Dealing with the fear of being a boring teacher.

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Trying Not to Leave the Classroom

As a teacher who is trying his hardest not to leave the public classroom, despite pulls in every direction, allow me to paint a picture:


teacher salary house price.001

Second, paying me more won’t produce smarter, more creative students. If I knew how to do that, I’d already be doing it. That’s why teachers are non-invisible-handian. You know, like roads, hospitals, schools, healthcare (should be, cough), Internet access …

However, the mindset of the previous sentence would be a lot easier to maintain–and stomach–if the pay weren’t such that most teachers had to have at least two jobs.

Hence, the argument for higher teacher pay: we’ll stay in the classroom longer, rather than jumping ship when our salary schedule is incremented less than inflation (i.e. making less the older I get, like my second year of teaching)

In other words, it’s not student achievement you’re directly paying for, it’s avoiding turnover.

“Maybe that’s not a bad thing?” you say. “Some of my best teachers were young and excitable.” You opine.

That may be, and we definitely need to look into teacher retention and dismissal, but, as someone who educates educators, the first few formative years of teaching are when teachers create their understand of teaching students instead of presenting content. We want our students to avoid experiencing teachers of content as much as possible, and high turnover is a fantastic way to screw that up.

Iowa is trying some really interesting things right now. Here’s the first set of bullet points from the Governor Branstad’s most recent press release:

  • Raise Iowa’s minimum starting salary from $28,000 to $35,000 to make teaching more attractive.
  • Keep top teachers in front of children, but pay these teacher leaders more to take on more instructional leadership responsibility alongside school administrators, which will strengthen teaching throughout the building. Teachers who are selected for model, mentor and lead roles will be paid more for sharing their expertise and for working additional days to coach, co-teach and to foster collaboration among all educators.
  • Give brand-new teachers a reduced teaching load in their first year so they can spend more time learning from outstanding veteran teachers.

Did you laugh at the first point? Yeah, Iowa is different.

The second one is causing quite a bit of vitriol in the state. Who gets to move up the ranks? Who has good lessons? How many of these special teachers per building? District? That said, I’m a fan of the idea, and would have loved a dedicated mentor who had time to be in my room during years 1 and 2.

Finally, the third point is Juinor/Senior-worthy, but it’s really is asking the question: how do we pay people and get them the experience they should be getting during student teaching?

Let me know what you think, I’ll be meeting with the state department of ed this week.


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38 thoughts on “Trying Not to Leave the Classroom
  • [...] have been a series of really good posts recently about the teaching profession. None of the posts really got at [...]

  • bill xander says:

    i taught three miles from the mexican border for most of my nearly forty years of teaching. it’s sad to see your quandary, and you’re all but gone already. but you wanted advice, so i’m the right one to give it to you. right now, you’re looking for love in all the wrong places. i saw your TED piece and i’ve looked at some of your other blogs. you mentioned alfie kohn and he’s the best source for fundamental approaches to school. he can keep you from making even more mistakes, so i’d read everything he wrote if i were you. your heart is definitely in the right place and your basic approach to teaching kids is spot on.
    so, why are we having this conversation? i always wanted to be a teacher and knew it was where i wanted to be from day one. four decades later, i was still working just as hard, still making changes to my lessons even in the last week of my lessons. like you i hated grading students and for years i lobbied my school board to allow credit/no credit grades. but i liked almost everything else about teaching. i loved making lesson plans, loved making whole new courses, rewriting existing curricula, enjoyed the performance aspects of teaching and really enjoyed just talking and starting discussions with kids. so, most of what other teachers see as the grunt work of teaching, i enjoyed. and i think i enjoyed it, because it was always mine. i never taught what they gave me, and after my two years of probation, i didn’t even pretend to use the textbooks.
    my students were not white, not middle class, not even english speakers sometimes. i was almost white. i mean, i looked white, but i had been raised in a working class home without any kind of insurance where both parents worked. so my hispanic and filipino students didn’t exactly look like me, but the first day i opened my mouth, they knew i lived nearby. i was like them and i liked them. the first time i looked at their test scores i could see it was all bullshit. no teacher who believes test scores will ever believe in their ghetto kids. so, as soon as i saw “to sir, with love” and watched him throw his textbooks into the trashcan, i knew i’d have to write my own lessons for my kids.
    it was fun trying to find lessons that worked, but i didn’t just walk into a classroom that first day. before i walked into my first classroom, i had already read 500-1000 books, all on educational philosophies, reform movements, and fads du jour. besides expertise in education theory, i had also taken a year off (after being drafted in the army) to get a masters in creative writing. most of my BA work in english was worthless as far as teaching kids in south bay (notice how these kids are almost always in the south of something: south central, southside, south bay). so, i found magazine articles, news stories, editorial cartoons and short readings. faulkner, emily dickinson, walt whitman? uh-uh. maybe a paragraph or two. shakespeare? no, i tried to avoid all forms of cultural blackmail and teach what was interesting, the more controversial, the better.
    my kids hated school. but most kids, even middle class kids, hate school. i hated schools, too, but i loved teaching. ask a hundred kids to describe school in a single word… “boring” will be the clear choice of most adn if you asked them to complete a simple simile—school is like… the overwhelming answer will be “a prison.” so, the only way to teach effectively is to change your lessons so they are not boring. And you have to change your classroom so it is as open and as free as possible.
    Well, you can’t let them wander around outside your room (as Jim Herndon tried in “how to survive in your native land’) because then you have agreed that your classroom is a prison. So, they have to stay inside, the doors should probably be closed most of time (for your protection), but what they do inside needs to be fun, interesting, and challenging. That means it has to be personal. So, like sir, who threw away his texts, you let them ask you any question they want. you challenge them to think of a question you will not answer (so, i always had at least three or four questions, per class, about the size of my dick, but i also had questions about how many girlfriends i had who weren’t white, if i had ever cheated on my wife, could my daughters have boyfriends when they were 14, or sex when they 14, did i believe in god, etc etc).
    i haven’t done any background search on you, so know nothing about your background or life, but i know what bothers most teachers about teaching (besides not having students who are like them). teachers are primarily middle-class and schools are bastions of middle-class manners. there are endless debates and discussions over dress codes and discipline. the primary trait of an underperforming school, however, will be an over-emphasis on discipline. but schools are maddening for middle-class teachers as they lack the structure to satisfy the primary need of middle-class workers: promotions. there are no pay grades, no foremen, no middle management. when i taught my first day in school, i knew that’s where i wanted to be. 40 years later i was not disappointed that i had only been a teacher. but it eats at middle-class workers.
    if i gave a shit about middle-class, i would say the one reform that would work, would be to turn schools into the post office or any other civil service job. have lots of pay grades. of course, people forget how much bitching goes on about every promotion, and every advancement, in a zero-sum game.
    grading students causes more hassle and more grief than anything else in school, so you need to get a handle on that from the beginning (or as soon as possible). everything alfie kohn says about grading kids is true, so reduce the impact of grading as much as possible. i did this by simplifying grades into a simple effort-scale: do this and you’ll get that. i explained it the first day of class, answered any questions about grades on the second day and refused to talk about grades until the first progress report. at that point, i simply repeated what i had said on the first day and refused to talk about it until semester grades were due. by that time, most of them knew their grades (it has to be simple enough that anyone can calculate their grades), but i still answered any questions. after they got their grades any kid could come up and ask me why they got the grade they did. i rarely had anyone ask about their grades.
    my grading system is as incomplete and as suspect as any other. there is no valid grading system. now, here you have to know what you’re doing. you need to know more than almost anyone else on campus or in your district about grades and grading methodology. marzano et al notwithstanding, if you want to rid yourself of grading, you have to be able to look like an expert. i taught SAT prep courses 10 years before anyone else in my district or any other district in san diego was doing it, and 20 years before anyone could match my results (but it took an $800 course and mine was free). i also knew that california ed code had a provision that identified the classroom teacher as the “sole arbiter” of grades given for his courses. that meant no one could contest my grades successfully. but mostly, you want to keep your mouth shut about grades and cut your deal with the kids. it’s not necessarily a sweetheart deal, either, just one that seems fair enough and reasonable enough.
    i made it clear that my grades were not based on achievement, only on effort. it’s like the seniority argument in transfers and other teacher issues like lay-offs. it’s clear and simple, and fair-enough. in my ap courses, the kids could see their practice test scores and we scored these tests endlessly for practice. kids could see how they stacked up and could see if they were getting better.
    their grades were a matter of how much work they could get themselves to do. homework was the decisive factor as it is in most courses, but i never made much of a deal about homework except to say that i thought they should do all the homework, because, honestly, they needed the added practice. there are still inequities in this simple system, because any system, simple or complex is bound to favor some over others. by removing achievement scores from the mix, however, you offer a kid the chance to outwork the system. but that’s easier said than done.
    i never cared that no one ever agreed with my system, but i never really talked much about it, either. everyone assumed i was an easy grader, but my grades were always near the median gpa’s for my courses in the district. if anyone had ever asked, i would have provided an extensive rationale for everything i was doing. when i was teaching the bottom students in the school, no one cared enough to check on what i was doing. when i taught the ap and honors sections (that took 10-15 years), i found that my “easy-a” grading scale still only produced 50% a’s and 50% b’s (exactly the district average for those courses). i had discovered accidentally that when i accepted late work without penalty, it seemed the fairest deal going, but it also created a psychological trap of procrastination that most students could not resist. i never kept track of their work but reminded them that they needed to keep up. progress reports taught them not to fall too far behind, but self-discipline is a tough lesson to learn.
    they could see that the work was not that hard and they blamed me for not “making them” do the work. i told them that colleges typically are back-loaded in grading and that they needed to learn how to “keep up.” it had a kind of balance between fairness and psychological warfare.
    how long does it take most teachers to do their grades, even with the vaunted computer systems? my semester grades took me about ten minutes per class, sometimes less, and less than an hour for all five sections (usually around 185 students since my courses were always at the maximum contractual limit). except for the psychological component of my grading system, my system is no more valid than any other, but no worse, either. most teachers would say that my grades do not measure anything, but i knew more about tests and measures than almost anyone in school, and i just said, “yes, they do.”
    enough about grades. your ideas for reforming schooling and restructuring the school day are fine. they also allow you your exit strategy from the day-to-day workings of nearly any school in america. since what you envision as the optimum working condition has no chance ever of happening in our lifetime except outside the school system, it isn’t much of a stretch to take that step. of course, it’s convenient lie because there isn’t much chance that your work outside the regular school system will change shools, either. it will, perhaps, make your life a lot easier.
    now, that’s not a criticism as much as it is an observation. i don’t think most people should stay in education. it drives them crazy or turns them mean. and i don’t get much credit for sticking it out. i was happy there and i enjoyed my work (because it was all my own work). i was comfortable with the kids and everything was personal for me. i enjoyed trying to tweak the system. i worked under a guiding assumption that there might be a simple tweak that would transform the entire system by initiating a domino-effect. i thought ending the a-f grading system might be that tweak. prevent teachers from exercising that arbitrary authority and using grades primary as discipline control (do this or your grade will suffer), and it would really change everything about schools. it was a goal that wasn’t completely idealistic, i thought. but try changing just that one aspect of teaching and you’ll see how desperately teachers need that power, how completely every lesson needs the double-down bribe-threat mechanism of traditional grading.
    by the way, if you want a quick litmus test for the kinds of teachers who will side with you, ask them about credit/no credit grading.
    your proposed changes for education seem to require the equivalent of a religious conversion, or, politically, a change from our capitalist economy to an economy, like sweden, democratic socialism. so, good luck on either track. jim herndon stayed but john holt did not. you may be headed in his direction. he started off as a brilliant observer (see how children fail) who just wanted to make teaching a bit more child-centered. his frustration with the system grew and he became more and more radical. finally, he joined ivan illich and the deschooling movement. i think he finally ended up in cuba.
    if i were in my 30’s instead of nearing 70, i’d still trying stay with my kids but i’d be looking around and learning everything i could about computers, programming, and online education. i’d move my lessons online and integrate everything through computers. and i’d prepare myself for the jump in case i had no choice. in the meantime, i’d try to find ways to make in-class time relevant and valuable, because it really isn’t necessary. i just really enjoyed it.

    • Amy Zimmer says:

      What a thoughtful and amazing response. If I were Shawn, I would feel so flattered that you spent so much time to respond.

      I am curious, why online, why computers?

      The best line I’ve heard on Ed these days comes from Sir Robinson, school mostly prepares kids to become college professors.

      • bill xander says:

        amy (also my older daughter’s name):

        i would learn about programming languages for computers because that’s where the future is. i’d learn how to make websites, everything abt computers. this would be self-defensive, of course, but primarily because online resources open up the world to you and your students. i have three kindles (well, one’s my wife’s) and two daughters in their early 20’s. it’s just so clear how differently they learn and how effortlessly they use computers. so, i’d go online because that’s the easiest way to find material for class. remember, i don’t use textbooks (usually), but i always check them out, just in case, especially the 20th century lit sections. you never know when you’re going to find “the scarlet ibis.” and i usually had to pretend to use texts, so using a couple stories or essays here and there was okay. but mostly, none of that material has the slightest appeal to students who have hip-hop oldies on their smartphones.
        once mtv began, i spent the last two weeks of summer vacation watching and taping mtv videos, looking for a combination of cutting edge music as well as hi-tech videos. you’ll have to scan youtube for material. in “the blackboard jungle” glenn ford uses disney cartoons to start an ethics discussion with his gangster classrooms. and i always looked for something that made me angry. that wasn’t hard, but the vicious treatment of women in early mtv videos was blatant enough that it made even my students squirm once it was raised as an issue. the typical video featured numerous “decapitations” (where the camera is pointed from the midriff down, which usually eliminated the woman’s head).
        the real reason for going online is to go off-campus. that may well be where education is heading. schools have successfully fought off and coopted almost every effort to modernize, but they may have finally met their match in a system which operates at the speed of light. being off-campus should free up both students and teachers. i was teacher who listened to students, who talked to me a lot about other teachers. it was not just sad that there were so many really hateful teachers, but also that there were so few teachers who were even likable. moving teachers off-campus would end all discipline and dress code discussions because there would be no discipline issues except being on time with assignments, but even that would usually end up a nonissue because every course could be self-paced. the emphasis of courses would be refocused on educational issues like mastery of skills, etc. that should effectively eliminate grading as an issue, also, because grading is primary a control mechanism. if you don’t believe that, just suggest and optional grading system based on credit/incomplete. listen carefully to the arguments against your proposal (or to your own misgivings) and you’ll see how completely grades are used as discipline.
        i had minimal discipline issues in a school that was listed as the “worst” school in the district at times. my primary discipline issue was apathy or what other teachers called “laziness.” whatever name is used, they are all forms of anger (well, maybe depression, too). i was comfortable with my kids, who were a lot like me in many ways, but my classes were always intensely personal for them as well as for me. so, it doesn’t matter if you find your lessons online or on tv or at the movies or even in teen magazines. i’d opt for the cutting edge tech stuff so you’ll look as cool as someone as old as you can look. being cool relaxes the kids and reassures them that you thought enough of them to try being cool even if your end of term report cards from the kids always show that your (well, my) lowest grades were in sense of humor.
        good luck. and thanks for your kind remarks.


      • Jeff Holcomb says:

        I agree with Amy, great response. For me I think what has kept me in the room is a combination of just how much incredible fun it is when kids learn and the realization that there is no other place that is going to have as much impact. Shawn, would a combination of being in the classroom and doing other things work? I’m a fan of the coaching/coteaching model.

  • Alex Alemi says:

    I just wanted to point out that your graph is a little unfair. The quantities have different units. House listings are in $s/house and salaries are in $s/year. The picture will look drastically different depending on your conversion between houses and years. Honestly, if most people take out 30 year mortgages, perhaps a conversion of 30 years/house might seem appropriate, in which case the graph is turned on its head.

    Also medians would probably be more appropriate than means here, given the long tails in the house listings distribution.

  • [...] about the lack of feedback from the system of school that will push you to do your best work, or Shawn’s post about how we systemically reward good teachers by pushing them out of the [...]

  • Karim says:

    There’s a point at which service starts to feel like sacrifice. Perhaps that’s okay. It becomes problematic, though, when sacrifice starts to feel like martyrdom. It’s hard to sustain that, and any institution that depends on broken backs is by definition unsustainable.

    It’s not just classroom teachers who feel this. There are any number of people — from enlightened administrators trying to improve school culture, to curriculum developers trying to create innovative content — trying to do good work but whose energies are sapped by the misallocation of resources that results from, as Michael Pershan notes, the fundamental misunderstanding of what it means to teach and learn.

    We shower with millions of dollars someone who recites a bad textbook into YouTube, yet demand that teachers who toss the book and challenge their own practice take a second job to do so. Yet for all its frustration (perhaps absurdity), what else can we reasonably expect from a country whose cure for obesity is an all-meat diet?

    Ayn Rand thinks its the industrialists who will shrug their shoulders and abscond to Galt’s Gulch. I wonder.

    • I have to admit, I feel guilt for even writing this post. Shouldn’t I just be happy that I get to be a part of a bunch of kids’ educations?

      Although I watched my state legislature funnel 14 million into hiring more department of ed bureaucrats and cut off funding for competency-based education yesterday, so maybe the ThThTh’s School for the Boredom-Averse isn’t so far off.

  • Has anyone tried looking for a job when they have experience and advanced degrees. It is almost impossible to get an interview, much less a job as a regular classroom teacher.

    I think the RESPECT document has some good ideas, I recommend it not because it is the best solution, but because it is something coming from the Department of Education and thus is a starting point for discussion that might actually go somewhere.

    I’d also like to point out that all three of the points made by the governor are in there.

    I think the education system in the country is going to change. So would like children to sit in rooms with 50 or 100 other students and practice skills (probably on a computer) and call that education. The teacher in that room will be more of a security guard and be paid just over minimum wage. (unless of course they go virtual then there won’t be a room)

    Or we can do something different. Shawn has some good idea, Dan Meyer has a few, Scot McLeod has some. The ideas and thoughts are out there, what we need is the political will to make it happen. That will have to come from you.

  • Rich says:

    Great topic, just today one of my colleagues said she’s done after this year. She’s one of the best we have and has been teaching for 8 years. Unfortunately, I see this being the norm soon. The demands are too great for the little incentive. I’ve been thinking about leaving the classroom not because of pay nor class size, but the demands that have been placed upon us. The fix is out there, just look at Finland, but our politicians aren’t really interested in the greater good. A good analogy would be that Finland is the Pittsburgh Steelers or San Francisco 49ers but our politicians use the Detroit Lions as the model for our school redesign. I fear that teaching will never get back the little prestige it had, once this next generation of high schoolers and college grads learn that they can be fired based on student’s test scores, I’m not sure who in their right mind would continue to go into teaching. No matter how much effort I give or how amazing my classes are, there are always going to be people that choose not to do anything. I can’t see how I’m going to be responsible for that. Most of what I teach students cannot be measured on some test. I hope something changes in the next 5 years for the good but I have a feeling that “we haven’t seen anything yet”.

  • MlynnB says:

    To me it all just seems right…the resistance at least in my district would be from the teachers that Stand in front of the class, lecture, and expect mastery because they verbalized a great lesson and “really knew what theybwere talking about”. What about the teacher that works their tail off in a way that strikes students to use their brains and gives them a voice…isn’t that the first step to becoming a “master teacher”…if there is nonevidence of student learning then how can teacher say that they had a great lesson?? The teachers that gather an analyze evidence of student learning and use it to drive instruction should be the ones in a leadership position-maybe just maybe it would help those completely resistant to change to open their minds a little bit and JUST TRY IT!!!

  • Melissa says:

    To the second Iowa point, I think it’s at least a good acknowledgement that there should be other ways of moving “up the ranks” than going into administration. To me, admin requires a different skill set than teaching. Not all teachers would be good administrators, but not all administrators could be master teachers. Many experienced teachers are already taking on extra responsibilities; it would be nice to be compensated for it.

    And it seems fair for first year teachers should have a reduced teaching load because they get paid less. More importantly, the students will benefit from having first-year teachers who aren’t so stressed out that they’re barely keeping it together. I think many of us have been there. :)

  • Ryan Buck says:

    I think the fundamental question we may be wrestling with here is, “Would privatizing (and possibly de-regulating) education be a bad thing?”

    • Tom says:

      Are we talking true privatization (i.e. independent schools) or are we talking charters? Charters are a mess, pay teachers very poorly, do not provide resources necessary for teacher improvement and retention, and produce no better results than public schools. All while making a profit.

      Good independent schools can do as they please, but not everyone can afford to send their kids to an independent school.

      • Ryan Buck says:

        Here in Illinois, I basically view property tax as ‘tuition’. Probably an overly simplistic view, but it is what it is. There are more taxing bodies than the public schools, but that is how I equate it. For more affluent districts whose average EAV is high, they get more property tax $, those that don’t, don’t. There are ways to offset this, as in state aid due to low-income population, but the state isn’t paying it’s bills anyway. And we could get into a large, tangentially related discussion on what that low-income percentage tends to mean, also. Kudos to Shawn for getting the discussion out into the fore, it needs to be discussed. Throwing $ at a problem isn’t going to fix it, intelligent discussion is a good start.

      • Ryan Buck says:

        Private doesn’t necessarily imply for-profit. There are plenty of privately funded not-for-profit organizations. It’s probably hard for an organization to be completely privately funded, but the majority could be private funds.

  • MsPoodry says:

    I am also trying hard not to leave the public school classroom. My pay is fine, since I have no kids and my husband makes a lot, but in any other professional field with my education and experience (MA, 20 years teaching) I should be earning six figures. But I don’t care about that. I care about the coercion to teach to the test in fields that I don’t teach because student test scores in English, Algebra, and Biology will be used to evaluate me as a teacher. I care that my school board only cares about cutting costs and not about educating students for the 21st century. I care that I’m stuck in a 19th-century paradigm for education. These things are pushing me away, while my goal of making the world a better place and my belief in the responsibility and importance of PUBLIC education are keeping me in. It is a struggle, and it is getting worse.

  • Kate says:

    I like the idea of reduced time for a first year teacher, but I don’t think it needs to be reduced to 60% classroom time. In my first year of teaching, instead of having one prep period, I had two. My mentor also had this same schedule. During the second planning period we met daily and talked about everything from lesson plans, to working on my portfolio, to classroom management. One of the most valuable experiences I had a teacher!

  • twitter_mrlaymanSS says:

    On point #2:

    Institute term lengths, a la senators or representatives. I couldn’t tell you an exact time but I’m fairly confident that right around 3 years out of the classroom you begin to lose touch with the demands and rigor of teaching, regardless of how well you think you remember. People in these positions should be given time to share their expertise then be encouraged (read: made) to go back and hone it.

    On you leaving the public classroom:

    Come abroad. Somewhere there is a highly regarded IB school looking for a science teacher that specializes in inquiry and you’re that dude. There’s a lot of money out there (if that’s what you’re looking for) but also some pretty rich cultural experiences too. Hiring is just wrapping up, but you could totally look into it again next fall.

  • Michelle Brown says:

    I disagree with giving a first year teacher a reduced load. The reality is we all have a hard job- I think
    it gives teachers a false sense of reality if they are not
    exposed to the difficult and sometimes challenging classes to teach- many times those classes are the ones that teach new teachers
    much more than say for instance teaching an AP class.

    • David Wees says:

      I disagree with you! The first year teacher does not have a reduced load – they have way less experience planning lessons and preparing for their classes, and generally fewer resources to do it with. A reduced course load for them just makes the job more equitable.

      Further, they should be given a very important task to do which will still keep them very busy – observing and reflecting on their colleagues’ teaching.

  • Randy Richardson says:

    I left the classroom for greener pastures, but teaching will always be the best job I ever had. Very few teachers in Iowa make less than $35,000 and most who do work in rural areas. While I would have liked to have been recognized as a leader during my teaching days I realistically knew those of us who rocked the boat had little chance of recognition. I also knew math, science and special Ed teachers had the inside track to these positions. For me the biggest reform would have been adding more days to the school year. Time is one the biggest factors and it is rarely addressed in any reform (not at all in the Iowa reform). Adding ten days to my calendar, with pay, and eliminating any early dismissal for students would have helped tremendously.

  • I’m afraid of commenting for a number of reasons. First, I’m young and don’t (yet) have the sort of financial pressures that life exerts. Second, I have spent almost no time thinking about policy or the sort of ways that decisions can generalize to an entire district, state or country. Third, I don’t teach at a public school.

    Still, here’s what I think:

    I think that people undervalue the experience of teachers. That’s because they misunderstand the teaching profession and what it is that a good teacher can do. And that is because they misunderstand learning.

    I don’t know how we got to this point. I don’t know why people don’t understand that there’s more to teaching than having the respect of kids and explaining stuff. I don’t know why people think that learning something is having it patiently explained to you.

    But I do think that teachers are the only ones who can pull the profession out of its current state. I think that we need to start thinking carefully about how we can figure out a way to show outsiders what exactly it is that a great teacher does. If the answers can’t come from simple standardized tests, why? What’s better? If teacher quality matters, what exactly is it that is involved in teacher quality? Is it enthusiasm? Is it how much a teacher cares?

    And what’s really tricky is that the progressive wing of teachers tends to be a bit disappointed with our colleagues. We also want to convince them that there are better ways of doing things.

    Ultimately I think that this whole process of reevaluating the teaching profession needs to start with improving teaching quality. And that’s difficult enough a problem as is…

  • Kirsten says:

    Leave! As a classroom teacher for the last twelve years I have seen at least ten building administrators come and go. We need consistent administration as much as we need consistent teachers. We need the big thinkers in education to move up the ranks.

  • S. H says:

    Consider the charter movement, new teachers thrown into a classroom, paid 66-75% of the public school teachers. No planning/professional development offered. (My first 5 years were without a break, except when I had the teacher across the hall watch my kids while I peed, and did the same for her)

    Now I’m in a public school, 4th year on a pay freeze, teaching the same classes as a colleague across the hall for 23,000 less and no hope, currently, of catching up.

    I write curriculum every day; reading, researching and preparing. I’ve gotten the rep as someone who likes working with curriculum, and honestly I love following many of you bloggers and trying to find ways to do with my kids what I believe you’re doing with yours.

    Two of my fellow teachers are counting the days til their certificates expire and they will be forced to move onto another career. Here in Michigan the state has mandated that teachers MUST pay for a percentage of their health coverage, never mind that in my district we negotiated cheaper and cheaper coverage for two contracts to keep class sizes smaller and did not push for raises. Now I’ve got a $2000+ per year expense coming out of my never increasing check..

    When I started at the school, there wasn’t a teacher who left any sooner than an hour after school was done (except for Fridays). Things aren’t that way any more. Morale is way down.

    Ok, let me suggest something for your list…. First 4 years at least half of all observations should be done by the mentoring teacher, not an administrator who may or may not remember being in the classroom. (Personally I think most observations should be that way).

    How about giving teachers a means of identifying students who NEED additional assistance, and if the family doesn’t allow it (even if the assistance is available free from the district) that those student’s scores do not count against the teacher? How about something similar for disciplinary problems as well?

  • Shawn,

    I have an alternative to your third point. We are in our 2nd year as a PBL high school. We add a new class of 100 freshman each year to grow into a full high school. Therefore we hired 4 new teachers, last year and 3 were first year teachers. Also last year one of our teachers was a first year teacher.

    What we do is team teach a group of 50 students. For history and ela it is every class, for the science and math it is only part of the time. I think that this model works very well. It allows the new teacher to get their feet wet in the classroom without having to be alone with organizing a classroom, preparing content, discipline, and a host of other things. It allows the new teacher to learn from a master teacher over time and plan together.

    From an admin. point of view it does not cost any extra money because it can be the same teacher to student ratio with the larger classes. The one problem many schools might have is the space to have these large classrooms, but other than that I think it is a simple yet powerful apprentice model.

    • I wish that all admin had your wisdom. PBL as an equalizer is one of the most powerful tools I’ve seen in the last 10 years. Relevance, engagement, and treating kids as something more than blank slates are all pieces of learning that PBL addresses!

  • Kim says:

    Unfortunately, you have to look at more than just the salary when you’re weighing the odds that a person on a teacher’s salary will ever be able to buy a home. Here in Florida, not only are the salaries low compared to the cost of living (at least in South Florida, where I live), you also have to consider the fact that new teachers will never be able to earn a continuing professional contract (aka “tenure”). Tricky Ricky shoved through his merit pay bill a couple of years ago. Only annual contracts for new teachers, and he dangled a merit pay carrot – only teachers on an annual contract are eligible for merit pay. Merit pay is totally unfunded, though, so no smart teacher on a continuing contract will give up those protections.

  • Kelly Holman says:

    You (and many I’ve read on the internet) are worth paying a lot. I’ve known few teachers IRL that I’d say that about. I’ve known few that I’d want as a mentor, which is why I learn from blogs instead.

    IMO, the best way to improve schools would be to give students more autonomy. And give teachers more autonomy. And administrators. And school districts. And parents.

    I think I found Dan Pink’s talk on motivation from this very site.

  • Concerning the 3rd point (1st year teachers teaching fewer classes, planning more) I totally would have agreed to receive only 60-80% pay if I could have taught only 60-80% of the classes and planned the rest of the time! (As long as I was guaranteed to go up to 100% over the next few years) At that point in my life, I needed the time more than I needed the money. The first year of teaching is unreasonably more difficult than subsequent years, even though I’m spending nearly as much time improving my teaching and curriculum.

  • Jordan says:

    I think the third point is important. So much in the process of learning how to teach is experiential. I’ve often thought that new teachers should be inducted through this type of apprenticeship model. Conceivably that could happen in college, except a lot of education programs don’t require an adequate number of student teaching hours. But it needs to happen somewhere.

    However, I think reducing teacher class load in general is important. I imagine the golden-ratio of 60% of the time in front of students/ 40% planning, grading, collaborating, mentoring, apprenticing, professionally developing, etc. would be ideal. That would also support point two. However, I know I always feel dejected when I have to choose between giving feedback/grading and planning an engaging, relevant lesson when there simply is not enough time in the day.

    • Leif Segen says:

      This tells my story to a T. For fear of not giving students quality, I still work with the 60% / 40% ratio even thought it eats into my family time like crazy. :-/

  • bstockus says:

    I hear ya. I left the classroom 3.5 years ago to try a job at a digital curriculum company. I got a Master’s degree in instructional technology and I didn’t want to pass up a chance to put it to use in an instructional design position creating K-12 content. I’ve missed certain aspects of the classroom, primarily the awesome interactions I had working with kids, but I feel stuck. If I were to go back to the classroom now, I would have to take a 35% pay cut. That stings! As someone who is about to adopt a kid, how do I justify taking such a financial hit? It doesn’t help that districts here pay based on years of experience. I taught for 8 years. No matter how many years I spend as an instructional designer, that won’t count. I will come back as an eighth year teacher and I will be paid accordingly. What a load of crap!

    With regards to the points your state is considering, I’m concerned how they want to pay teachers more, but only if they are the “best” and if they take on additional responsibility. I would hazard a guess that many teachers already work hard for their money, and your point seems to be that they aren’t paid well for the effort they’re already putting in. So how is it right to say some teachers can earn more money but only if they start taking on even more responsibilities?