Last week's Freakonomics podcast was titled, "Is America's Education Problem Really Just a Teacher Problem?" Yeah. I know. I almost didn't listen to it. I was too worried it would send me into a massive temper tantrum that would ruin the rest of my day. But I got myself prepared to listen and finally hit play.
And I didn't disagree.
In fact, the beginning of it, when it discusses the importance of good teachers, actually inspired me. It made me proud to be a teacher. It laid out all the reasons why teachers are essential to our society, the impact great teachers have on students, and why it should be a more respected profession in our country (and historically why it isn't). And since, of course, it's an economic podcast- why teachers should be paid more.
Paying teachers more is almost always something that is said off hand. I hear it all the time, "Wow, you are a teacher. You all don't get paid enough," "You all deserve much more than we pay you," as though just saying the simple phrase makes up for not paying us as much as what teachers in other countries make. It's similar to saying to my three year old, "Wow, look at that beautiful picture you drew. We could put it in a museum!" Easy to say, easy to sound sincere, but we don't actually plan to take any action to support our words.
It's not about the money, really. It is about what the money represents. We pay more for things we value. In other countries, the podcast discusses, teacher pay is similar to what lawyers make. In those countries (that also have higher test scores) teachers are more respected members of the community. Being a teacher is competitive. Students in the top ten percent of their high school class become teachers. That's not something that is true in America.
But it should be. This job is too important for it to not be competitive to become a teacher.There is too much at stake for our students for us not to be giving them the best and the brightest teachers to work with them.
Increasing teacher pay draws more competition to the field. I bet if you look at the highest performing school districts in our country you would also find that they pay their teachers more than the under performing districts. It isn't that teachers suddenly work harder when they are paid more, it's that a higher salary draws better candidates.
I went to a competitive college where there was barely a teacher education program. I heard time and time again, "Why are you here if you are just going to become a teacher?" That's heart breaking. Many of my peers later became teachers, and became excellent ones. But the atmosphere at the school where everyone was destined to become doctors, lawyers, accountants and CEOs was fairly hostile to anyone entering the field.
There is more to the podcast than just teacher pay. It's worth a listen.