Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Dreaming Of A Representative Salary Grid

One of the reasons I became a teacher is because it seemed like a particularly credible profession.  The process of becoming a teacher appeared to have more in common with an apprenticeship than an abstract degree.  My teacher's college in particular was focused on getting us as much in-class time with a working, mentor teacher as possible.  Once in the profession, it takes a teacher twelve years to earn full pay, once again implying that this is an apprenticeship that takes a great deal of time to come to fruition.

I'm in year eight of teaching and life on the ground has been somewhat less affirming.  The vast majority of teachers I've met do little to expand their teaching skills, unless they are new and so desperate for a position that they spend thousands of dollars collecting additional qualifications.  Many older teachers I know still have the two teachables they started with, and in some cases aren't even actually qualified to teach the subjects they are teaching.  A surprising number have never updated to honours specialist so they could top out on the salary grid (though that would be hard to do if you don't actually have a degree or any background in what you're teaching).

Having found an online community of teachers who are actually interested in improving their craft (and recognizing the changes digitization is having on education and society in general) has been a saving grace, but I still face comments like, "why in God's name would I want to talk about teaching when I'm not at work?" or "oh great, another pointless PD day" when I'm on the ground in school.

To that end, I'd like to consider revisions to the much maligned 'grid' that determines teacher salaries in Ontario.  Ranging from just over forty thousand a year (which isn't an awful lot when you've just spent over one hundred thousands dollars on five years of university), to just over ninety thousand a year more than a decade into working, the grid relies mainly on years in the classroom as a justification for pay raises.  The difference between an honours specialist in a subject and a teacher who has never lifted a finger to try and improve is less than 5% of pay at the top of the grid.*

I would suggest that there is a lot more to the craft of teaching than years in the classroom, especially if you're not one of those very special teachers who like to trot out the same old lesson, year in, year out (one you probably photocopied from someone else in the first place).  In the great scheme of becoming a master teacher, your activity both in and beyond the classroom are vital to your understanding of how your profession works as a whole.

Teachers who are active in their professional organizations (ECOO, OHASSTA, OLA, OAME, ELAN, OCTE, and others), are working to enhance their craft by working with colleagues in their various disciplines.  How this isn't a consideration in a salary grid is beyond me.

Teachers who are active in school leadership roles (such as department heads, directions teams members, etc) are currently offered a rather silly little stipend to do what is essentially another part time job.  They do this with no time given from regular teacher duties, and for a couple of bucks a day.  Why these 'positions of additional responsibility' aren't considered in the salary grid is beyond me.

Teachers who take on student teachers and do one of the most important jobs in our profession?  Nothing on the grid.

Teachers who spend time developing school teams and clubs over the long term?  Nothing on the grid.

Teachers who spend time developing school events like graduation or grade nine introductory programs?  Nothing on the grid.

Teachers who spend their own time and money away from home attending professional conferences to enhance their practice?  You got it, nothing on the grid.

I'm not advocating for a pay per-extracurricular approach here, but I am asking for a grid that works from something other than how long you've been doing the job.  If we graded students the same way we salary teachers, they'd get higher and higher grades the longer they are in school, regardless of what they are doing.

Talk of extending the grid from 11 to 15 years is as myopic as basing the grid primarily on years of teaching in the first place.  Seniority has its place in teaching, there is no doubt.  How long a teacher has been teaching is an important metric in determining their quality, but it certainly shouldn't be the key factor in calculating their pay.

If we're going to overhaul the salary grid, let's really examine what determines a teacher who is trying to perfect their imperfectable craft, and then make a grid that isn't solely based on how old you are as a teacher.  That grid would be fluid and flexible, with people moving up and down in various elements of it.  You'd still enjoy seniority bumps, but a senior teacher who does nothing other than show up and go home, offering no mentor-ship to younger teachers, no direction for their school, no enrichment for their students, and who has no specialization in the subject they teach, wouldn't be able to make within 5% of the trained specialist who offers up their time to lead departments, train new teachers, or lead subject enrichment.

This kind of grid would encourage the kind of meta-cognition we expect to see in our students, and encourage senior teachers to mentor and improve the craft, rather than closing the door to their classroom five years early while they glide to retirement.  It would also support teachers who recognize how changeable the world is at the moment and who take steps to try and prepare students for a future that will be quite unlike the past.

If we're going to fix the grid, let's fix it.  Seniority is only one (relatively minor) metric in considering how hard a teacher is working at becoming a better teacher.

Note:  teacher pay based on student test scores are another American myth that are designed to diminish the profession while cloaking justifications (usually financial) in fictional, statistical validity.  Standardized tests are inherently limited, and teachers who teach well to them are probably such compliant, mechanical creatures that they are actually poor teachers.  US world rankings would suggest that trying to standardize teaching around this kind of testing is a disaster.  A well designed salary grid would recognize the many individual ways that a teacher could improve their craft, without grossly simplifying the metrics for excellence (such as basing the grid almost entirely on seniority).