Alan Chartock: Here's what a teacher's really worth
Let there be no mistake about it: Our teachers are our most precious human resource. Too many politicians try to step on their shoulders and scapegoat them. I am married to a former high school teacher and I know all about the stupid accusations that are hurled at teachers.
"They only work from nine to three" or "They get huge summer vacations." It's downright infuriating. Compared to college professors, teachers exist in indentured servitude. When you live with a teacher you see all those papers that have to be graded. You learn that teachers often get to their desks hours before their first student and stay long after the last students have gone home.
In addition to their teaching load, they are called upon to chaperone evening events, patrol the halls, and keep peace in the cafeteria.
Our country is getting dumbed down, but the fault is not that of the teachers. What doctor would work for the kinds of salaries that we pay teachers? Oh, do you think that doctors are more important than teachers? Well, you'd be wrong. Doctors are important -- the difference is, they are mostly well paid for what they do. Teachers, however, are seriously underpaid.
As a result, we lose some of the best minds that our colleges and universities nurture because these kids want the dignity of a salary commensurate with the kind of effort they have made to get their earned degrees. If you want the best and the brightest to enter the field, teachers should be paid well. I'd start them at $70,000 a year and increase them to $100,000 as they gain experience.
I would, of course, insist that they demonstrate to their leadership that they are doing their jobs. If a teacher is not working up to par, our laws should be adjusted to make it easier to throw them out. We've all heard about the "rubber rooms," and we all know who the do-nothings and the malingerers are. If we can send a man to the moon, we can figure out how to hold people responsible.
Part of the problem is schools of education that offer up subpar course work and admit people who should never get to the pipeline. Some schools insist that you major in a substantive subject area like geography or political science or biology and then take a few education courses. Most college professors never had a teaching course in their lives. My bet is that some will be fabulous and some will be lousy, just like in teaching the grades.
There are people who have never believed in public education. My kids were educated in the excellent public schools in the Southern Berkshire District when we lived in Alford and at the Berkshire Hills District when we moved to Great Barrington. I would put that education up against anything that any private (or independent school as they like to be called) has to offer.
Of course, some folks put their kids in private schools for some very good reasons -- the children of the very famous often end up in private schools for privacy and protection. On the other hand, sending a child to a public school can be a really excellent preparation for life. Kids will understand that not everybody looks like them. They will meet people with different backgrounds and family lives. Once they get into the work force, they are a little bit more prepared for what they get.
Of course, all public schools are not alike. Some schools in this country are so bad that the students' health and welfare are threatened. That's when school leadership has to be prepared to insist on safety and unions have to be ready to work with the district's educational leadership to protect both teachers and their students and establish fair evaluation standards.
There is much more to be said. Let's leave it at this: If you hear anyone mouthing off about the poor quality of our teachers, just let them know that you're not buying it. Ask them why we are not paying teachers what they are worth.