A while back, I came across two great posts, one about merit pay (something I’ve discussed before) and the other about teacher training. First, one teacher’s take on merit pay:
Were I compensated on the basis of test scores, I would have received a huge increase this year, because of the much higher rate at which my students passed the state test. of course, next year in all likelihood I would then receive a similar sized pay cut when my pass rate drops heavily, as in all likelihood it will: the students I have this year came to me far less prepared than those of last year. I can tell right now that unless the state is manipulating the cut score used to determine passing, a much higher level of this year’s students will fail to meet state standards. In part this is because of previous preparation. It is also because I have two classes with a significant percentage of students who are totally unmotivated, and in checking their records and sitting in parent-teacher conferences, this behavior is demonstrated across their course load. I was not that much better a teacher last year than the year before, and I am certainly not that much worse now. It is inherently unfair to compensate me for things outside of my control.
Granted, conservatives don’t really care about things like unfairness, but most people in the Coalition of the Sane do. There’s also a brutal reality check about teacher training:
We know that smaller classes are often more effective, especially at the elementary level, for students who need more attention, and in teaching proper writing at the secondary level. Further, for secondary teachers to properly do their job their total load of students should be less than the 150 to 200 some of us have. If a teacher has 180 students it becomes impossible to give proper attention to individual student work when one corrects it – it simply takes too long. Do the math. If I have 180 papers to correct, and I spend 3 minutes per paper, that is 540 minutes, or 9 hours – for one assignment.
Schools have little choice but to hire anyone who is fully certified. This is especially true in schools that are in inner cities or rural areas – simply finding people to apply can be difficult. It can be true in subjects for which there is a shortage of people.
I remember some statistics from when I was in my teacher training program at Johns Hopkins. Maryland certified less than half the number of total teachers it needed each year, and one year Maryland programs only certified a total of 3 to teach physics. It is one reason that some districts ad to heavily rely upon those with provisional certificates: there simply were not enough people with full certification to fill the openings.
At one point in my career, I considered high school teaching, but what discouraged me was the lack of control over what I could teach due to testing requirements and the educational bureaucracy. It also helped that I had other options that were equally (or more) appealing–which is one reason, I think, why it’s particularly hard to find qualified science teachers.
As long as we consider teaching to be a secular equivalent of the priesthood, and not a job with the pay and workplace environment (some) other professionals have, we’re going to have a teacher shortage.