The $100,000 teacher?

ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLARS! How can we attract, and retain, amazing teaching talent?

At the Corbett Charter School’s presentation at the IERG conference, their principal emphasized that what they do was not “scalable” or “replicable,” “unless you can replicate our teachers.”

That is, this method of schooling (Egan’s Imaginative Education, as interpreted through Corbett Charter School) relies on finding talented individuals to teach — people with drive, and wit, and zeal. Such individuals, famously, can often make much more in private business.

Is one hundred thousand dollars a year enough?

Controversial reformer Michelle Rhee, onetime chancellor of Washington, D.C.’s public school system, offered even more (at least for some teachers whose students improved scores on standardized tests). Per Wikipedia —

In 2008, she also tried to renegotiate teacher compensation, offering teachers the choice of salaries of up to $140,000 based on what she termed "student achievement" with no tenure rights or earning much smaller pay raises with tenure rights retained.

Now, I doubt this proposal could have provided that much money to every teacher in the district — the average wage would be lower.

But could a school, if it wanted to, pay every teacher a hundred grand? (2013 dollars)

And should it? Would it be helpful to attract and retain great talent? Could there be some unintended consequences?

Three closing thoughts:

  1. If we’re able to pay teachers a lot, I’d love to see administrators paid slightly less. That would help instill a fantastic message in the community. Is this just romantic nonsense on my part? Am I ignoring something important?
  2. Eventually, I’d love to see us develop a model that didn’t lean so heavily on the hard work of finding such gifted teachers, if only because I do want to replicate this, and such people are hard to find. But since we’re essentially asking the first generations of teachers to invent this school system along with us, this problem looms large.
  3. I’ll be curious to talk about how we can keep other costs in the school down, to make things like this possible — having the community fulfill some of the roles of the janitor, for example.

A school of glass?

glass The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel did a series of investigative reports some years back on the city’s charter schools. Some, it reported, were amazing — I toured one myself, and my twenty-two-year-old self was blown away.

Others, it reported, were abominable: windowless rooms in which students scribbled answers on a never-ending series of worksheets.

The funny thing, the paper reported, was that parents didn’t pull their kids from the school.

This story has been lodged in my memory for years now, and I still don’t know how to make sense of it. Were parents not aware of the awfulness of the school? Were they hoodwinked by the administrators (who, if memory serves, took a nice fee for their work)? Did they just not care?

Famously, many contemporary teachers have an ideal of the closed classroom door. The superintendent, principal, and PTA may bark, but then the teacher closes the classroom door, and does what she believes to be best.

I get this — my allergy to bureaucracy loves this ideal.

But if we’re looking to display the wonder and glee of our students’ learning on display, I imagine we may want a little more transparency. If our kids are doing remarkable things, how can we show that to the community?

(I almost typed “show that to the world,” but the question of large-scale publicizing may properly be a separate topic.)

“Transparency,” the aphorism goes, “is the best disinfectant,” and there’s a move toward almost total transparency in (e.g.) government. Maybe full transparency is good in that realm, but in a school this is more fraught.

Good teaching / deep learning can be intimate acts. Putting teachers and students on display threatens to kill exactly what we seek to cultivate.

This may be the rare situation for which a metaphor to quantum physics actually is helpful — to observe the teaching/learning situation is to effect it. I know I lock up when a parent asks to sit in my classroom. I become a different person under observation, and don’t particularly like that person.

So: how do we do this? How could we do this? How do other schools do this?

One tact would be to have recurring “public showings” — monthly information sessions where we show the kiddos’ paintings and compositions and whatnot. These might be very useful (particularly because they could fit in nicely with parent work schedules) but they don’t seem very transparent. I wonder if we could really communicate what goes on in the classroom through these.

Another might be to have prospective parents and students just tour at any point. (The private school at which we both worked did this strategy, I think well.)

Should we even have doors for the classrooms?

Gah. So many questions.