If we are to achieve different results in America’s classrooms, restructuring teacher preparation is essential. But the best structure in the world will be insufficient unless we attract a new generation of emerging talent to the profession. I believe there’s an efficient and effective way to do this: Raise the starting teacher salary to $100,000.
We invest time and money in the things that are important to us. If education is truly important, then we need to value teachers the way we value doctors, lawyers, celebrities, athletes, or countless other professionals. A New York Times article last year stated that teacher salaries are currently on par with a toll taker or bartender, averaging $39,000 to start and topping $67,000 after 25 years in the profession, hardly enough to comfortably raise a family today. And hardly a salary competitive enough to attract top college graduates to the field.
It’s said that the quality of an institution cannot surpass the quality of the individuals within it. This is true for a football team, organization, or school. Yet, in contrast to high-performing countries like Singapore that recruit 100% of their teachers from the top third of college graduates, a report from the Department of Education states that only “23% of all teachers, and only 14% of teachers in high-poverty schools, come from the top third of college graduates.” Considering that about half of America’s teachers are expected to retire in the next ten years, and that college students and recent graduates are craving security in a difficult economic climate, we are at the footsteps of an opportunity to transform who considers teaching as a career.
Many will say that we simply can’t afford to do this, but we can’t afford to keep doing what we’re doing. The truth is that, ultimately, we are going to invest one way or another in something. One-quarter of American children drop out of our schools, thus dramatically increasing the likelihood they will wind up in prison. Meanwhile, prison costs are skyrocketing. What if we invested in educating individuals as children rather than incarcerating them as adults? What will it take to recruit, train, and support a workforce that can better meet the needs of our students?
Increasing teacher salaries alone will not fix education. This must be combined with a systemic approach that holistically addresses the needs of students, teachers, and schools. It is not enough to get an amazing individual in the profession, but we must heavily train and support new teachers with clinical preservice training and ongoing development. It is necessary to not just say we value education, but to truly match what we want with what we do.
Linda Yaron is an English teacher in an inner-city high school in Los Angeles. She holds National Board Certification and served as a Teaching Ambassador Fellow for the U.S. Department of Education.
The opinions expressed in Teaching Ahead: A Roundtable are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.