Will Raising Teacher Pay Make a Difference?

I heard it yet again yesterday, and not in the school building: teachers don’t get paid enough, that’s why the job is not “done properly.”  I always feel uncomfortable when I hear this.  Certainly I am not against getting paid more, nor do I really believe that raising teacher pay  would hurt the economy.  And yet … I don’t actually feel this is the issue. Coming from the classical viewpoint, for one thing, teaching and learning is supposed to be a joy and, left to itself, the job of teaching should be very rewarding. Time was, before NCLB etc, teaching used to be lower stress than other professions as well.  This was as it should be, because stress slows down the learning process.

But the bucolic days of happy learning seem to have disappeared. Marshall McLuhan said that “the medium is the message.”  Now  for the average educrat in America, “testing is the message.”  And following the “all by the numbers” thinking, salaries are the determinant of how good a job is and how well it is done.

I suppose if we raised salaries we might get teachers with higher GRE scores, but then, would that necessarily translate into higher scores on students’ tests? I know a couple of teachers with high GRE’s — besides myself — and they are as perplexed by the difficulty of playing the test score game as everyone else is.

“A man is good because he is good,” said Garrison Keillor.  What if we said the same about children? What if we offered them an education designed holistically to make them better people, to allow them to experience life more fully?  And what if, instead of paying more, in person and in print we thanked teachers for doing this critical job?  Then, I believe, there would be greater well being everywhere.  And probably better test scores as well, if we were to create a truly “whole-child,” humanistic education model …

No, I conclude, I don’t believe that teacher salaries have much to do with “the problem.” The problem is a spiritual one, the problem of trying to change education into a scientific, quantifiable commodity. And that is simply wrong.  A child is not a number, and neither is a teacher.  “Numerification” of education is the problem, turning that which is supposed to be humanistic to anti-humanism.

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