Today, let’s be thankful for teachers

See the way I tied the holiday to the funny video I wanted to share that actually had nothing to do with Thanksgiving. Old newspaperman’s trick.

Back in the day, when newspapers had some heft to them, today’s was always the biggest paper of the year. We saved up copy for weeks to fill that sucker. In fact, when I started my first newspaper job out of college in the fall of 1975, my managing editor gave me a special assignment, and acted like he was showing me favor by handing me such a great responsibility.

He put me in charge of the Turkey Box. It was a cardboard box that I was to fill with evergreen stories that would hold for the big day. So I crammed it with AP copy of a non-urgent nature.

I didn’t let it swell my head, which is to my credit.

Anyway, I thought this video was great. I would say hilarious, except for the serious point it makes. I particularly like the bit about the first-round draft pick who is instantly a millionaire, a great rise from his unassuming beginnings: “His father lived paycheck to paycheck as a humble pro football player.”

Yes, it would be great if top teachers were lured away to a new school by $80 million over six years, etc.

Of course, I don’t know if it’s healthy for a society to get this excited about anybody. But if we’re going to do that, it might as well be about teachers or someone else who actually contributes something of value to society.

That’ll be the day, huh?

Anyway, have a great and blessed Thanksgiving.

24 thoughts on “Today, let’s be thankful for teachers

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Can you see the personal inscription he wrote down in the corner for me? It reads…

      Of course — this was back in the good old days before the Catholics took over…

  1. Doug Ross

    It would be great if teachers were paid like pro athletes.. By that I mean based on performance rather than years of tenure and degrees held. And then we could also use statistics to measure them publicly… And cut the ones that aren’t performing.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      You’ve got no argument from me. One of many reasons I’ve always liked Lamar Alexander is because of his efforts to move to merit pay in Tennessee back in the 80s.

      Of course, it’s not likely ever to happen, mainly because teachers don’t trust the people doing the measuring.

      Teachers feel like only objective measures are fair — and that means such things as tenure and degrees.

      But there’s really no such thing as a perfectly objective measurement. And when you initiate something that might work, like the PACT test, everybody screams bloody murder. I seem to recall you being critical of standardized testing yourself, Doug.

      And in most workplaces, little attempt is made to go by such measures.

      The way to make teacher pay and promotion more like the rest of the world, the principals would have to be given the power to make the decisions based on their best judgment.

      And do you see that happening soon?

      1. Barry

        The problem with merit pay with public education is the vast disparities within a school (not even counting the vast disparities between schools)

        My wife teaches at a magnet school within a high school. Her students are high achieving, good test takers, with parental support.

        Her coworkers that aren’t within the magnet school teach children that didn’t qualify for the magnet. Many come from severely fractured families. Some have been abused. Some are barely at grade level or below grade level. My wife taught at that level for one year. It was an awful experience and she almost quit the profession for good but the magnet opening occurred.

        Measuring the effectiveness of teachers in situations where there are incredible differences between classes, schools, etc is difficult at best and impossible in most cases.

        If it’s all based on outcomes, the teacher shortage being experienced now will be a light summer breeze with rainbows and lollipops compared to what will happen.

        Of course this doesn’t take into account professionals like special education teachers that have to try to teach seriously handicapped children who can’t take tests at all.

        We do not have enough teachers now in South Carolina. Many districts are recruiting across the nation and in foreign countries to fill the gaps because many of our students going to college can make more money starting out being an office manager or managing a Gap store at the local strip mall.

      2. Doug Ross

        I’ve been opposed to standardized testing since say one because nothing of consequence ever comes from the results. Students who do not meet standards are pushed along, teachers who do not improve outcomes over several years are retained, schools that so not improve see no changes in adminstration. It’s worthless.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Ah, but if we’re talking PACT testing, that wasn’t about students and their fates. It was about grading the schools, and determining which were succeeding in teaching the kids and which were failing.

          It was about making sure schools and teachers were doing the jobs we pay for them to do.

          Which is why I would think you, Doug, would have been all for the program.

          The system was never given a chance to work. People kept pushing back against it before it even got started, and the opposition just built and built from there…

          Were there problems with it? You bet. The central one was that when PACT time came, teachers filled the kids with anxiety by telling them how IMPORTANT this was.

          It should have been administered the way it was when I was in school. A standardized testing day was like a holiday. You mean, all I’ve got to do is color in these bubbles with right answers to fairly easy questions, and it doesn’t count on my grade? Awesome.

          I relaxed, and got good scores. In fact, I always did better on those tests than I did in actual graded work, which tended to include a lot of stupid, repetitive crap I didn’t want to do, such as homework. To me, tests like that made sense. They tested what you knew, instead of testing your capacity for boredom.

          But I probably would have frozen up if the teacher had filled me with anxiety first…

          1. Doug Ross

            You’ve got to be kidding. They pushed PACT testing for a decade.. And every year cherry picked a number to pretend things were improving. And then when they couldn’t pretend any more, they came up with a whole new test to buy another decade of unaccountability.

            Seriously, the tests showed exactly which specific students were not meeting the standards and yet didn’t use that data to make any meaningful change. It’s like taking the blood pressure of 1000 people and ignoring the results for anyone who was showing high risk of stroke. Any student who was not reading at an acceptable level should have been held back until they could, especially in 3rd grade. They were done a disservice by not addressing it from the beginning. An illiterate high schooler is bound for failure in society. Just stop all testing and let teachers do what they are trained to do.

          2. Norm Ivey

            I relaxed, and got good scores.

            Of course you did. The test was no big deal to kids like you and me. We grew up in environments where we had the opportunity to explore the world beyond our home and neighborhood. We had educated parents who passed their value of education on to us. There are many children who don’t have those opportunities. Those kids will almost never do well on standardized tests.

  2. Harry Harris

    Let me drop in a scattering of thoughts related to the posts in this thread. I can back up each one of them.

    The “accountability” movement has been at least a failure if not a detriment. Check out the National Research Council’s Committee on Incentives and Test-Based Accountability’s 2011 report.

    Achievement tests are not as reliable or valid as their purveyors tout them to be. They do generally accurately identify the children with the most valuable family resources and identify the most affluent and least schools.

    Yes, let’s thank a teacher. Morale among educators is at a breaking point, yet 70+ years of research identifies the morale of the workforce as the number one factor in productivity in any endeavor. We claim to value teachers while bad-mouthing schools at every turn.

    Incentive programs and “merit” pay has negatively impacted overall morale and shown little in overall results in most instances.

    I don’t want my grandchildren’s teachers to have one more reason to focus on test scores – especially an economic one. I don’t want my granddaughter’s test scores to stand between a teacher and his bonus.

    I don’t want to pay you additional money for getting “better results” with your 30 students while you compete with your peers. I don’t welcome the scramble (or fight) to get children into the “merit teacher’s” class nor do I believe the neediest students will be the ones to make it in.

    Group rewards have shown more promising overall results than individual incentives in educational, sales, and industrial studies. Group rewards can also cause group cheating if not done carefully.

    More educators are leaving the profession because of morale/working conditions than any other factor – including the almighty dollar. Student behavior is the biggest reason; the work atmosphere shaped by so-called accountability or reform measures are large also.

    Legislators as a group don’t know jack about education, but are making and influencing policy.

    Educators very often chase the latest shiny object that presents itself as a great solution without adequate study, collaboration, or honest measures of impact.

    Students, and to some degree their parents, not educators, are the stakeholders most able to effect positive results, but are the least likely to be held accountable.

    Standards-based curriculum/instruction has led astray. Basically they are TESTING standards and they promote if not mandate teaching to the tests. They have made much instruction meaningless and boring to students. They have usually caused instruction to be broad (cover a lot) but very shallow.

    Relatively few educators understand assessment very broadly or deeply. The experts are often good statisticians who know or care little about teaching, but are good with numbers and can impress with charts.

    I’ll stop here with all of us understanding that there are many other factors we don’t usually consider, often because they don’t confirm our biases or support our simplistic prescriptions.

  3. Norm Ivey

    I’m sorry I’m late to this discussion.

    First of all, you’re welcome. I’ve done the best I could for 30 years. Unfortunately, I haven’t been successful with every kid. No teacher has. Most teachers I know do the best they can every day. We’ll accept whatever bonus pay you want to send our way.

    Merit Pay: It’s not that teachers don’t trust the people doing the measuring. It’s that the people doing the measuring have seldom spent time in a classroom. Explain to me how a fair merit system works, and we’ll talk. There are too many variables to measure “merit.” My school-loving, high achieving students are going to make me look better than your students from homes with fewer resources where education isn’t as highly valued. And magnet programs and laws meant to provide for gifted students have effectively segregated those students from the general population.

    Standardized Testing: I’ve been in education for 30 years. Every test (CTBS, BSAP, PACT, PASS, SCReady) we’ve used has had issues. No matter how it’s designed or what it purports to measure, there will always be an equal number of students in each performance quartile of a standardized test. It’s literally impossible for every student to be at or above average. Here’s a factoid for you: most standardized tests include items that are not scored test items. Instead, they are trial items that may appear on future tests. They are deemed valid only if students who normally score high on a test get them right and students who score poorly get them wrong. If high performers get them wrong and low performers get them right, they are considered invalid and discarded.

    Teacher Shortage: Make the profession more attractive, and this problem solves itself. That may mean pay or it may mean improving conditions. Good luck convincing policy makers in South Carolina to make those changes.

    1. Doug Ross

      Norm – how would YOU pay teachers? Are you comfortable with the current arrangement that is based on years and degrees? Not sure if they are still doing the bonus pay for the certification that was all the rage 15 or so years ago (which again didn’t seem to make much of a difference).

      Based on my experience as a student a long time ago and as a parent of three kids who went through K-12 public schools, there was a wide range of abilities in the teachers I have encountered and it rarely had anything to do with tenure or degrees. Some teachers who were new were overwhelmed and struggled to control the classroom while some others who had been there for 20 years were on cruise control / burned out.

      Seems like there should be some way to provide bonus pay to a teacher based on some combination of professional assessment by a principal and feedback from parents in the form of surveys. I don’t think student feedback would be helpful because they tend to favor personality over performance.

      As I’ve always believed, I think there already money available to pay teachers more in the current budget. Too much is spent on bricks and mortar, athletic stadiums, technology, “professional development” disguised as junkets to vacation spots, and other non-essential training programs. I’d like to see more money shifted toward teachers before raising taxes to pay them more.

      1. Norm Ivey

        Yes, I’m comfortable with the current model until someone comes up with a better one that has a chance of being approved by the powers that be. The increased pay for earning higher degrees is a reward for committing our own time and money to furthering our expertise. I think the National Board certification pay you’re alluding to is being phased out, but that really did require the teacher to demonstrate excellent teaching skills by submitting lesson plans and videos of actual lessons. It wasn’t just a pay-the-money-and-pass-the-test type of deal. I could have made more in the private sector, but the intangibles this career has afforded me are worth the tradeoff.

        Here’s the stumbling block I keep running into with merit pay: most merit pay ideas use some sort of test score achievement or growth as one of the criteria. Test scores don’t measure teacher performance. They measure student performance. If you’d ever experienced the misery of watching students take a standardized test, you’d realize that a fair number of them don’t care about their score. Most students who do poorly on a test in 3rd grade will do continue to do poorly throughout their academic careers, and vice versa. And here’s something that even teachers have difficulty wrapping their heads around–test scores and grades are not motivational to some students.

        There is a wide range of abilities in education, just as there are in any other profession. Most do a pretty good job. The ones who have no business being here tend to take themselves out of the system within their first few years.

        I have enough confidence in my abilities and enough trust in most of my principals that I wouldn’t be averse to having step increases determined by that type of feedback with an appeal system. Parental feedback? Ugh. The stories I could tell in a forum that isn’t quite so public or permanent. There are some truly unreasonable people in the world.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Norm, I fully get you on that last point, and I think were I a teacher, I’d have the same preference: I could trust the professional judgment of a good principal. But parents far too often lack the perspective to judge fairly whether a given teacher is better than another teacher where their precious darlings are concerned…

          1. Barry

            Parental surveys would be brutal. As the husband of a middle school teacher, I hear some awful stories.

            1) The parent who thinks they are a teacher. This parent thinks the teacher is ok but they would do the job much better- if they had bothered to become a teacher. Therefore, the teacher isn’t very good and should do better.

            2) The parent who is convinced every teacher is out “to get” their angel. My wife experienced this a few weeks ago in a parent teacher conference. A parent was actually yelling at one of the teachers in the after school conference to the point the young teacher broke down in tears in front of everyone (who the heck wants to work at a place where this occurs?). The parent accused the teacher of never communicating concerns she had with the student’s lack of work. When the teacher produced copies of numerous emails that had been sent to the parent, with replies from the parent, the parent didn’t back down and only got more belligerent. A totally unreasonable parent- a situation that isn’t that uncommon.

            3) the grandma/aunt/guardian who is raising the child, who is totally overwhelmed with the responsibility and has checked out. This person means well but doesn’t know what is going on at school, or even at home.

            Regarding principals- if you have a good principal, trusting their evaluations is a good thing. My wife has been lucky to have a decent principal. She has coworkers who have worked for terrible principals who built reputations of being impossible to work for and who had significant trouble hiring teachers.

          2. David T

            Public school teachers are underpaid, but I would suggest that all public school teachers be required to psychological exam prior to being hired and every other year afterwards. The reasoning is because anyone who stays in public education more than two years has to have so psychological issues going on to put themselves through the hell of dealing with kids all day long.

      2. Harry Harris

        Any revised pay plan should be both effective and fair. Neither is easy to hit. I would propose the following to address a number of the factors that hamstring the system:
        A career ladder system based on additional pay for additional responsibility and empowerment of the teachers willing and able to lead and problem-solve.
        Induction Teacher – Teachers willing and capable of training and improving the teaching experience for beginning and incoming teachers. A set of required minimum duties and goals would be necessary to make the position work. A pay bonus of 1500-2000 should accompany the job, and it could involve some release time. Most present induction teachers I’m familiar with get little more than a tip – about $300-400 and have no clear guidelines or benchmarks.

        Lead Teacher – Teachers with willingness and skill to affect the performance of the faculty as a whole by taking responsibility beyond their classroom and provide leadership in the whole school curriculum. I would propose that they make up a leadership council for the school, meet at least twice per week at the end of school to make decisions and problem-solve. They might meet about 2 days before other teachers start each year to assist the administration in preparing for the year and implementing new initiatives. Principals who understand instruction need the expertise of currently-teaching leaders who have defined responsibilities.

        Lead teacher councils could review, select and approve texts and teaching materials and evaluate their use and effectiveness.They might set policy on discipline and form intervention teams for students with notable problems. At least one lead teacher should have skill and expertise in parent involvement and contact (believe me, not all teachers have either; some don’t think it is important). Lead teachers should be heavily involved in planning and implementing the school’s staff development.
        Lead teachers should observe all teachers’ classrooms at without prior disclosure at least 2 times per year and give feedback (positive and negative) to the teacher without consequence or disclosure to others including administrators. The evaluation process is separate and has other elements and purposes.
        Likely there should be release time for these leaders of about one period per day so that they may observe, co-teach, or do demonstration lessons for other teachers. The additional pay might be about $10,000 per year. They should be selected or cycled-off by the principal with confidential faculty input. About one lead teacher for each eight to ten teachers would fit most schools’ needs.

        Master Teacher – These teachers, one to two per faculty, would be responsible for the school’s staff development program, assist the administrators with conducting lead-teacher meetings, assist with teacher evaluation and corrective action, and teach graduate-level courses for the district after school hours at appropriate locations. They should teach students about one half of the day, and observe, help, and co-teach with teachers the rest of the day. They should teach the most needy students if feasible (remedial or behavior-intervention classes). They may serve about 3-4 extra days pre and post school year assisting the principal in planning, evaluating, and reporting results to the district and the community. A pay bonus of $15-18,000 would likely attract able and willing candidates. They should be chosen by the school principal and the district administrator in charge of instruction or his/her delegate.

        This scheme would provide empowerment, opportunities, and compensation for teachers able and willing to accept broader responsibility for their school’s progress. It would provide extra help for all teachers, and especially for those who struggle to perform well or to solve difficult problems. Funding for a 50-teacher school would be less than $120,000 per year plus the cost of one extra teacher to cover release time. This includes 10 induction teachers, and it could be field tested. It could be a big step in improving the atmosphere, morale, and results in many schools.

    2. Bob Amundson

      Norm, you clearly understand testing. It concerns me that in your 30 years (thank you SO MUCH), you mention five different tests. That is an average of a new test every 6 years, which is not nearly enough time to develop a valid and reliable test. Your point about the (approximate) number of students in each quartile being equal is a good measure of the validity and reliability of any test.

      There are successful educational models in other nations, and they all have components of attracting, and retaining, the best and the brightest by providing good pay and good working environments. “Good luck convincing policy makers in South Carolina to make those changes.”SAD!!!!!!!!!!

    3. Brad Warthen Post author

      Norm, help me out with something. You say “It’s not that teachers don’t trust the people doing the measuring. It’s that the people doing the measuring have seldom spent time in a classroom.” And I accept that.

      But I think what I meant to say is that maybe the problem here is that objectivity is expected.

      I suspect most of us work in situations where our pay is based on subjective judgments. Most of my working life, my bosses have paid me what they thought my work was worth, based on practically nothing that could be measured. Sometimes that has worked to my benefit, other times not. But I’ve always accepted it.

      And as a manager, I’ve always tried to adjust the pay of my subordinates to reflect my judgment of what they contributed, and I’ve never tried to peg it to anything measurable. In fact, I’ve thought any attempts to do so, in the field of journalism, would be kind of nuts. I once had a publisher who questioned what we were paying an editorial cartoonist, and tried to frame it in terms of how much we were paying per cartoon, as though they were widgets, without any reference to immeasurable value he had in the eyes of our readers.

      This was before everyone was measured by clicks, mind you. That’s the situation now, and it’s sort of turned journalism on its head.

      So maybe I should say to everything I just said, never mind…

      But frankly, as an intuitive type, I preferred operating in universe in which people were rewarded by subjective judgments. And I’ve always wondered at people who expected everything to be objective.

      And it’s always seemed to me that one of the barriers to coming up with other models for teacher pay has always been the assumption that the basis be measurable, and the failure to come up with measuring sticks that everyone believes work.

      As for the recent changes in the news biz: It’s kind of cool to know what’s getting read the most, but basing the business on that has failed to save journalism, while throwing editorial judgment out the window. And since that indefinable quality was something I was always praised for having (even by bosses who didn’t much like me), I hate to see it go…

      1. Norm Ivey

        You’re describing how salaries work in the private sector. We are public employees, and that carries with it a measure of accountability to the taxpayer. Any citizen can look up the pay of any state or public school employee with relatively little effort.

        As I said in my response to Doug, I have trusted most of my principals enough to welcome their subjective evaluation (and teachers receive that type of evaluation regularly). As long as those evaluations are for professional growth purposes rather than monetary reward, they are constructive. If the principal were responsible for determining differences in pay between two teachers with equal years of experience teaching the same content to the same grade level, jealousies and resentment would undoubtedly develop. Remember, we can look up each other’s salaries…

        We have to deepen the talent pool and reduce the workload.. and that’s just to sustain.

  4. Bob Amundson

    Proactive practice in public service is critical, hiring the best and the brightest. That concept has a long history in public administration, but since the Nixon era (and for a variety of complex issues), hiring, and retaining, the best and the brightest in public service is difficult.

    Let’s discuss the problem in the proper order: how do we hire and train good teachers, and then what do we do (including pay) to retain them.

    1. Barry

      A good part of the problem is the lack of actual discipline policies. Teachers are threatened, cursed out, and verbally abused on a fairly regular basis. I know teachers that are cursed out every day by students. (Things that no private sector employer would ever allow in their workplace)

      My wife works at a district school and has no idea what the discipline policy is, or if there is one at all. It seeems made up on the spot. As a result, the students know they can get away with a lot- and do.

      She hears students cursing at each other, in the halls constantly. She sees students chasing each other in halls and classrooms regularly. Nothing ever happens to them. The administration sees it and ignores it or excuses it. They don’t want to fight the district who is fearful of parents and too many expulsions.

      A few years ago a student picked up a chair to hit my wife from behind but was stopped from hitting her- considering my wife’s small size this would have sent her to the hospital. The student’s punishment was to serve the rest of the day at in school suspension. He was back the next day. No apology. Parents not notified- nothing. It took all of my self control and my wife’s begging for me not to physically confront the principal in the parking lot the next morning. If if happens again, I will be having a face to face conversation with him with my nose within 1 inch of his.

      Teachers deal with this routinely and it’s one reason so many young teachers leave and never return. What young, inexperienced teacher starting their career wants to be treated like garbage? Not many.

      1. David T

        Had that been my wife, that would have been her last day on the job. At public schools the inmates run the asylum. I’m guessing private schools are slightly better but with students who feel more entitled.

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