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Should We Re-Structure Teacher Salaries?

In some areas of the country, teachers are not paid well enough to make as good a living as they should. They are not who I’m talking about here.

How Teacher Salaries Work Now

High school teachers and many middle school teachers are generally  paid to teach a 5-course load, meaning they teach 5 classes per day, 5 days per week. I’ve done that course load, and it’s exhausting. 18-36 students would enter my class every 42 minutes (minus 5-minute breaks to change classes) 5 times per day. Sometimes the classes seemed longer, but the days always went fast. I did all my planning and grading at home in the evenings and weekends. In my busiest year, I had 142 students in my classes. Some teachers have even more.

I have heard talk about keeping classes smaller, and I have heard ridiculous claims that larger class size doesn’t impact the quality of education students receive. But I have never heard about re-structuring teachers’ workload so they teach fewer courses.

There are school districts in which teachers are making well over $125K per year. Many of these teachers are excellent, and I am confident they are earning every cent of those salaries.

An Experiment in Salary Structure

Would it make sense to offer some teachers the option of receiving a lower salary and teaching fewer classes? Could a teacher making $125K to teach 5 classes instead choose to make $100K and teach only 4 classes? Would that provide a better education for students, and perhaps entice some teachers to stay longer in teaching?

One of the highest paying districts in the state of New York several years ago increased its teacher salaries by a considerable margin and added a 6th class to teachers’ schedules. The teachers union actually voted to approve that contract; in fact, I had heard the teachers were the ones who pushed for the change. Wouldn’t students receive a better education if teachers taught fewer rather than more classes? Aren’t there teachers out there who would be interested in making less money to do a better job for their students and, to get more times for their own lives?

A Proposal

I suggest local districts and state education departments create pilot programs in which teachers would be allowed to opt for a lower teaching load for a lower salary. It would be interesting to see:

  1. If any teachers would choose this option.
  2. If there were any changes on teachers’ or students’ perceptions of the quality of their teaching/learning.
  3. If there would be any measurable differences in students’ success. (Authentic measures, not just standardized test scores)
  4. If more new teachers would stay in the profession after 5 years if they chose this option.
  5. If a teacher who chose to teach fewer classes simply allowed the workload to swell to take as many hours as the previously higher course load took, so there would be no difference in the teachers’ personal life, except a lower salary.

I’m sure there would be other questions worth asking if this change were permitted. What do you think? Please add your comments and feedback.

2 thoughts on “Should We Re-Structure Teacher Salaries?”

  1. learningfirst

    Interesting proposal, Ken! A couple additional questions:
    1. Might this offer a means of gradual retirement, so learners can continue to benefit from the funds of knowledge experienced teachers can contribute?
    2. Could this approach be coupled with family leave, so that teachers can keep jobs and benefits and schools can maintain continuity with personnel?
    3. Would it be useful to explore the corollary possibility of “extra” service for additional pay?
    4. Is there a danger that this approach might support a technical perspective of teaching? (X lessons = X dollars)?
    5. And, perhaps most significant to me, could such a proposal create different “service” opportunities so that mentoring novice/student teachers could be substituted for teaching load? This would keep experienced teachers in the field longer, enhance their practice through exposure to teacher education programs, and provide beneficial partnerships for candidates and novice teachers.

    Thanks for this intriguing post!

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