UNBOXING THE BACKPACK – A New Teacher Compensation Plan

The country faces a severe teacher shortage as fewer young people see the profession as a viable career move. And teacher salaries are a key issue. According to chalk beat, the average Colorado teacher earns $51,000 per year, although in rural districts the salary can be considerably lower where beginning teachers only earn $25,000 per year and only earn $40,000 per year after a twenty-year career. In a state with above-average housing prices and high costs of living even before inflation, the challenge of attracting young professionals to teaching with lucrative salaries remains an issue.

However, this is not a column for complaining about teacher compensation. As an educator for almost thirty years, I have always been quite satisfied with the living that I earn. True, teachers earn twenty percent less than comparably educated workers in the private sector. The reason is that teachers are only paid for ten months of work. Despite what many people believe, teachers don’t get a year’s salary for only forty weeks of work. Most schools have annual contracts of around 180 days, although districts often spread salaries over twelve months for obvious reasons. The only benefit intended to offset the public-private pay gap is a pension system that offers an earlier retirement age than social security, which teachers do not receive.

Many people believe that society underestimates teachers and has misplaced priorities. They think it’s wrong that pro athletes are making millions for playing a game while some teachers are struggling to pay the bills. I totally disagree with this comparison. I will not blame any athlete for winning as much as he can. I once heard Oprah raving about how athletes should make less and “teachers should make a million dollars a year.” That’s nonsense, even if it wasn’t coming from a billionaire TV personality. Athletes make millions for one simple reason: they generate that money. It’s a matter of revenue, especially advertising.

Millions of fans pay high prices to watch adults play a game for our entertainment. Millions more watch game shows that generate billions of dollars in ad revenue. Athletes deserve a share of the money they generate. Education does not generate income. No one buys tickets for even the most entertaining classrooms. And advertisers aren’t throwing money at schools and teachers for ad space. However, maybe they could. Maybe they should. So I’m thinking of advertising and promotional offers for teachers.

Imagine this: a teacher walks into the classroom where anxious students are waiting for the lesson or assessment. The teacher announces: “Okay, today we have a quiz about multiplying polynomials… and this quiz is brought to you by Quiznos.” Or Starbucks. Or Nike. Or T-Mobile. Students receive a copy of the test with company logos splashed across the top of the page. At the bottom of the paper is a ten percent coupon off their next purchase. It could even be used to incentivize success. Students would receive higher discounts, bonuses and benefits for better grades. The possibilities are limitless.

As an English teacher reads an intense passage, he might add, “Wow, that character could use an ice cold Coca-Cola.” Business professors might offer financial literacy classes, as well as discounted prices for opening an IRA or a new bank account. Teachers and schools have a captive audience that is a virtual goldmine of current and future consumers. Why not take advantage of this widely available advertising opportunity? Teachers often wear clothing with school logos, which is nice to support the school, but not very lucrative. So why aren’t teachers sporting corporate logos and getting a nice kickback from advertisers?

Interestingly, some teachers earn million dollar salaries. Kim Ki-hoon, a popular private tutor and teacher in South Korea, earns $4 million a year because his test prep lectures are so popular in the country where high-stakes tests for high school and college admissions university are even more intense than those in America. And Deanne Jump is a kindergarten teacher who made over $1 million selling her lesson plans and classroom materials online.

So now that college athletes have been released by the courts to capitalize on their marketability, perhaps the same courtesy could be extended to educators. Critics of public education have long argued that schools need to operate more like the business world. So why not let market forces work their magic in the classroom? And if not, maybe teachers could just put a tip jar on their desk.

Michael P. Mazenko is a writer, educator, and school administrator in Greenwood Village. He blogs at A Teacher’s View and can be found on Twitter @mmazenko. Ytou can email him at [email protected]

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