Friday, February 3, 2012

Alabama Sen. McGill Says Paying Teachers Leads to Poor Education

You really need to go read this entire article from Dekalb County Times Journal. No, really. Go read it. I can't possibly do the absurdity justice, and you won't believe me if you don't see it for yourself. 

Alright, are you back? For those of you who are pressed for time and didn't go check out that gem, let me give you a quick highlight. Alabama Senator Shadrack McGill had the following things to say about teacher's pay:

"To go in and raise someone's child for eight hours a day, or many people's children for eight hours a day, requires a calling. It better be a calling in your life. I know I wouldn't want to do it, OK? And these teachers that are called to teach, regardless of the pay scale, they would teach. It's just in them to do. It's the ability that God give 'em. And there are also some teachers, it wouldn't matter how much you would pay them, they would still perform to the same capacity.  
If you don't keep that in balance, you're going to attract people who are not called, who don't need to be teaching our children. So, everything has a balance."
There's plenty to criticize just in that alone, but to paint a full picture, you need to understand McGill's views on lawmakers salaries, which he voted to raise from $30,710 to $49,500/year:
"That played into the corruption, guys, big time,". . . 
McGill said that by paying legislators more, they're less susceptible to taking bribes.
"He needs to make enough that he can say no, in regards to temptation. ... Teachers need to make the money that they need to make.
It's a Biblical principle. If you double a teacher's pay scale, you'll attract people who aren't called to teach."
So, to recap, McGill thinks that legislators need to be paid more because otherwise they will give into the temptation of taking bribes. (Because someone making $30,000/year has no shield against bribes, but someone making $49,500 is completely impervious, clearly).  At the same time, he thinks that teachers should not be given pay raises because an attractive salary will draw money-hungry individuals to the profession like moths to the flame, leaving us with completely incompetent teachers. 

Teachers, he says, are born to teach, gifted by God to do their calling. They will heed this call no matter what you pay them. 

You know what? In some cases, he's right. Some teachers will teach no matter what you pay them because they really do love their jobs that much, they really do feel driven to teach.  

That's why you get reports like this one showing that up to 40% of the teachers in Clark County Nevada have to moonlight at other jobs to make ends meet. Consider the sacrifices that this teacher is making so that she can follow her "calling": 
Even with a master's degree and a couple of years of teaching experience Ann Marie still makes less than Clark County's median income of a little more than $44,000 a year.
She says, "I could actually go into the corporate world with a masters and make quadruple the money."
But she won't because she loves these smiling faces too much. "I love working with kids. I really like the feeling it gives me at the end of the day and that's basically why I'm here."
So she'll work 18 hours days with three jobs and get by with little sleep.
Consider some of the findings from the Eggers and Calegari's NY Times Op-Ed in April 2011: 
  • "In real terms, teachers’ salaries have declined for 30 years. The average starting salary is $39,000; the average ending salary — after 25 years in the profession — is $67,000. This prices teachers out of home ownership in 32 metropolitan areas, and makes raising a family on one salary near impossible."
  • "Sixty-two percent work outside the classroom to make ends meet." 
  • "For Erik Benner, an award-winning history teacher in Keller, Tex., money has been a constant struggle. He has two children, and for 15 years has been unable to support them on his salary. Every weekday, he goes directly from Trinity Springs Middle School to drive a forklift at Floor and D├ęcor. He works until 11 every night, then gets up and starts all over again."
Eggers and Calegari also shed some light on just how greedy those people who McGill knows would pounce on teaching jobs just to make an easy buck really are:
  • "McKinsey polled 900 top-tier American college students and found that 68 percent would consider teaching if salaries started at $65,000 and rose to a minimum of $150,000. Could we do this? If we’re committed to “winning the future,” we should."
So, McGill is sometimes right. Sometimes teachers are so called to their professions that they go to extraordinary lengths to make their salaries stretch so they can continue to do it. Sometimes teachers depend on a spouse's salary to get by. Sometimes teachers juggle extremely tight budgets and make personal sacrifices in their purchases. But McGill isn't always right, sometimes teachers can't afford to follow their calling, and they quit.

Take this CNN interview with Linda Deregnacourt who left a very successful 13-year teaching career because she couldn't afford to keep doing it. Or the numerous successful college graduates--many strapped with rising loan debt--that look at the salaries of teaching and opt out from the beginning. 

In McGill's world, these people are either turning their back on their callings--and for what? a roof over their heads and food on their tables? How selfish!--or they were never meant to teach to begin with. A true teacher wouldn't care about the sacrifices. A true teacher would find a way. 

Like most other professions, teaching takes a combination of talent, training, and learned experience. I will never understand why so many people look at this position as if it should be the role of some dedicated public servant who asks for nothing in return. We don't ask that of other professions. We don't tell lawyers or doctors (who also serve the public) that they should just do the work and be glad that they can follow their passions. McGill's comments are extreme, for sure, but the sentiments are echoed throughout our culture, directly and indirectly, through words and the inadequate paychecks millions of teachers receive.

Teachers do hard work--McGill goes so far as to say they are "raising" our children for eight hours a day. Don't they deserve to get paid for it?

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this. I'm a teacher with 7.5 years of experience now (and enough post-bac hours to move me up a pay step), and: 1) Pretty much all the numbers you quoted in your post look tantalizngly large to me; 2) in absolute terms (not even in buying-power terms), my salary has been declining for the past 4 years.

    If things continue this way, the point will come where I will simply need to change jobs in order to enjoy luxuries like, you know, food.