Teachers, salaries, and bonuses

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The Chronicle‘s editorial board has written a conventional-wisdom type of piece today filled with the usual nonsense about underpaid teachers. The editorial is partly a response to HISD’s handing out of bonuses last week. (More on that in a minute.)

The LJ’s editorial thesis is that teachers are so underpaid, their morale is somewhere deep in the earth’s crust. I hate this tired conventional wisdom because by and large it’s just not true. The key is the number of days each year a teacher works. Everyone knows teachers get gobs more vacation days than average working folks do.

Let’s say a teacher making $40,000 a year works 186 days a year — that works out to $215 per day. Divide that by eight hours and the teacher is making almost $27 per hour. Factor in benefits — and thanks to teachers unions, teachers have good benefits that don’t come out of their paychecks like private sector employees’ benefits — and teachers aren’t doing badly at all. That $40,000 salary is actually well-beyond $50,000 with benefits added in!

As for summer vacation — teachers can save their money so they can take a two-month vacation, or they can teach summer school and make even more money.

How many non-teaching folks can take 60 vacation days a year and not lose their jobs? Eh, I certainly can’t!

Plus, with increased longevity within a district, and the earning of a master’s degree, teachers can increase their pay quite nicely.

Generally speaking, once a teacher has spent a good number of years in a district and earned a master’s degree, a teacher is paid a pretty good salary, for 180+ days of work!

Now take your average working person (AWP) who makes $40,000 a year. Let’s assume AWP gets weekends off, two weeks of vacation a year, and five holidays. AWP works 246 days a year, which means AWP makes $20 per hour AND gets benefits taken out of each paycheck.

That’s quite a difference!

If the editorial board wants teachers to be “paid what they are worth to society,” I’d like to know if the editors have put any REAL thought into the matter. Do the editors have a dollar figure in mind? Would $30 per hour be sufficient? How about $40? And at what level? Is that entry-level? Let’s get specific!

Where there is low morale in schools, other factors are often the cause — unruly students, uninvolved parents, weak-willed administrators, dumbed-down curricula geared to lower-level students, etc. Pay isn’t generally at the top of the list of gripes. Teachers who love to teach aren’t doing it to get rich. They love to help students learn.

Then there’s the issue of the Chronicle posting every teacher’s name who received a bonus, along with the amount of the bonus. I have a problem with that. I don’t have a problem with the Chronicle posting the amounts, the schools and the subjects, but there was no reason for the names to be printed. (Although Gayle Fallon must have enjoyed the blog brawl that ensued. Anything that can get her closer to ALL teachers getting ALL the bonus money is a win for her. More union dues money — yay!)

Yes, it’s public money and that makes it perfectly reasonable to disclose the amounts. It strikes me though that issues of individual pay should be private whenever possible, just as entities are loathe to disclose personnel matters. Can HISD go back to the drawing table to fine-tune the bonus program? Certainly. And that’s something the private sector has been doing for years, but the decision to print the names was unnecessary. The teachers are public sector employees, but generally don’t put themselves in the public eye, and that’s something I wish the Chronicle had considered.

BLOGVERSATION: Stories From a Teaching Life.


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About Anne Linehan 2323 Articles
Anne Linehan is a co-founder of blogHOUSTON.