by Wana Duhart
America’s classroom teachers have earned the right to be compensated in ways that both acknowledge their contributions to the lives of students and reward them for their ability to foster growth and development for schoolchildren. Most of us underestimate the talents, skills, and training necessary to do classroom instruction well. Everyday people fail to realize how difficult it is to manage ten to thirty student personalities all at once – most of us have a hard time managing a hand full of people at the same time. The creativity, competence, commitment, flexibility, and leadership that are needed to be a successful classroom manager should give all of us a reason to pause and reflect on how simple our daily routines are in comparison to that of a teaching professional.
The daily realities and challenges of teaching in our elementary and secondary schools underscore the urgency to elevate how we compensate those who choose to nurture and train our next generation of citizens, leaders, managers, entrepreneurs, artists, athletes, and workers. While we as a nation have allowed ourselves to devalue and ignore the importance of teachers over the past few decades, my hope is that it doesn’t take us as long to resurrect the profession back to its proper level of prominence and stature among career choices for youth.
As graduates have shifted away from teaching and toward higher paying careers and jobs, K12 education and teacher quality have suffered as a result. Education leaders now know that in order to compete with highly lucrative professions — to attract the best and brightest teaching candidates — competitive salaries and bonuses must be offered as necessary carrots. Even in light of the reality that many teachers are drawn to the profession for reasons that have nothing to do with money – passion, commitment, service, and calling — educators must still send a strong message to prospective teachers – a message that they are committed to compensating them for their gifts and skills.
Because many teachers’ motivations and interests extend beyond financial incentives, the systems for rewarding and compensating them should reflect a paradigm that is different than what is commonplace across other professions. The utilization of systems which reward persons based on concrete goals and benchmarks would not seem appropriate, given how difficult it already is to even identify objective measurements that make the most sense in terms of teacher effectiveness and success. Both peer evaluations and student test scores are equally important components of any proposed compensation structure; however, the challenge is how to properly combine these kinds of factors proportionately.
K12 instructors’ compensation must account for quantifiable as well as non-quantifiable goals and metrics to properly reflect the totality of what goes into teaching and learning. While the task for developing appropriate salary and bonus methods for classroom teachers is truly a monumental one, we owe it to these professionals to do the hard work so that we do ultimately get to a place where their rewards and incentives match their sacrifice and commitment. How well teachers teach and how well students learn must be the foundation for any prototype, as we work to reinvent K12 teacher compensation systems.
Wana Duhart is the Founder and CEO of Trahud Enterprises, which develops alliances in education that yield innovation, creativity, and flexibility in public schooling. and has spent three decades working in varying capacities across many sectors. She is the author of the book A Call to the Village: Retooling Public Schools and publishes her own blog, The VillageSpace.