourish with their natural ability, credential programs often tamper that energy with endless training on the latest learning strategy du jour.

They keep demanding things of teachers that sucks away the joy of working with young people.

More of “be sure you to do this, this, and this” instead of exploring the wonder of working with kids.

They keep laying on more work for the student teacher to do, as if it isn’t stressful enough to require student teachers to work for nothing for a whole year while taking several courses in the evening.

When I asked what requirements were removed to make room for the new ones, the facilitator looked stumped.

The demands of the profession rise as positions in math, science and special education remain vacant.

Much of this nonsense is coming from the state.  In fact, there is a new mandate from the Commission that all cooperating teachers have 10 hours of training to ensure they are qualified to work with student teachers.

So, for those of us who have been doing it for years, none of that experience evidently counts.

Funny how that was never a requirement before.  In fact, usually the way a credential program finds cooperating teachers at school sites is by contacting the districts who then email the administrators who then email teachers with an “anybody want to do this” query.  Experience and quality not necessary.

Here is where the state should step in and expect that the cooperating teacher has a certain amount of ability working with or training other teachers.   But to come up with a random 10 hours of training along the lines of UDL and MTSS is BS.   Even the credential folks are at a loss on how to pay people for the required amount of training.

Frankly, I can’t see how a young person full of beans survives intact after going through the shredder of a teacher training program without losing heart.

A teacher who sparks learning in young people does so not because of MTSS but because that individual connects in a human way that can’t translate into a topic on a college syllabus.

I asked my current student teacher if she is getting any sense of enjoyment from any of her classes.  She said only one professor inspires her.   That’s not enough, and not the way to attract people to teaching.

On a side note, the cooperating teachers were paid $50 for the three-hour workshop and travel time to and from CSUN.   That breaks down to $16.66 an hour.   Just another reason to earn a teaching credential.


Good Teachers Still Deserve Six Figure Salaries

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.