Empower the Stars
Teachers are leaving the profession contributing to a national shortage. Nationwide 8% of teachers leave the profession every year. Three out of five special education teachers leave within the first five years. Multiple reasons are advanced for the retreat from the profession. Lower salaries, the pressure of testing too often, pacing guides and the behaviors of students.
Teaching salaries have never been great. They are getting much better; and the good benefits, at a time when corporate America is retreating from guaranteed benefits, is generally thought to fill the gap. The shorter work year doesn’t hurt either. Pacing guides impede teachers from fostering those relationships with children that brought many into the profession. Measuring good teaching by test scores when we all know people who are just bad test takers doesn’t help either.
But I think the real culprit is something else.
In most fields of endeavor, people who do a better job or work harder are rewarded. They are rewarded by higher salaries, promotions, more authority. These things do not happen in teaching. Of course salaries go up. But they go up every year depending on the union contract and like a rising tide the contract raises all boats from the dinghy to the luxury yacht. We need a system where our stars are rewarded for being stars.
Of course, the most obvious approach would be merit pay. However, unions are adamantly against merit pay, convinced that principals would not be able to judge just on the basis of merit but would throw in their own prejudices. Of course, if people really wanted to try, there would a way to include independent metrics that did not include test scores. But teaching is basically a middle class profession and we aren’t anxious to acknowledge that some are better than others at it. We all know it but we won’t use the system to reward the excellence.
There are other rewards besides pay increases. For example, consider the pacing guides. Mostly, teachers do not like them. Why not let top teachers set their own pace so long as they finish the curriculum by the drop dead date. This procedure would give top teachers some control.
Control is one of the things that is more and more missing from teaching. In the olden days, teachers closed their classroom doors and taught school. Not so any more.
How about adding a mentoring period to the top teachers’ day? This would be a time when the top teacher could visit other rooms or teachers could come to the top teacher with issues and the top teacher could offer suggestions without being concerned that these suggestions would impact the teacher’s evaluation.
Preferred parking, a special name tag, maybe even a flex day or two- all of these things could communicate to our top teachers that we are grateful they are so good at their jobs and want them to stay around a bit longer. We need to empower the stars if we expect to keep them shinning.