Southern Illinoisan, Carbondale, IL; Thursday, August 19, 1999, p. 2B
Blame Game - Let's Pay Teachers What They're Worth
By Myriam Marquez Orlando (FL) Sentinel
Public-school teachers get no respect and little pay for the challenges they face.
It's not the teachers' fault, though, that little Johnny's parents never read to him before he entered kindergarten or that sleepy middle-schooler Amy is allowed to stay up until the wee hours watching television.
It's not the teachers' fault that some of their students come from dysfunctional families consumed by alcohol or drug addiction.
It's not the teachers' fault when high school kids sleep in class because they have to work nights to help their families make ends meet.
But we blame the teachers anyway. We blame them because turning around crippled schools is hard work that requires the participation of parents, business people and the community in general. It's work that requires patience and lots of time -- both in short supply in our always-on-the-go society.
We say we want to help, but, really, all we want to do is gripe. If we wanted to help, we would start by paying teachers what they are worth. We prefer, instead, to pay for more cops and jail guards when the kids don't turn out quite right.
Then we blame the teachers.
We expect teaching to be a calling that requires personal sacrifice -- not a profession, like any other, that's well-rewarded.
Don't tell me there's no proof that more pay leads to better teachers. Don't point to Catholic schools, which pay teachers substantially less than the public-school system and yet produce students who are top achievers.
True on both counts, but private and Catholic schools get to choose their students. Public schools must accept every little broken child.
Another argument against paying teachers more is that they have summers off. Teachers I know, though, also work 10- to 12-hour days, grading papers, preparing class assignments, looking for innovative materials to inspire their studetns. Many spend a chunk of summer in training to polish their teaching skills, too.
They do all of that, and yet the average salary for a beginning teacher is $25,735 nationwide, and the pay tops out, on average, at $39,000.
Teaching is not a 9-to-5 job. It's more like an adventure that should require battle pay -- particularly for those who teach in inner-city or rural schools.
Those schools , though, are the ones that are filled disproportionately, with young, inexperienced teachers. The most experienced teachers are rewarded by being sent to wealthier suburban schools in which parents are involved and are go-getter fundraisers.
Absolutely -- not all teachers will produce better students if paid more. But it's also a given that poor pay breeds mediocrity in a competitive world.
Paying teachers more is one necessary step among many that public schools must take if we're truly serious about helping kids succeed.
Lengthening the school day by one hour, increasing the school year by 30 days, making discipline rules clear and sticking to them and reducing class size so that children get the individual attention they need to catch up are all key components that lead to success.
There are about 2.7 million teachers nationwide. In the next 10 years the United States will need 2 million more teachers to keep up with the growth in the student body and to make up for the retirement of baby-boomer teachers.
Do the math. It's not that complicated. We either offer better pay and better work conditions or we give in to the blame game, let the kids slip further behind their peers in industrialized nations and keep building more prisons for our homegrown failures. ----------------
Myriam Marquez is an editorial page columnist for the Orlando Sentinel.
************************************************ * Jerry P. Becker Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction Southern Illinois University Carbondale, IL 62901-4610 USA Fax: (618)453-4244 Phone: (618)453-4241 (office) E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org