Wednesday, November 25, 2015

What are We Getting Paid For?

I recently read a blog post from Micheal Niehoff about how to attract and keep teachers in the profession.  (Let's Pay Teachers 100K per year). I was touched by the idea that all teachers should be EXPECTED to be practicing lifelong learners, participants and leaders in true collaboration, be mentor-advisor to students (part of adjunct teaching responsibilities) and have an extended work day and year to facilitate the requirements for the above. His post got me thinking about my own experience.

Thanks to recent negotiations, the high school district in which I work just increased the top rates for all teachers by about 7%. Those teachers in the top tiers are now making just over $100,000. It's great to get such a nice raise. I know I am well paid in comparison to teachers around the California and the rest of the nation.

Here's the problem.
I am somewhat frustrated that there are teachers who make the same money as I do but work far less. There are some obvious things that contribute to the "teachers are glorified baby-sitters" mentality that often comes from the general public who do not truly know what it takes to be competent in our profession. (Why should we pay them more? They already get tons of free time!) It is something they may have experienced in the manufacturing end when they attended school. There really are teachers who work their contract hours only: 15 minutes before the first bell and 15 minutes after the last bell. Some of them are even able to get most lesson planning and most grading completed within those hours. One does not always see the hard work and design that goes into a product as complex as teaching human children.

I sometimes think I am doing something wrong when I think about those colleagues. I struggle with the planning and grading part, because of the complexity of many of the critical thinking assignments. I sometimes let things sit for a while before I grade them. I am working on improving this facet of my career. I generally do not do those tasks when I have students in the room- when we are together in class, my focus is with them- guiding, managing activities and learning and leading. I am also learning to let go of control of the grades. Self reflection and peer evaluation has a place in this arena for both students and teachers.

The work outside of my teaching day I do includes content creation (I revise lessons and add some new things every year), I am advisor to 2 very active (and time consuming) clubs, I participate in a school committee (professional development), I participate in 2 district committees (ed tech and NGSS transitions), I mentor (informally) and collaborate with a new teacher in my department. On top of all this, I challenge myself to learn new things by attending and presenting at local conferences. Many of these things are unpaid, volunteer and yet still expected of me. Don't get me wrong- I do all of these activities willingly for the benefit of students, colleagues and my school. My work week often exceeds 50 or 55 hours per week. My site administrators often work more hours than that due to local and district expectations of attendance of athletic events and other extracurricular activities. I do not resent their pay or the responsibility for the entire school community.  After all, we are all in this for the benefit of students.

Here's what I think will make the conditions better.
It would help us to have fewer students in our class loads. I already have about 165 students that I see every day. There is a huge instructional difference in a class with 38 students and one with 25. I would willingly mentor 20-25  students for their entire 4 years if my actual class sizes were down to 25 students. I think it would keep them involved in school and continuing forward toward a positive career.

Collaboration and planning could be (better) shared if there were more teachers in each department willing to teach students with fewer (old) lecture notes and (really old) worksheets and more (updated) lab and inquiry activities that require critical thinking. We also need less discussion (complaining) about 504 and IEP requirements and more sharing of real world strategies to work with all students.
STEM Solar Cup Competition
Plenty of us already work super hard. But it would really be awesome to spread the extracurricular work around. I recently had to put one of my competitive STEM clubs on hold for a year because I could not find another faculty member (in a school with over 150 staff members) to help. We have a year to do some background activities for the competition next year and to convince another staff member to work with me. If I cannot find someone- I will do it next year anyway with the help of my husband and some parents and something else will have to give. There are only 24 hours in one day.

At least in my district, we are part way there (for those teachers in the top years and educational levels). But the ones who are always only on campus from bell to bell should have to make some adjustments. I am ready to teach and work in the world Mike envisions. I wonder if others would join me?

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