Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Teacher Pay Not the Answer

There has been some recent discussion lately about raising teacher pay. Especially since North Carolina has fallen to 42nd in the nation in terms of teacher pay. Unfortunately, more pay is not the answer.

When I worked in the Jefferson County School System, at one of the worst schools in the district, I talked with several teachers in different schools. I can guarantee you that private school teachers make 20%-40% less than public school teachers, and yet they aren't complaining about their teacher pay. What makes the difference?

I had the privilege of attending private schools as well as quality public schools. I can tell you that one difference is that at a private school either the child or the child's parents, usually both, want them to be there to get an education. Public school, on the other hand, is compulsory.

So, how do we fix this, while still prizing education as a nation? Is it okay to leave some kids behind, in the hopes of not leaving all our kids behind?

In our foster care training classes in Kentucky, they talked a lot about rights and privileges. Because corporal punishment isn't possible with a foster child, you have to take away some privileges as consequences, while still maintaining some "rights". As they put it, you don't want to use food because many times these kids have been starved before, but you can take away their privilege to go outside. I was a bit shocked, because to me, being outdoors is a right, not a privilege, but I do think that attending a classroom setting for your school should be a privilege.

As little as 200 years ago, education in itself was a privilege, and usually reserved for the wealthy. Yet now, we have children who are passed from grade to grade without learning to read, and left in the regular classroom despite daily disruptive behavior, because we want our school numbers to look "better". We have kids whose parents don't care what they do at school. We have what many researchers call a "school to prison pipeline" and yet we still want to call standardized education a right, not a privilege?

I agree that education is a right. However, kids should not have a right to disrupt a teacher's life, disrupt their classroom, or harm a teacher or student. So, what should we do with these broken children? Leave them in a system that's clearly not working for them? Or can we come up with some new solutions.

I think a combination approach is best, to try to reach as many of these kids as possible. By removing the 5-10% of routinely trouble-making students from buses, classrooms, gyms, and cafeterias, you're improving the quality of education for the remaining students, and the quality of life for the teachers. Any kids removed should have an individualized plan in place that allows them to get back into a classroom, if they so desire. They also should be given tools to education. Don't give them brand new laptops, but accept donations from businesses and charities of quality used computers and help the students set up Internet access in their house. Most school systems have an alternative school where kids are shipped off to a computer lab to take online classes, maybe they would have more supervision, but then you are just moving the problem from one school to another. The next step is to provide some additional help, a combination of counselors, social workers, and teachers need to visit these children in the home to help resolve any issues that have led to the child being removed from a school setting (i.e. provide information on employment opportunities for parents, childcare opportunities, food stamps, provide discipline training for parents, advice on reading with your child or adult education opportunities, mental health screenings for parents and children, one-on-one tutoring with the child and parent). In other words, all the money that would have been spent on teacher raises would instead be spent on those few children that the teachers don't want in their classroom.

What about group interaction? What about child care for working parents? Absolutely these issues would need to be addressed. However, I can tell you that most parents of these struggling students don't work during school hours, but rather 2nd or 3rd shift (or are in jail, out of the child's life, etc.). I would work with the local non-profit groups in the community to allow these children access to the same activities they had before they left the standardized school system, such as Boys and Girls Club,  Big Brother, Big Sister, Girls on the Run. As far as childcare, again these are usually parents working 2nd or 3rd shift, so after school style childcare would still be an option, for the few parents in this situation who work a traditional 1st shift job, or multiple jobs, the assigned team of counselors, social workers, and teachers can work together with the parents to find a mutually beneficial solution for students on an individualized basis, using non-profits, libraries, or new programs to help this small portion of the population.

Because the truth is, that students don't need to be in a group setting to learn. Some kids are never going to be able to learn sitting at a desk in a large classroom. I taught in a "small class size" setting (usually only 22-25 students) and I can guarantee that my job was harder than a teacher in a "good school" with 30-35 students in their classroom. I've physically broken up fights, and I've tutored a group of kids in my classroom because they weren't learning enough in class, so they skipped band to come get extra help. I can tell you that education is a right, not a privilege. So let's give all our kids access to the right of education, by taking away the privileges of those who make it more difficult.

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