Chris Roemer: All teachers aren’t equal, so why is their pay?

The positive impact highly effective educators have on the lives of children and the communities where they live is incalculable. Great teachers are truly more precious than gold.

Having said that, teachers always seem to be talked about as belonging to one large homogeneous group. All are said to be superb educators, totally devoted to their students, who give sacrificially of themselves and their personal resources. All are exhausted and in need of long weekends to recover from the demands of their job. All deserve a raise.

Rarely is any distinction made between those who truly are exemplary, those who have average ability, and those who probably should seek employment elsewhere. Does anyone doubt there are educators who fall into each of these three categories?

The best teachers do not earn anywhere near the salaries they deserve. These are the educators who invest countless hours developing meaningful relationships with students and parents, who are constantly working to improve their pedagogy, and who go to extraordinary lengths to reach each and every one of their students. It is naive and dishonest to suggest this describes all teachers.

For some reason, a teacher’s salary has absolutely nothing to do with how well they do their job. In fact, adjusted for tenure, the very best teacher in a district and the very worst are paid exactly the same.

As things stand now, in order to give exemplary teachers raises they so richly deserve requires the district in which they work to give every teacher in that district the exact same pay increase.

How can that possibly be justified?

Many a new teacher enters the profession with a genuine desire to make a real difference in the lives of students. They are full of energy and passion and excited about the opportunity to do good, but for far too many something happens along the way that just sucks the life out of them. Over time they begin to notice they have peers who are doing barely what is required, and gradually new teachers come to realize all their effort, all their time, and all their passion earns them nothing more than the exact same compensation received by their least motivated and most cynical colleagues.

So, they become disillusioned. Many leave the profession. Some become cynical themselves.

In many schools, teachers who exceed the expected are actually frowned upon by their less-motivated colleagues who believe educators who go the extra mile make them look bad by comparison.

Some would have you believe that’s the way it has to be because there is just no way to distinguish great teachers from not-so-great teachers, a patently false assertion.

An educator’s job is complex and multifaceted, meaning a comprehensive set of measures is required to determine a teacher’s overall effectiveness. It’s not just if students are consistently thriving in their classroom. What does a teacher do when a student is not thriving? It’s not just how their students perform on state assessments. It’s not just the steps they take to ensure parents are partners in the education of their children. It’s not just if they are consistently working to improve their pedagogy and investing time assisting in the professional development of their peers. It’s not just the hours they involve themselves in school and community activities.

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Great teachers do all of these things and more. Less effective teachers do not.

Developing a comprehensive compensation strategy that rewards the best teachers and incentivizes others to become the best they can be is not only possible, it is imperative.

There are those who believe that the primary purpose of teachers unions is to protect the worst teachers from the consequences of their inadequacies, whether they are willing to admit it or not. It is considered heresy to suggest teachers should be compensated based on their relative value to the children they serve. In fact, it’s heresy to even suggest some teachers are more valuable than others.

Great teachers are treasures. They should be coveted, nurtured, and compensated in ways that recognize their worth to the communities in which they work. A compensation strategy must be developed that encourages teachers to strive for excellence and which tangibly rewards those who achieve it. Until that happens, the most effective teachers will always earn far less than what they deserve, and it’s these teachers who should be complaining the loudest about how educators are paid.

Why should highly effective educators have their income potential limited by a compensation strategy that caters to the lowest common denominator?

Who does that benefit?

Chris Roemer is a retired banker and educator who resides in Finksburg. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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