First, I will point you to a couple of people whose qualifications are without question: Dave Eggers and Nínive Clements Calegari have been working with public school teachers for 10 years, and are founders of the 826 National tutoring centers and producers of the documentary "American Teacher," according to the New York Times. In an editorial entitled "The High Cost of Low Teacher Salaries," they present an indictment of the current system, and a convincing case for a radical realignment of teacher salaries.
Some of you won't like the article, because it makes way too much sense. Did you know that teacher turnover costs American schools over $7 billion dollars a year, the cost of hiring and training new teachers? Annual turnover in urban school districts in the U.S., according to Eggers and Calegari, is 20%. Compare that to national averages of 1% in South Korea, 2% in Finland , and 3% in Singapore.
What do those countries do differently? They recruit top graduates to be teachers, they treat them better, and they pay them fairly: South Korean teachers make more than 3 times as much as their American counterparts.
By the way, students from those three countries are the top performers, worldwide, on standardized tests.
Eggers, Calegari and I keep calling for better pay for teachers. (I first spoke out about this in October 2006.) But nobody's listening. I predict that one of two things will happen: either we, and others like us, will get tired of calling, and will eventually shut up, and America will end up with the shoddy education her citizens deserve; or other people will add their voices to ours, and the noise will get loud enough for our leaders to notice and take action.
I worked as a teacher, and I was one of the 46 percent of teachers who quit within the first five years. I loved teaching. The low pay was one of the reasons I quit. The unemployment that I collected while I was actively looking for another job was only a little less than my teaching salary.
I was an engineer before and after my teaching stint, so I know how much professionals really make.
One of my daughters taught for two years, and although she loved her subject, her students, and the teaching profession, she quit to go back to college and get an MBA. It was a tough choice for her, but in the end she told me that she had looked far into her future and decided that she didn't want to be poor her whole life.
Another daughter enters the teaching profession this fall, and we'll see how long she lasts.
My sweet wife has been teaching for seven years. I know how much money she makes, and I know how the salary negotiations go every year. The teacher's union always gives in, and the administration always makes it look (in public) like the teacher's union has been greedy. The fact is that teacher pay in this district, already below the state average and well below the national average, has not even kept up with inflation for the past 7 years. But that's a topic for another posting.
I have known former teachers in many other professions, and all of them, every single one of them, told me that they quit teaching because of the low pay, not because they didn't want to teach. A social studies teacher, state champion diver and high school diving coach became an investment banker. A history teacher became a journeyman electroplater. A music teacher (not my daughter) became an applications engineer. And the list goes on.