My View: Teachers deserve real merit pay
"Teachers want to be recognized and rewarded when they do well. Who doesn’t?" teacher Colleen McGurk writes.
August 30th, 2012
04:10 AM ET

My View: Teachers deserve real merit pay

Courtesy Colleen McGurkBy Colleen McGurk, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Colleen McGurk is a special education teacher with seven-years experience in the New York City Public School System. She holds master’s degrees in educational leadership and childhood education, with dual certification in special education and general education. She is a member of Educators 4 Excellence.

(CNN) - After reading Diane Ravitch’s post on this blog, I felt compelled to respond. As a teacher with seven years in a special education and integrated co-teaching classroom in New York City, I have heard a variety of excuses as to why our schools are not performing at a higher, and more consistent level. Poverty is certainly a piece of the puzzle and it must be addressed. But one of the best ways to reverse poverty is through an excellent education. And when it comes to education, no group is better prepared to lead than teachers. It’s time policy makers, elected officials and even pundits help elevate our voices in these critical debates. It’s one of the reasons I’ve joined a teacher-led group called Educators for Excellence, a national organization committed to ensuring teachers’ voices are heard in the policy debates that affect our classrooms and careers.

Most of my fourth-grade students come from homes that are well below the federal poverty line. Living in poverty makes my students’ lives harder, but that doesn’t stop me from challenging them on a daily basis. Whether it is in reading, writing, math or a game of basketball, every time I raise the bar, they step up. My students need to be challenged and engaged more so than other kids who have more solid support systems outside the classroom.

Teachers are a large part of the solution, but we need the same support, and high expectations that we have for our students.

I’ve worked in other industries and I truly have unmatched respect for our profession. Prior to teaching, I lived in Brazil and worked as a technology consultant for international companies. Before that, I was the project manager at Harvard Business School’s Executive Education. Both positions were incredibly competitive in terms of work ethic and salaries. Those environments inspired my colleagues and me to do our best. And that’s where Ravitch’s opinion on merit pay and mine veer off in different directions.

Ravitch argues that, “Merit pay fails because teachers are doing the best they can with or without a bonus. Merit pay destroys teamwork and collaboration in the school. Teachers work together; they are not in an individual sport, trying to be first.” As a current teacher, I can attest that “competition” is not a bad word, and it also doesn’t have to mean a lack of collaboration. Paying teachers more for demonstrated excellence will say loud and clear that teaching is synonymous with quality and high expectations. We need to elevate the profession by encouraging teachers to push themselves and each other. Teachers create a sense of camaraderie among colleagues as we learn from each other. Isn’t that what’s best for our students?

Furthermore, performance-based compensation is crucial to keeping our best teachers. I see teachers working at school from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and throughout the summer, as they slowly inch their way up the standard “step and lane” pay scale with each year of experience. Personally, I have spent many hours outside the “traditional” teaching hours. This past year, like many teachers, I spent several hundred dollars on school supplies ranging from books to erasers to copy paper. It’s no wonder many excellent, committed teachers consider leaving the profession for another that recognizes their contributions financially.

A recent report from the national non-profit, TNTP, called “The Irreplaceables,” estimated that the nation’s 50 largest school districts lose10,000 of their best teachers each year, in part because principals aren’t fighting hard enough to hold on to them. I challenge anyone who says that appropriate financial compensation isn't one critical piece of the solution.

And recognition is more than just financial. Great teachers are constantly looking to grow and develop, yet we find that more and more opportunities for professional growth lie outside the classroom.

Imagine a teaching profession that acknowledged and rewarded excellence, was well respected, attracted the best and the brightest, and gave high-performing teachers opportunities to stay in the classroom yet still enrich, and further, their career. I go to work every day - my office happens to be a classroom - I attend meetings, conferences and professional development seminars, similar to other professions. My colleagues are my students and faculty and we learn from each other to create an atmosphere of positive learning experiences. Now more than ever, teachers need to devote more time outside the classroom to learn the strategies needed to help our students compete and excel in the global marketplace.

That world would at minimum include these three policies that would help determine compensation for those irreplaceable teachers more effectively.

Better evaluation: Teachers want to know how they’re doing in the classroom. Districts and unions in places like New York City and Los Angeles need to come together as promised to craft a meaningful, multi-measured evaluation and support system. These conversations need to include teachers. I would support using student growth data as one component, as long it is paired with other factors like multiple classroom observations and student surveys. Most importantly, the focus of any system should be on providing timely and relevant feedback to help teachers get the tools and skills they need to improve.

Differentiated pay: Teachers want to be recognized and rewarded when they do well. Who doesn’t? Merit pay hasn’t worked in the past because teachers couldn’t be confident it was based on objective measures. With a strong evaluation system, we’d be able to reward with credibility those teachers who are excelling. Even the country’s largest teachers union, the National Education Association agrees - its Commission on Effective Teachers and Training made similar recommendations recently for elevating the teaching profession.

Career ladders: Like in any other profession, teachers want to know that there is room for career advancement. Teachers have the most insight and understanding about what policies affect us. I do consider myself an expert in the field and I embrace the idea of a culture of shared responsibility where principals, teachers and unions work together, support each other, challenge each other and boost each other to higher levels of thinking. I want to be able to stay in my classroom and still develop as a professional.

It’s time we change the education conversation from one focused on excuses to one focused on solutions. Teachers are ready and willing to lead the charge to reimagine what the teaching profession can and should look like. We must raise the bar in order to be the teachers we want to be–the teachers our students deserve.

The opinions expressed are solely those of Colleen McGurk.

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  1. Joe

    Ms. McGurk,

    I found your career ladders suggestion interesting. I'm curious, have you read anything about Tennessee's Career Ladder that started during the 1980s? The state legislature did away with it during the 1990s. I'm wondering what we could learn from past implementations of career ladders before creating others.

    September 11, 2012 at 4:10 pm |
  2. wchalmers

    This is a difficult debate. On one hand we are all motivated by pats on the back, bonuses, or seeing our students graduate and lead successful lives. On the other hand, most attempts to base salary on merit, use subjective evaluations. I teach learning support students during their junior and senior year of school. I work with the students the best I can to help them prepare to transition into adult life. My foremost goals are high school diploma, career and technical training, gaining the skills to be ready for the adult world, college, employment, independent living. I honestly, don't care at this point how they did on the state mandated tests, which some would say would determine my pay. I care whether they understand banking, employment applications, how to use a calculator and measure effectively. I care that they can socially and appropriately interact with others. I care that they know about the adult agencies that may be able to help them navigate the world of work. I care that they are able to adjust to changes in routine, persevere when things get difficult, find answers to problems and able to do what employers are requiring. I care that they know how to use a computer. Each year I have a brand new set of students who I work with. Some have ADHD, some have Learning Disabilities, sometimes I have students who are blind or Deaf or who have intellectual disabilities or traumatic brain injuries. I sometimes work with students who have been abused, are homeless, have been out of the school system and are returning, or who have just recently been identified as having a disability (struggling all through school). My job is my life. I am passionate about my role as a teacher and am constantly striving to find new methods of reaching each and every student in a way that allows me to connect to them and push them harder than they have been pushed in the past to achieve all that they can achieve. I do NOT want my pay to be based on subjective tests or evaluations...I do NOT want my pay to be determined by how well my students scored on a standardized test that they were required to take on things like triginometry and writing a five paragraph essay...becuase honestly in real life how many times have you written a "5 paragraph essay". I do expect my supervisors to hold me accountable for the expectations of my job. I don't need pay to determine how hard I work...I work hard becuase it is my job, my responsibility, and quite frankly, what the students who i care so much about, need. Administration should be responsible for directing me, evaluating me, determining consequences for actions, providing professional development, etc. But my pay should be my pay becuase I have a job. Not becuase of how my students perform or subjective (opinion) assessments and evaluations. I went to school and continue to go to school, i am a trained teacher, and I truly care. That should be enough to justify my salary...my administration needs to be held accountable to make sure that I am doing my job.

    September 6, 2012 at 11:48 pm |
  3. leoniehaimson

    The research is voluminous that merit pay doesn't work to advance learning and teachers overwhelmingly oppose it. Case closed.

    September 3, 2012 at 9:55 am |
    • Jason

      I'm not necessarily for or against merit pay, but the research on this question seems kind of silly to me frankly. I don't know why anyone would expect merit pay to quickly move achievement within a few years, especially in a policy context where you don't actually change the overall composition of teachers in classrooms. The truth is most teachers work hard and care a great deal about their students, but they're not all exactly alike. Anyone who works in a school, is a parent, or has been a student themselves has run across some life changers and some real duds. And the latter group may be composed of lovely, hardworking people who just happen not to be great teachers because - and this point is critical - teaching is not something that just anyone can do well.

      The merit pay programs that have been tested do little to shift this dynamic (esp. those in places like NYC that rewarded everyone in a single school even if there was a staff member with excessive absences or who was simply not contributing in a meaningful way to the overall positive results of the school).

      But in the long run, a more robust compensation system might change who joins the profession and - more importantly - who stays. We always hear that 50% of teachers leave in 5 years. Some of those teachers should leave, but some are good teachers who would like to stay but who would also like to be able to afford to buy a house. You might also be able to provide smart incentives to attract top teachers to high-need schools. And you might be able to attach salary incentives to a career ladder that allowed teachers to take on new challenges and remain engaged with their work, avoiding the kind of burnout that almost anyone would feel if they did the exact same job for 20-30 years. If you could keep great teachers around, that would - over time - have impact. And over time those higher salaries would still save districts money as teacher turnover is extraordinarily expensive.

      That's the kind of compensation system that might really be game changing, but the problem is you'd need to conduct a long-term study to see any movement in achievement gains and people have little patience for that so I doubt it will ever happen.

      September 3, 2012 at 10:21 am |
    • GATECH

      Merit pay works, and those who say it doesn't like pointing to things, like NYC, where whole groups are put together (so straglers get the same as the stars) or the merit pay is small compared to the Step raise. Lets face it, no one will put in twice as much work just to get an extra 0.5% of the did down the hall. The hard thing to figure out is how to "measure it". I think teacher evaluation by a principal should be part of it (hey, welcom to most professions). Also results. But results of the students in question. Where were they when they started the year and where were they at the end. And yes, if you have the room full of the kids with issues because of great past prformance, that should be noted in this years review/score.

      The problem with unions (mother, brother, sister, and wife are teachers in different states with the same stories) is that unions seem to protect the bad apples instead of helping the school get rid of them in a humane way. If the unions would police their own, instead of protecting the burnt out teacher no parent wants, then the public would not be so against them.

      September 3, 2012 at 11:42 pm |
    • Kent

      People who choose teaching as a profession are motivated by their desire to help others.....not money. Salaries must be adequate to compete with other, less stressful occupations, but won't work 'together' for the best interests of the children if they must compete for limited bonuses or merit pay. Teachers need respect and a feeling of accomplishment to stay in the profession. Giving control of classrooms back to our teachers is the only way this can be accomplished. Accountability comes with authority, but those that fail to reach minimum standards should be helped to find another, more appropriate way to earn a living.

      September 6, 2012 at 10:04 pm |
      • wchalmers

        Well said, Kent! We became teachers because of what we are driven to do by helping our youth. We did not become teachers because of the pay...it's almost absurd to even consider that! Administration is who should be holding us accountable. So many say Unions protect the bad apples, or what have you...it's simply not the case the majority of the time...administration can still deliver evaluations and expectations. They can still hold teachers accountable to meet the expectations of the job.

        September 6, 2012 at 11:52 pm |
    • luckeyfrog

      It's not a case closed.

      Merit pay can be done many different ways. So far, it seems to mostly have been done as a factor of "passing" a grade level test. This does not work for all schools. If I have a student who is three years behind grade level and I am able to help them catch up to only being a year behind, that's incredible- but the student still wouldn't pass and therefore I wouldn't get any 'credit' for doing better teaching. A growth model would work much better to capture who is really meeting students where they are and teaching them well. Merit pay can also be done based on a comprehensive evaluation system that involves actual physical evaluations, portfolios, and possibly also test scores. A balance makes this more agreeable to teachers.

      I'm okay with merit pay- just not merit pay as it's been set up in many places, mostly because I feel the best teachers will be coveted by the schools scoring highly (that can therefore pay their teachers well through merit pay), leaving less talented teachers at the schools that need great teachers the most.

      But most people would just say, "Oh, you're against merit pay? Yeah, suuuure, you do it for the kids."

      Thank you for one of the few articles I have seen which discusses actually including teachers in the conversation of reform. Most discussions tend to forget about even asking us what's not working.

      September 10, 2012 at 5:51 pm |
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  6. BaltimoreTeacher1

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    September 1, 2012 at 8:56 am |
  7. barbara

    You are supposed to be "demonstrating excellence." That's what you're being paid for. You should expect a bonus on top of it. Likewise, if we follow your logic, teachers who students perform poorly should be fired. Oh wait... that will never happen once a teacher has tenure.

    August 31, 2012 at 4:15 pm |
    • Dale T.

      People don't hate teachers they hate the unions. The teachers union is the scourge of education that presents the front that they are for the kids when in reality they are ONLY for the teachers and making sure the teachers get "Theirs" period!

      September 2, 2012 at 9:17 am |
      • Dan H

        Dale, I don't think you know much about teachers and teachers' unions. Is it that you hate all unions or just the unions representing teachers or has someone told you without offering any supporting data, that unions are to blame for all the woes in US education today. Frankly, were it not for those unions you decry, education in general would be far worse than it is. I really would like to know exactly why you think the way you do.

        September 3, 2012 at 3:13 pm |
  8. sara

    I't stunning to read so much vitriol towards teachers. If you all think you are so great, get in a classroom and prove it. Teaching is unlike any other profession, the product can't be measured and quantified, there is an art to it. I am always stunned by the shear hatred the teaching profession takes here in the United States. We are the only country on earth that hates the very profession that makes it great. Other countries respect their teachers, respect learning, and if possible, try to bring their children here for an education.

    August 31, 2012 at 1:54 pm |
    • Patty

      Other countries offer vouchers to parents so that they choose the school where their child will go. America teachers don't want that. I support unions until they get so powerful that their members are untouchable.

      August 31, 2012 at 4:48 pm |
      • Alice in PA

        What other countries?

        August 31, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
  9. EP

    I hesitate to give merit pay to a protected class of employee (think tenure). Those who strive to excel do have an argument for merit pay, but those who are content to coast should have potential consequences, too.

    I believe that teachers are vital and should be compensated well for their work, but look at some numbers:
    – 180 days of school vs 250 non-teaching work days in a year
    – average school day length in NY 7 hrs, average non-teaching day, 8 hrs.
    – Many teachers need to bring work home, add 2 hrs/day
    – 1620 hrs/yr teaching vs. 2000 hrs/yr non-teaching

    A teacher in my district with a Master Degree and the same number of years experience earns 25% than I do, with the same level of education. They also work 25% fewer hours. And are guaranteed a raise every year. The last time I earned a raise was 2005.

    I respect them, but I don't have much sympathy.

    August 31, 2012 at 1:37 pm |
    • ed teacher

      People love to cite a few examples, probably misheard, about how much teachers make, how good of pensions they have, and how little they work.
      Here is my wife: real life, typical teacher in the mid west, small town:
      – $31,000 salary
      – spends summer, breaks, holidays, nights, weekends, fixing up her classroom, going to conferences, preparing lessons, grading papers, working on grants. There is no real time off. She can't go to activities with our own children because she has parent teacher conferences, meet the teacher, prom, and other events at her own school. This week she left for work at 6am and didn't get home until 10pm, every single day this week. Granted this week was an exception, but it happens more than we like.
      – if she works till she's 65 she'll probably get a pension of about 50% salary. But they don't get social security. So that's it for retirement income, unless you can save something else on that kind of salary.
      – regularly spends own money for school supplies, technology, and other items
      If teachers don't fight then who will? You think public education is bad now? Underfunded? Keep it up and see if it will get any better. There is a serious problem in this country. Instead of fighting for salary and benefits everyone is jealous of each other and would rather see everyone else take a hit.

      August 31, 2012 at 1:59 pm |
      • Karen

        I wish I made $31,000 per year. I work weekends holidays and summers. I have a BA and one year of grad school. I have no pension whatsoever. I am envious

        August 31, 2012 at 11:36 pm |
    • Karen

      Excellent response! When I hear teacher's talking about there two week Christmas break-it's about how hard it will be to give up sleeping in. I get two weeks of vacation per year.

      August 31, 2012 at 11:38 pm |
    • Matt

      I have taught in the US for the past three years, my last year I worked nearly 80 hours a week which according to my principal was not enough. I had a 99% passing rate on the state tests with a 65% pass advanced rate, yet I was forced to resign. Now I have taken my passion for teaching and expertise to China where I am truly appreciated and making more money than I was in the states. When I get back to the states I can think of nothing worse than going back to work in the public school system because of how disconnected with reality it is. Sad situation if you ask me.

      September 1, 2012 at 1:09 am |
  10. CTEd

    The core of the problem is "greatness" in a teacher can't be measured. It's ephemeral. Merit pay based on tests will result in rote teaching to the test (can cheating)... bad way to educate.
    Base it on class performance and you will have nobody teaching the lower level kids
    Base it on evaluations form students.... never
    Base it on evlauations from ????? Administrators that can spend 1 or 2 days a YEAR in observing the class (at which times the teacher will do their best). Won't work.
    Grades? Give every kid an A and get a bonus!

    So how does one evaluate how "good" a teacher is?

    Rules and tests acutally hamstring great teachers that inspire kids to learn. And there are so many other factors year to year, class to class town to town. Great teachers are usually only known after they have been teaching for 10 years and you can spot the trend... how can that possibly translate to merit pay?

    August 31, 2012 at 12:40 pm |
  11. Robt

    You are dreaming lady. Do you think no one knows any teachers? 7 AM to 7 PM? I taught in a city school. At 3:15 you would have thought a pack of hungery wolves had been let loose in the building as the teachers headed for the door. If you want merit pay talk to your union. I once heard a union official describe merit pay as "union busting". Come to PA where the pension of a teacher is 87% of salary after 35 years. In eastern PA the salaries at retirment range from $75K to $105K depending on district and how many simple post grad ed courses you want to take. Along with merit pay should come loss of tenure and the ability to can poor teachers. Not in a year or two after they have set the kids back forever, but immediately

    August 31, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
    • Alice in PA

      Teachers pay into their retirement every year. They earn their retirement. And a salay for a professional with advanced education at 90k in an expensive urban district is not out of line.

      August 31, 2012 at 1:15 pm |
      • C

        Teachers pay into their retirement every year? Yes, this is technically accurate. However, what they get in retirement far outstrips what they paid into it.

        August 31, 2012 at 1:22 pm |
      • Alice in PA

        C: Of course. Just like a 401k, the overwhelming majority of the money for the pensions (~70%) comes from investment income. The people of PA do NOT foot the bill for the pension system. The rest comes as part of their salary. And because the system is so large, PSERS need only plan for the average life expectancy rather than a longer one

        August 31, 2012 at 4:28 pm |
      • analgogkid

        @C: Pension reforms are tightening things up substantially. Ohio teachers will soon be required to contribute 14% of their salary towards their pension. They will be eligible for retirement after 35 years of service and will receive 66% of the average of their 5 highest years. At 66% that pool of money is very nearly self sustaining if you assume historical stock market returns.

        August 31, 2012 at 9:03 pm |
    • Teacher in PA

      I can't speak for all teachers, but many of thoseteachers who are quick to leave when school is dismissed are running to pick up their children from their school. I, for one, must leave school almost immediately to get my children, whose elementary school, which is located 25 minutes from mine, is over 30 minutes after mine. Once my kids get home though, I'm back to grading papers, contacting parents, or updating lesson plans. Just because teachers may not physically be at work late into the evening does not mean that teachers aren't working from home.

      August 31, 2012 at 7:19 pm |
      • Karen

        Thank goodness no one else has children they have to pick up from school!

        August 31, 2012 at 11:40 pm |
      • Michelle

        @Karen

        If you hate you job/situation so much then quit. Stop complaining about the teaching professional or any other profession for that matter because it may offer benefits that yours does not.

        September 2, 2012 at 11:48 am |
  12. David

    Why does the picture of Colleen McGurk remind me of something on a flyer shoved under my hotel room door in Vegas?

    Wait – its a mug shot.

    Driver's license photo?

    (not insulting the person, but the photographer and whoever chose to use that horrible photo)

    August 31, 2012 at 11:08 am |
    • Barbara

      Your comment is inappropriate. The topic was pertaining to "Teachers Deserving Real Merit Pay". As a teacher, who worked in a private "reform school environment", I take this topic to heart and comments like yours appear to trivialize the importance of teacher dedication directed to the success of their students. There is a need to work together and not to tear down the importance of collaboration.

      September 12, 2012 at 10:06 am |
  13. shawn

    I have a simple Idea for teacher pay and performance. As teachers stay on in their career – they should get better (more trained more experienced etc.). That should translate into better pay. But it should also include more responsibility/work load. So, start teachers off with a class size that is 80% of average. Then each year as they step through a 40 year career they can expect the class size to increase by 1%. So that when they are finishing their career they have a class that is 120%. If they decide to get a masters degree they should expect a pay raise. They should also expect their teaching load (more or larger classes) to increase proportionately.

    That's the way it is in the real world. Increased pay for professionals almost always comes with increased responsibilities and/or increased work loads. You get paid more – the boss expects more. Oftentimes this means more studies outside of working hours, traveling for business, working weekends/holidays, etc. Teachers aren't the only professionals that have to continue to study after graduation, work outside of the workplace or after normal working hours. Teachers want to be paid like professionals but treated like hourly employees.

    August 31, 2012 at 10:15 am |
    • Teacher88

      Teaching pay is already set up this way. Teachers get paid more with the more education they get, so even if a teacher were to get a PH.D and work for 30 years they would get a pay of about $70,000. That's not very good for someone who has more education then the everyday CEO. Also, let’s not get started on the parents, who don't have the teachers back today, which in my opinion is the biggest problem today. In terms of workload it's already done this way as well. The more experience a teacher has the more advanced classes they get and also get tagged with department head, which doesn't always translate to an increase in pay but instead more headaches from parents and principals.

      August 31, 2012 at 11:40 am |
      • EP

        In my district a teacher with a BA and 20 years earns a base pay of $77k, with many opportunities to get additional pay: club advisor $1,500; coach for one season $1,000.

        August 31, 2012 at 1:42 pm |
  14. TewksburyBob

    I agree in merit increases. Dump the unions, cut the pay in half, and then redistribute the money to reward those teachers that excel. GE is one of the most successful companies in america. They fire the bottom 10% of their employees each year. Although I do not personally agree with this concept it does foster excellence. The unions have ruined our education system.

    August 31, 2012 at 10:06 am |
    • MadGOPer

      So what happens if your boss has it out for you?? Do you deserve to be fired?? Vendetta firing (or attempts at it) happens all the time in business and school settings... That's the number one reason for the existence of unions... People need to be protected from jerk employers..

      August 31, 2012 at 11:16 am |
    • Sarcastro

      Then you find a new job.

      And when too many people quite under a boss that stinks, the boss looses his job.

      It's not a hard concept. I have enough faith in teachers that they have the ability to be professionals, not emotional cripples unable to look after themselves.

      August 31, 2012 at 11:54 am |
    • CB

      Cut the pay in half? As a 3rd year teacher with a master's degree, I earn less than $37K. So you would cut that to less than $19K? I can earn more than that as a file clerk who never takes work home–and I have.

      August 31, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
      • JD

        I agree! I make $40K (because I have a masters and a couple years) and would be only making $20k. I already work my butt off to get my weekly, completely transparent, lesson plans in – get my contacts made, plan interactive activities, and do everything else that comes with being a teacher for something that pays LESS than when I was a web developer (without a degree) and could leave after my 8.5 hour shift (with an hour lunch break). I feel like I'm a pretty selfless person, but I can't be that selfless... why do people assume teachers aren't humans?

        August 31, 2012 at 8:07 pm |
  15. Keith

    I would be fine with merrit pay, only if teachers could be fired without having to kill an entire classroom of kids. It's insane to state that "teachers are great". Some are, and should be paid, but alot are not, and should be fired. Plain and simple. You can't have it both ways.

    August 31, 2012 at 9:49 am |
    • Erin

      "alot are not"? Yes, including the teachers that never taiught you that "a lot" is two words.

      August 31, 2012 at 10:27 am |
      • Brian Radke

        .......and taiught is actually spelled taught.

        September 1, 2012 at 5:29 am |
    • SLP

      I agree that there are teachers who are ineffective, but I disagree with the perception that the majority of teachers are ineffective and don't know how to teach. The word "some" implies just a handful know what they are doing. "A lot" implies a larger number.

      August 31, 2012 at 3:41 pm |
  16. sebrad

    educations' main problem is crappy parenting, plain and simple. educators are merely passengers on the same bus-they know where they want to go but they ultimately have little influence on reaching the destination. maslow's hierarchy of needs pretty much explains it: for example it's impossible for a child to focus on learning on monday if they haven't had a decent meal since friday. or, if a child is allowed to run discipline-free while they are home, they will likely act the same way in school. if there are 25 kids in a class, typically 18-23 of them behave all the time, but the 2-7 that don't destroy the learning experience for everyone. if you look at the family structures of the small percentage of students that are the main problems, you will likely find more problems in terms of structure, discipline, etc. teachers aren't magicians–they can't polish a turd and have it turn into gold. moral of the story: as a parent if you send a turd to school, you will likely get a turd back at the end of the day, and it's NOT the teachers fault–it's YOUR fault!!!. merit pay isn't even remotely close to the solution because teachers have no control over the results. real learning requires effort, focus and dedication and if parents aren't instilling those values at a minimum, then school becomes little more than a babysitting service.

    August 31, 2012 at 9:49 am |
    • Jimmy

      Well said...you made my day!

      August 31, 2012 at 11:36 am |
    • philsia

      Perfect. Good point.

      August 31, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
    • PA

      Thank you..Finally some truth on here.
      I'm married to a teacher, and I can tell you this in regards to her pay. Considering the amount of education, years of experience, teaching awards received, and excellent evaluations, her pay is meager at best. Consider this....no 401K (let alone being matched) no overtime pay, despite being required to do all those after school activities, like graduations, parent teacher conferences, corresponding with parents, grading, and class prep. My wife leaves at 6:00 in the morning and doesn't get home till 6:00pm at best. In contrast, I'm a licensed engineer, receive overtime, matching 401K, vacation time, sick time, and benefits, have half the years experience, and receive about 20% more in annual pay. Believe me, in comparison, teachers don’t make jack. If you gave a teacher the equivalent salary of another licenses professional, with same hours, experience level, and education, you would be looking at a minimum 30% higher salary. With no merit given to having to deal with 20-30 overly medicated, overly caffeinated, and distracted students.

      I went to school for several years in Europe, in comparison, teachers were respected. They operated on half the school budgets, with nothing fancy in the classrooms, barely had books, with one principle per school, not 15 assistant and vice principals, and I thought the education was far superior. Why and How? Because parents respected teachers for the role that they perform. They were viewed as being leaders and stewards of the community, not the neighborhood doormat. If there was an issue with a child in school, it was the teacher’s job to take care of it. Not all this lets meet and talk and get two dozen people involved, put plans together. The parents might have been notified, but it was understood that the teacher had authority over their class rooms and how to best handle any situation. Parents respected them, and students had no choice but to fall in line, or otherwise deal with the consequences. You want to talk about a culture shock!!! There were no outbursts, there were no time-outs, no talking out of turn...or any of that. Children had no choice. As for teenagers, it was understood that you did not have to be there and that there is a great apprenticeship, technical school, or the hotel down the street that needs a dishwasher, if you did not want to be or positively participate in school. And there many that did move on to go to work.

      We are now trained to question everyone and everything, but never question ourselves. We all think we are outstanding parents and that our kids are outstanding, and we could not possibly be wrong about anything we say or do. As a society we have no problem telling a licensed professional such as a teacher how to do their job, but the moment anyone wants to question a parent, which requires no education, formal training, or license to be one....how dare we????

      Let the teachers do the job they are trained to do, pay them fairly, treat them with a little respect, and focus on being better parents and role models. Public schools are not your personal day care. And the next time you want to question the competency of a teacher, then maybe that teacher should have the right to have you evaluated you as a parent and have you put on a plan, and dock your salary?

      August 31, 2012 at 3:01 pm |
      • Kelly

        This should be published in every school newsletter.

        September 3, 2012 at 4:31 pm |
  17. Bill

    I'll make you a deal, Ms. McGurk ...

    I'll be OK with merit pay when you are OK with merit based evaluations of your work by your school administrators, with them being given the ability to fire low performing or misbehaving teachers without having to go through years of administrative action. In other words, make teachers as accountable for their poor performance, and give them exactly the same rights as almost any other worker in almost every other industry.

    Do we have a deal?

    August 31, 2012 at 9:23 am |
    • Bobpitt

      I agree teachers should get raises for performance, however when you see teachers competing on ""I am not Smarter than a fifth grader"" and fail.. it doesn't give you much confidence on their professionalism..

      August 31, 2012 at 9:49 am |
  18. HM8432

    Merit over tenure? You'll never get the corrupt Teacher's union's to go with that. To them, ANYONE who puts the children before the teachers is the enemy; and people wonder why America's public education system is dismally failing.

    August 31, 2012 at 9:13 am |
  19. Jorge

    Good teachers should get merit pay, regardless of seniority.

    August 31, 2012 at 9:10 am |
  20. 1st world problems

    Work to the best of your ability & get paid for the hours you work (9.5 months per year in most cases w/ holidays and vacations) or get replaced ragardless of seniority. Teaching "well" is a highly skilled position but is also one of the most overly complained about careers in the US. Union over protection and the social coddling of our youth combine to make the concept of teaching an open sore on our society.

    August 31, 2012 at 8:48 am |
  21. Willie12345

    Certainly teachers should be provided merit pay, when they deserve it. In addition, they should be fired quickly when they deserve it. That's not happening either. You can't have one without the other. Please talk to your union rep about this matter.

    August 31, 2012 at 8:36 am |
  22. Alice in PA

    Policy decisions need to be based upon real data and research, not just anecdotes and assumptions. I am reading a lot of the latter and little of the former. Probably all of us went to school for at least 12 years, maybe more or less. But that does not mean that we all know what it is to be a teacher, how teachers think, why they teach etc. Same for parents. Many of of are parents, but we do not have deep knowledge of what it is like to parent in all possible situations. So we rely on research, just like NASA does. The research has shown that our school are not failing ( surprise!), the home life is the single biggest predictor of educational success, that teachers can make a difference, that merit pay does not work in the multiple ways that it has been tried and that charter and private schools do not outperform public schools. Now there will be individuals who do not follow this trend, but overall, this is the current state of education. We need to move beyond our own personal experiences and biases and take the larger view.

    August 31, 2012 at 7:01 am |
  23. kafkateach

    Apparently the author believes that those politicians and business people who advocate for "merit pay" for teachers actually want to pay teachers more money. "Merit pay" is merely a guise to pay the majority of teachers lower salaries and then reward a few top test prep teachers with large bonuses while the vast majority of teachers never see a pay raise again because they don't "merit" one. Imagine the cost savings! In Florida, all new teachers will be on a pay for performance system. Only it is written into the law that if there is no money in the budget for merit pay bonuses, the state does not have to pay them! How do you think that is going to work out for teachers? Additionally, in the business world you are rewarded for your work and not ranked against your peers and only rewarded if you are the top 1%. A car salesman sells a car, he gets a bonus. He is not ranked against his coworkers and only given a bonus if he's the top 1%.

    August 31, 2012 at 6:54 am |
    • Sarcastro

      Spoken like someone whose so isolated that they don't understand how business work.

      In every single job I've had, you ARE ranked against your peers. Yes there may be bonuses for specific actions (sales being a good example), but non-commission job pay and raises is based off performance relative to peers!

      As such, you don't actually NEED an increase in budget to fund merit pay- it's self funding given the existing pot of money. You simply allocate it differently, paying the poor performers less and the top performers more using the fund no longer allocated to the poor performers.

      Honestly, how sheltered are people to not even know this very basic principle?

      August 31, 2012 at 9:15 am |
      • David

        Well, obviously you are missing the most basic principles of merit pay, so I guess the feeling is mutual.

        Merit pay has been tried since the 1920s.

        It is a gimmick that does nothing but cater to the few favored teachers that the admin. likes.

        Believe it or not, seniority is rewarded in many fields (I'd even say most) and not just education, so stop bashing seniority.

        There is no established way to evaluate all teachers of all subjects in all areas of the country with all different students in the same, equal way.

        But hey, keep saying it will work and just tell everyone else how dumb they are for not doing as you say.

        August 31, 2012 at 10:45 am |
      • Sarcastro

        Considering I've ran the gambit from working to owning a business, I'm quite familiar with the idea of meritocracy and merit pay. Whether at massive global corporations like IBM or small niche consulting, recruiting, or HR firms, meritocracy is everywhere. Everywhere except the unionized teaching profession.

        Yes, David, you're right, no merit system is perfect. Do you honestly think regurgitating that truism means anything? It's an intellectually lazy excuse to do nothing.

        A system that rewards excellence via increased benefits is far better than a system that rewards everyone equally regardless of effort and ability.

        I'm sorry, but I have more faith in teachers than you do if you honestly don't feel that they can be professionals like everyone else. I have full faith that our teachers have the emotional maturity required to handle the same merit system that drives rest of this nation. They want to be treated like professionals, and I want to treat them as such.

        August 31, 2012 at 11:44 am |
      • kafkateach

        My husband is a stock trader. He gets paid a bonus based on the amount of money he earned for the company (in addition to a regular salary that is $20,000 more than mine and he only has a bachelor's degree). His company does not rank him against his coworkers and then only pay him a bonus if he is a top performer. I worked in the private sector at one point as well. I got laid off after 9/11 because I was the last one hired at the company. LIFO exists in the private sector as well. Seniority and experience count for something, even in the business world

        August 31, 2012 at 4:54 pm |
  24. jeff

    If you'd like more money per year try working for 50 weeks rather than the 34 or so weeks you work now...

    August 31, 2012 at 6:31 am |
    • J

      @jeff, you dont know anything. How about the 40-50 days extra that we teachers work that is not compensated? Add together all of the meetings, conferences, planning, setting up classrooms, trainings that we are required to attend and that 34 weeks grows to much more. How many other jobs would people be ok with working all that extra time with no compensation. On top of all that, in my state you must have your masters withing 10 years or you dont keep your job, however no one steps in to help pay for that, its all on us. So I have to spend 15-20K just to keep my job and see a meager $150 more per pay check. And forget about 3 month summers, I just came off of one of my longest summers in my 10 yr teaching career and it was 2 months long. I would get more time off if we went to year round school. So know what you are talking about before you open your mouth.

      August 31, 2012 at 8:20 am |
      • drc

        Wahh Wahh Wahh... if you don't like your job, get a new one. Like the 'real world' you deserve a merit increase based on PERFORMANCE not simply for showing up to work. So if you want a merit increase, fine, EARN IT. Leave your joker unions behind who protect worthless teachers.

        As for your Masters...wahhh wahh wahh... no industry pays for a master's degree. IF you are lucky you get a few thousand dollars a year towards it but even that is RARE.

        I come from a place where the whining teachers work 185 days a year, make 6-figures, golden healthcare packages and then RETIRE with a PENSION. So sell crazy somehwere else or get a new job.

        August 31, 2012 at 9:34 am |
      • David

        Hey drc –

        It isn't teachers whining about paychecks. It is people outside education whining about their own situation and crying about teacher benefits because people in the private sector gambled and lost. The teachers are defending themselves, not starting the attack.

        Everyone knew what the rules were when choosing professions. Teachers traded low salary for good benefits and stability. People in the private sector get huge bonuses in good times and lose their jobs in bad times. Don't whine at teachers just because you made bad choices.

        August 31, 2012 at 10:47 am |
      • Ridiculous

        David, that is just silly. I certainly acknowledge that teaching is a tough job and forget 9.5 months, they work hard during that time. But there is not room for a trade off between "low pay" and "good benefits and stability". I'll give you the benefits, but "stability" is just another word for "you can't fire me if I am a bad teacher". These are our kids we are talking about for goodness sakes! It is ridiculously difficult to fire bad teachers. As far as "merit pay", that might work in a workplace where everyone has access to the same tool, training, etc. but some teachers (like a friend of mine) teach developmently-disabled kids and his pay has been impacted by "No Child Left Behind"...So don't think that works very well...

        August 31, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
      • EP

        Using your numbers, 50 extra days/year divided by 5 days/week = 10 more weeks. 34weeks + 10 weeks = 44 weeks. I STILL work 8 more weeks than you.

        August 31, 2012 at 1:48 pm |
    • KK

      Exactly. I come from a town where women aspire to be teachers so they can pretty much never leave behind the feeling of home town glory. They live in a perpetual state of "high school" and thrive in their endless loop of social events like homecoming and football games and summer vacations. They don't teach to "touch lives" they teach for the perks of having tons of vacation time and hanging out with kids all day.

      August 31, 2012 at 8:46 am |
  25. Lou Cypher

    The merit pay idea probably sounds reasonable to anyone that cannot remember what school was like.
    To anyone that can remember, it sounds pretty dumb.

    August 31, 2012 at 3:15 am |
  26. Former Teacher

    Having taught HS English, Speech Communication, Reading/Study Skills, and Composition for nearly 20 years I became permanently disabled. My own children have seen this as blessing. I get to participate in their own educations by getting them to and from practices after school. I coached in my own school so could not have done this otherwise. The get to actually do things on the weekends whether it is as a family or with friends. I was too busy grading papers and working my second job and take required graduate classes to maintain my credentials, improve my salary potential, etc. to cart them around. And come summer, I was still working that second job in addition to updating material, new textbooks, new curriculum requirements, new mandates and laws, etc. So a day at the beach was rarely interactive with my children. I was thankful for the lifeguards who would make sure my kids didn't drown while I kept an eye here and there on where they were and they were following basic rules.

    I worked myself to the bones for my students. I kept track of my hours and usually put in my 2,080 hours in a matter of nine months. For anyone that doesn't know, 2,080 hours is a 40 hour week with 2 weeks vacation in the private sector. I kept track of my hours because once I hit a certain point I knew I was spending too much time on school work and not enough with my family, which I never seemed to spend enough time with my family. It is quite sad that getting sick is seen as blessing to my family. My children are delighted they no longer have to share me with those students in my classes and all the papers to grade. They get to participate in school activities and I get to participate in those activities as any parent should.

    I truly believe that the stress of teaching in this political climate and within my particular school district led in part to my disability. It is a genetic disorder that can be triggered by any type of stress or trauma to the body. Some people get it, some people never do. I am glad to be out of teaching now also. I am tired of being reviled by an American public who seems to believe everything they hear in the media. I am tired of parents wondering why I gave their child the grade I did. I am tired of lawmakers and politicians making laws that make it more difficult to successfully teach our students. I am tired of business men and women thinking a business/manufacturing model will work in our schools. Children are not one size fits all widget, but like goods and services, you will get what you pay for. We are a people oriented organization. That type of organization cannot be shipped off to Mexico, China or India. It will cost money and a lot of it. Have you looked at the price of a text book lately?

    The ONLY way for our educational system to change for the better is when our well educated teachers, most of whom have Master's Degrees plus and additional 30 graduate credits, nearly a 2nd Master's, are the ones who are allowed to dictate that change and what it will look like. I spent $60,000 on my Master's degree. I do have the expertise to be involved in those discussion about change. We need to be using good research rather than the fact that you were once a student or the parent of a student.

    And finally like it or not, Unions do have a place in this change. In the 20 years of teaching, I have never seen the Unions fight against good sound educational policy and change. I have seen them fight against bad public policy and poorly created laws and mandates that will only hurt our children and teachers. Teachers make up our unions, so they are experts in education. While the media may want you to believe that tenure and Unions make it difficult to get rid of good teachers that is far from the truth. In my state and district the Union often worked with the district to weed out the marginal teachers. But there are also times where someone is a great teacher, but because of an unwillingness to simply pass everyone, the union also protects that teacher. My fear is that good teachers may lose their jobs or miss out on merit pay simply based on reputation. Teaching like parenting should not be a popularity contest, which I found often happened in my school district. The more popular, not necessarily better teachers got the better duties, better coaching positions, etc.

    My challenge to the American public is to stop listening to the Media hype. The vast majority of teachers are great teachers and earn every dollar they are paid. Yes, we deserve more because each year our lawmakers continue to pass laws that add more to our job description. The retention rate is abysmal. No private company would accept the high percentage of teacher who leave the profession in the first 5 years without corporate heads rolling. I know. I worked in corporate American in the banking industry and had to deal with teller turnover. Talk to your student's teachers. Ask to sit down and have a frank and open discussion. Spend a day with him or her. My door was always open and never in the 20 years did any one parent or community member take me up on that offer.

    Then think how sad it is that my children are thankful for their mom getting so ill that she is on permanent and full time disability so that she could no longer do a job she loved.

    August 31, 2012 at 2:57 am |
    • CB

      master degrees in education do not have any bearing on student achievement. You wasted $60,000 if your goal was to simply be a more "effective" teacher. Perhaps these findings are murky because researchers don't separate out masters of art in teaching (which is just an undergraduate degree for people who majored outside of education who later decided they want to teach) from masters of education in a content area from masters of education in leadership or counseling. You might see different results for different types of master degrees in education; however, there has been loads of studies on whether or not graduate degrees in education have a positive and significant impact on student achievement, and the overwhelming majority of the research says no. For one review of the literature (there are many) see pg 36 of http://www.caldercenter.org/PDF/1001059_Teacher_Training.pdf

      August 31, 2012 at 5:26 am |
      • JG

        Whether the research shows that or not, I haven't been in one single school district that doesn't require every teacher to work towards one as a requirement for keeping their job. None of us "decided" to go for that Master's degree, we simply weren't given the option not to. Districts require it to keep your job, states require it to renew teaching licenses. AND, unless it is for something that will get the district extra funding, like ESL or Special Education, the district doesn't pay for it, and most don't regardless of the program. So once we finish paying for college and certification so we can teach, we are required to pay for more college, which according to you doesn't help us be better teachers, and aren't allowed to teach without it.

        August 31, 2012 at 9:20 am |
    • Mathguy

      Fortunately Former Teacher is not a math teacher. 2080 hours is 52 weeks with no vacations. Right math teachers? Maybe it is your health condition, sorry to hear about that and good luck to you. In any case it seems like differentiating pay always seems to get shot down, which is sad because it keeps the best and brightest out of the schools.

      More difficult is the distractions teachers have in class. The classrooms should be productive places, not places where half the time is spent dealing with poorly behaving kids. Sadly a teacher can't throw the kid out of class, the administration usually does not support them. This is why private school teachers are willing to work for much less pay-they can actually teach versus babysit.

      August 31, 2012 at 8:35 am |
  27. Uldog

    gggg – You point a finger at Unions when in fact every contract I have ever seen contains language concerning discipline. There are in fact processes in place to terminate teachers who fail to do their jobs, administrators throw up their hands and claim "The union won't let us"!!!! They just do not want to make an effort to get their ducks in a row and pull the trigger. They would rather complain than do the work – now there is an example of someone who has a responsibility in their job but will actively avoid doing it !!!

    Another problem with merit pay is determining the scale it is measured with. If you have two teachers of the same subject and one has a class made up of motivated and successful students and the other has a large amount of troubled students how can you compare results. Reaching an average grade of a C in a problem class may actually be a greater accomplishment than higher grades in a less troubled group. If you expand the merit idea to district or even state levels then you must make sure that each school and teacher has equal support and resources to ensure fairness.

    August 31, 2012 at 2:19 am |
    • Bill C.

      "one has a class made up of motivated and successful students and the other has a large amount of troubled students how can you compare results"

      Student by student. How much more does each student know than at the beginning of the year, and how does it compare to their own previous years' gains?

      August 31, 2012 at 2:01 pm |
      • Alice in PA

        The problem with this idea of pre/post is that those "value-added" models only work with large numbers of students, large meaning in the tens of thousand. No teacher has those numbers. If an elementary teacher has 30 students and one does not work hard, it completely skews and screws her statistics. And of course, not all students learn the same amount year to year. So that also makes your idea unworkable. And of course,there are so many things that students learn that are not tested.

        August 31, 2012 at 4:35 pm |
  28. Thomas

    I don't like the unions getting more money for these teachers. When are we going to see the day that teachers have to be certified and then re-certify to improve their skills as teachers. Teachers are always complaining about pay. What a bunch of crap. Most teachers push kids through who are not ready to move on. THIS is the problem, not bowing to the unions who only want more pensions for their teachers.

    August 31, 2012 at 1:58 am |
    • Christina

      Um, Thomas, what gave you the idea that teachers do not need to be certified and re-certified to improve their skills? Teachers do have to be certified, except in states that may hire teachers on a temporary basis provided they obtain certification within a certain period of time (this tactic is used frequently where deplorable working conditions in non-union states, like Texas, cause high turnover). Moreover, teachers have to constantly attend workshops and/or obtain additional certifications and graduate degrees, in order to retain their jobs. I do not know where you got your conclusory assumptions, but try to stick to provable facts instead of talking-points. The importance of these issues require more than off-the-cuff remarks from armchair experts. Signed – proud child and sibling of teachers who made more than her parents in her first year post-law school.

      August 31, 2012 at 5:34 am |
    • SLP

      One of your issues is something I've run into as a teacher. Grades can be a damned if you do, damned if you don't situation. On the one hand, if you give too many high grades (C or above), you are accused of passing students who aren't ready to move up. On the other hand, if you give those same kids the lower grades they deserve, you are accused of being a bad teacher because you have students who aren't "getting it." Unfortunately, in my career, I have *never* seen a teacher's job be in jeopardy for giving high grades. The only ones who have to fight for their jobs are the ones who give low grades. Teachers often cave into the pressure administrators put on them to give higher grades to keep their jobs out of jeopardy.

      August 31, 2012 at 9:50 am |
  29. Viva Valdez

    The problem with merit pay is that if you are a great teacher who teaches traditional schedule for 6 classes and we'll average it out to 35 students per class since that is normal you would do a great job for 210 kids a year. If you are a great teacher and you don't receive merit pay you would do a great job for 210 kids a year and that's the issue I have.

    I taught high school math for 8 years loved it, I miss students, most of the parents I met were great, my students loved me back, I hear from at least one of them almost everyday, and I'm all for paying teachers more but great teachers will be great no matter what because what drives them our their students. I rarely missed a day of work because I felt I absolutely needed to be there for my students, I made sure I was prepared each day because of my students. Paying teachers more will keep great teachers in the classroom longer but that doesn't fix the structural problems and it doesn't change the fact that we haven't increase the number of great teachers nor have we fixed some of the structural problems the profession is facing. Merit Pay means we will be paying great teachers more but they won't be doing a better job because great teachers are driven to greatness because of their sense of duty to their students.

    As for you education trolls on here spouting off your ignorance on unions and other things, you're clueless. One of you posted graduation rates were down when graduation rates are up. Many of you still believe the myth that teachers can't be fired but they can it's just principals not wanting to do their job. The big secret in education is how cowardly admnistrators are, especially district administrators. About 90% of the parents are supportive or at the very least not harmful but about 3-10% of the parents are the issues and administrators fold quickly. The only people who think unions aren't needed are those that aren't teachers because I know of several teachers thrown under the bus by districts because of a possible public relations problems, many of these teachers won lawsuits against districts for unfair firing. Unions are necessary because district leaders are cowards, they'll bend over backwards to avoid fights with parents who are clearly wrong.

    Also, to those of you who criticize teaching, go sit in a classroom for a month and see what it's like. I stayed up late at night worrying, stressing over students because as a teacher you have so little control and your students often have horrible influences when they go home and unlike other jobs you don't just get to leave it at the door, you take it home with you. I've had to call CPS, I've had to call the cops, I watched a girl break down in tears when I told her she wasn't a burden and she wasn't dumb, for her that was the first time in her life someone told her that.

    Being a teacher is awesome, I loved it, loved my students, love the profession and more of you teachers need to continue attacking the trolls on here but you also need to talk about your personal stories of triumph. Sure it's bragging but your districts do a horrible job of talking to the public about what you do so you need to do it so the public understands why you do what you do.

    August 31, 2012 at 1:30 am |
    • joe

      Wow. You really have no idea how to compose a sentence.

      August 31, 2012 at 7:38 am |
  30. TeacherTeacher

    I am an elementary teacher in medium-sized TX town. I have been teaching for 14 years. I have 110 students. My take home pay is $1700 a month due to the high cost of insurance offered to teachers and the extra $200 dollars a month that I invest in a Roth retirement account. I do not get paid vacation days. I do NOT get paid for the summer days. My ten month salary is divided into twelve months so that I have an income and can pays bills during the summer months that I have no salary. During the summer I aquire 100 hours of professional development in my teaching field because I belong to a teaching cooperative that promotes professional growth and development. I pay for the cost of summer classes out of my own pocket. I get five days of paid sick leave a year. I had to save up these days for seven years to stay home for six weeks with my last baby while on maternity leave and still get paid during that time. I get a $250 write-off a year for school supplies, but easily spend three times that amount on teaching and student supplies. I pay a thousand dollars a month for a middle-of-the-road health insurance for my family and the district pays $225 toward this cost. TX teachers are not legally allowed to have unions and have no rights for collective bargaining or striking. I do not get special deals for housing, discounts on purchases, or even a free checking accounts. I work in a school that has a 64% poverty rate. There is no such thing as merit pay here. I work an eight hour day to satisfy my contract requirement and have a 30 minute lunch and 45 minute planning and prep time, both of which are required by state law. I put in a minimum of ten hours "overtime" a week, but there is not compensation for this time because I am a contract employee. I only get a one year contract at a time and can easily be fired by non-renewal of my contract each year. There is no such thing as tenure. The state of TX has a salary scale that gives a raise of about fifty dollars or so per month at each step increase, which occurs only once a year. Unfortunately, the cost of insurance and cost of living has eatten up this increase almost every year for the past several years. While I am working as an educator, I have been supporting three kids as they work through college and two of them have recently earned a BBA. One is currently working at his first job and is already making more than I do, one is in a doctorate program, and one is a junior at a state university. I am not going to get into the reasons why I teach. There are many and they would sound corny to most people. I am only writing to say that some people are making generalizations and it is unfair to assume that all teachers are paid like the teachers in whatever area you live in. I am not poor, I am not rich, and I am NOT overpaid. I have worked hard my entire career an have never had a bad evaluation from any of my principals. I go to my students' baseball, football, and softball games. I attend dances and piano recitals. I love the subject I teach. I am honestly doing all I can to make a difference. And, I hate to admit it, but I am getting discouraged. I keep hoping that things will get better for my students, my profession, and for my own family, but it is are getting harder every year on many levels.

    August 31, 2012 at 1:11 am |
    • edward smith

      Teacher Teacher does not state what she gets as a gross salary so her statement of earnings is confusing (maybe intentionally). She says she pays a lot for insurance. That is relative. Too bad she doesn't give a number so a reasonable comparison can be made against private sector in general and her area specifically.

      August 31, 2012 at 2:01 am |
      • CB

        maybe, I can help. I taught in Fort Worth, TX for the FWISD from 2004/5 to 2009/10 and during my last year with 6 years of experience, I earned $49,000 plus a stipend for drill team of $175 a month. I taught high school science although I was paid the same rate as someone who taught kindergarten with the same years of experience (also I did not have a masters). I did receive (the last two years) an extra $2000 stipend each year for completing 24 hours of professional development in science content. When I started, my base pay was $39,700. I also was paid over a 12 month period (one check a month). After taxes and the deductions I am about to describe, my monthly check was about $3,300. I had the option of the $200 insurance a month with a $250 deductible, but i chose the $12 a month insurance plan with a $1000 dollar deductible (which was cheaper in the long run). I paid $45 a month for life insurance and approx $30 a month for union dues (I voluntarily joined the union). I did not pay any extra money into the teacher retirement system. I was allowed 5 sick days and 5 personal days without a pay-cut. My day rate was about $280 dollars, which was what they would deduct if I went over the 10 days. I was paid about $31 dollars an hour for nine hour days, which included my 35 minute lunch, my 50 minute planning period, and staying to work on lesson plans/grade papers/ call parents/set up my labs for two hours after school each day (basically an 8 am to 5 pm day). I had no more than 30 students in a class, on average I taught 26. I taught 6 periods a day. Our principal made it a priority to keep class sizes as small as possible. Any tutoring I did after school, I was paid $20 by the school per hour.

        On an additional note, merit pay programs don't measure how many students pass a proficiency test. They measure student growth from year to year typically on math and reading benchmarks. So even if a teacher has mostly "troubled" students, the question is did "on average" those students grow academically under his/her tutelage? This holds true for the "top" students-which are typically harder to move from year to year than other students. Most merit pay programs (actually all that I know of) still pay the teacher their normal pay. Merit pay is just a bonus. Also many merit pay programs are based on other measures than just a teacher's student growth such as how well the school did across all classrooms, teachers meeting their yearly goals, attendance at faculty meetings, student discipline. For more information about merit pay programs see http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/oct08/vol66/num02/When-Merit-Pay-Is-Worth-Pursuing.aspx

        August 31, 2012 at 5:10 am |
      • Christina

        Teacher Teacher gave you more than enough information, Mr. Smith. I am a child of teachers and sibling of teachers. My first real job after law school, I earned more than both of my parents combined. I have seen, and still see, first hand the demanding working conditions and inadequate compensation teachers receive. Your inability to extrapolate an estimate of her gross salary (as if that is necessarily relevant) is your own failing. Your accusation that she was intentionally trying to confuse readers is baseless and incivil. You should apologize.

        August 31, 2012 at 5:25 am |
    • TeacherTeacher

      The Texas Teachers' state base salary scale is public Information. Google it. Poorer areas like the one I work in pay only the state base salary. Some larger areas, such as Dallas, or more wealthy areas pay state minimum plus x-amount of dollars and, therefore, earn more than the state base salary. In order to earn more, I could move. I choose to teach in this area for personal reasons. Merit pay is never mentioned here and this article was interesting to me and was written very well. Thank you for being concerned about my gross salary.

      August 31, 2012 at 9:47 pm |
  31. gggg

    You'd never get the unions to agree to the measurable goals. Assuming you can find goals that are applicable, measurable goals can be use two ways. To reward and to determine who should be replaced. The trade for merit pay would be the ability to immediately terminate teachers found to be ineffective. The union will never buy it. Even though it would improve the overall image of the profession to the average American, it just won't happen. This is a case where the teachers union does more harm than good.

    August 31, 2012 at 12:55 am |
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