Recently, Time Magazine ran a cover story that illustrated the financial struggles that American teachers face. Some of the quotes from that story have gone viral on social media.
"I have a masters degree, 16 years experience, work two extra jobs, and donate plasma to pay the bills."
"I have 20 years experience, but I can't afford to fix my car, see a doctor for headaches, or save for my child's future."
"My child and I share a bed in a small apartment, I spend $1000 on supplies, and I've been laid off three times due to budget cuts."
Perhaps in reaction to that story, I was recently asked the question, "If we make teaching a more financially attractive career will it improve education?"
The simple answer is, "Yes."
But, when we hear this question, I don't think it's really asking what we think it's asking.
Of course, making teaching more attractive will lead to more qualified people choosing to teach. It will lead to greater respect for the profession. If teachers don't have to take on second and third jobs to pay off their student loans, they'll be able to focus more energy on their students.
I believe the real, unspoken question that is being asked is, "Is it worth investing in our teachers?"
Those who ask this question really want to know, "Is it worth taking money away from all the other places we spend it in order to pay teachers more?"
The only way to answer those questions is to examine what the trade-offs would be.
In the United States, the amount of money spent by states on standardized testing each year has been estimated to be $1.7 Billion. It is also estimated that American parents spend about $13.1 Billion on test prep, tutoring, and test fees each year.
Standardized tests are a great way for companies to make profits off education. They are also wonderful for generating data that can be analyzed in order to figure out how to make even more profit off education.
They are not much use for those of us who are trying to help children actually learn.
The United States has about 3.8 million teachers.
Reallocating money being spent on standardized testing toward teacher salaries would lead to an average increase of about $3900 per year, approximately a 7% raise.
US schools also spend about $7 Billion each year on textbooks, many of which are out of date before they are even published due to the exponential growth of human knowledge.
In addition to their lack of relevance, textbooks often come with scripted lesson plans and standard assessments which prevent both teachers and students from being successful. The importance of creative thinking, collaboration, and personalized learning in our future society are well documented. These textbook programs often create environments void of those skills. A teacher reading from a teachers' manual is not modeling the creativity we need in students and has no need to collaborate in designing better lessons. Standard assessments prevent us from ensuring every student is getting his/her needs met. In fact, many schools tell teachers to stick to the textbook programs "with fidelity" in order to make the data from standardized tests just a little less meaningless.
This is not to say that schools should not purchase books. They should. Books will always be an important aspect of education.
Expensive textbook programs that undermine teacher autonomy are not.
When schools are spending billions on textbooks that prevent teachers from growing and students from learning, while at the same time teachers are forced to work second and third jobs in order to pay their bills, we have a problem.
We could look at how schools purchase technology that is not used effectively, spend millions of dollars on athletic fields, and dozens of other ways that we spend money in education on things that are not nearly as important to our student's future success as their teachers.
Our priorities are clearly askew.
If a society values having an educated populace, a strong democracy, a thriving economy, and healthy citizens, it must put adequate resources into it's public education system.
And, if that society wants that system to be successful, it needs to demand those resources are being used to recruit, retain, train, and support the most important in-school factor in determining the success of our children: their teachers.
Michael Soskil is a dynamic speaker, professional learning facilitator, author, & one of the most highly recognized teachers in the world. The book he co-authored, Teaching in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, has been called "an authoritative guide to teaching practice over the next three decades" and has been endorsed by world leaders in government, education, & business. To learn more about Michael's work or to book him as a speaker for your next teacher workshop or event, please visit his website at MichaelSoskil.com.