Teacher Opportunity

Wednesday, July 10, 2013
I would like to see every teacher have the opportunity to earn a six-figure income every year.

Please note the operative words here are "earn" and "opportunity.
" We also must remember that every great opportunity comes with the potential, another good operative word, for some pain along the path of growth as goals are sought. There is no such thing as a free lunch.

I also want to see both parents and children lined up out to the street and around the corner waiting to be enrolled in the classes of good teachers. But let's use a bit more appropriate term... educators. There is a humongous difference, and just because someone draws a paycheck from a purported educational organization doesn't mean they're educators.

Full disclosure statement: the last time I had a real job, with a real paycheck (that means, like, every week or month, not subject to deferral so employees could be paid first) was 1979. Since that time the highest salary I've paid was 300 bucks a week. Any additional compensation comes in the form of commissions and bonuses, productivity. The last time I was enrolled in an employer provided health insurance plan was 1981. Up until that time either my employer or that of my children's mother provided insurance. Before our second child was born health insurance became our responsibility alone, because she left her real job and came to work full time at our company. There was a year, like one, after we divorced that I didn't have health insurance, but there was no doctor or other medical professional ever left hanging for fees. I paid my own.

But this isn't about me. It's about teacher compensation. Teachers, true educators, those dedicated individuals who spend their lives impressing upon the little pea brains of our children, our precious progeny, the skills and knowledge they'll need to become productive, self supporting members of society.

However, sometimes we don't need to speak from theory as much as experience. When lives hang in the balance unproven theories, system designs, or schemes should never be used.

Theory is all fine and dandy, but do we need to be spending gazillions of our hard earned TaxBucks on unproven supposition? Theories that are often proven later to be nothing more than a load of digested organic matter? What a disservice to our society to waste the futures of our children and the time of educators as well as taxpayer resources.

When Suzzi and Joey can't read we've wasted their time and futures, haven't we, no matter how much money we've spent on their so-called educations.

It seems whenever we mention our children experts and consultants come crawling out of the woodwork, don't they. In my world "consultant" is generally code-speak. It translates directly to the more proper American English phrase "Dude man, like, I need a job." An expert is a person we call in from far away, usually carrying a briefcase, and pay big bucks to use our watch to tell us what time it is... probably to share the blame if things don't go well.

The fact of the matter is that anyone can claim to be an expert in any field. I, for example, might claim to be a women’s b'assiere expert but does that qualify me to participate in studies such as the one, probably funded by the French government, performed by professor Jean-Denis Rouillon? I'd like to believe it does, but he didn't even ask me. I have no degree in anatomy, you see, or sports medicine. I have studied physics and vector forces, measurement is my bag, know both the right and left hand rules from Gang Signs for Physicists, and how to determine forces and moments from them so I certainly should be qualified to have participated in that study.

I'll bet there were atomized liquid droplets on the display of Birkie's laptop, my budette the BirkenstockBabe, when she found out I read the HuffPo... Maw Jones too.

But street creds require more than someone merely claiming certain abilities, don't they. They require proven performance over time. As the saying goes, even a blind hog occasionally finds an acorn. Any system can work given the proper environment and measurement criteria. Multiple successes by multiple experimenters over time provides more reliable data.

Just as unproven theories have little value to scientific or engineering process, advanced academic degrees have little value in some environments and most certainly shouldn't determine pay rates when they can't be shown to provide commensurate benefit. Is someone flipping McBurgers paid more if he has a Ph.D.? Then why do we pay more to someone who has an advanced degree in our school system, or any other government office, if their education brings nothing to the party? We don't do that out here in the real world, the world of profits and losses and returns on investment. Why should we in government or education?

Do degrees, diplomas, and training mean automatic credentials? Not hardly. I've hired a couple of people since 1977. Fired a few too. I've also had to suck it up and admit that I'd made a mistake hiring some who just weren't suited to the type work our company does. The absolute worst technician I ever hired aced our written evaluation, the one some would call a test, the only person to ever black out our test, with a 4.0 GPA coming out of the local VoTech. But he couldn't get it from his head to his hands, nor was he much interested in playing as a team.

The absolute best technician came to us from the Naval Forces. We didn't bother to even evaluate him further than some discussion as he and I had gone through the same basic technical training. On a consistent basis he earned 4, 5, even 6 grand a month in bonus money on top of his salary... in 1983. We called Ski, he had one of those names that's 37 letters long with only one vowel, a "fixin' fool" because he was such a challenge for the rest to follow. Another about the same time had absolutely no formal training in electronics. Kyle had a degree in business and was the assistant manager of a bank. He walked in the office one day and asked if he could apply for a job, that he had researched our company and wanted to work with us. He blew the written portion of our evaluation, and I mean he blew it. If memory serves correctly he answered 5 of the 25 questions and got 3 of those wrong... but he smoked the practical portion and in very short order repaired an el spiffo telephone network analyzer that we'd disabled then gave him a manual, a workbench, and spent about 5 minutes explaining how that gizmo was supposed to operate. He earned a lot of bonus money too, and his mind was like a sponge learning about electronics.

Over the years we've also had those who're easily satisfied. They do good work, just not a lot of it. As long as their basic needs are met they'd rather be hunting or fishing or working their farms or gardens. Our compensation scheme accommodates that so everyone's happy. They're also loyal to the extent that when needed they chip in to work down equipment backlogs.

On the other corner of the technology pentagram we have those like a young engineer we'll call Jeff. Early on Jeff designed a system that over a period of several months cost us several thousand, nay, 10s of thousands of buckaroos in wasted effort because he didn't think a few 5 cent parts would be necessary. As a result the system kept letting all the smoke out of some of our electronic hickiebobs. That was 30 years ago. We still work together... and believe this, he still gets ragged mercilessly about that project. But he also pays much greater attention to detail and has become a very good designer over the years.

Then we have those like a guy I thought about just a couple of days ago while speaking to a friend, wondering how he was doing these days. Ernie was a good old guy, fresh out of the Army when he came to us. He was dedicated and loyal to a fault, wanted to do good work. He just wasn't suited to our type of operation. No matter what we tried to do with him, he just couldn't get the hang of what we do. We wound up giving him six weeks to find other employment and told him there would be no hard feelings. After a couple of weeks, like most of us in a similar situation, he hadn't made the first effort to find another job so we started asking him for a report every week. At 5-ish weeks he still hadn't found other work, during a time when one couldn't throw a rock and not hit at least half a dozen companies looking for people to work, so I sent him on a 2 week vacation, with pay, and told him that was the end of it. That was one of the most difficult things I ever had to do. Ernie wasn't very happy about it either, but in just a couple of days he landed in a job with the cable TV company as a service tech. Several months later he came back to the shop beaming. He made the rounds shaking everyone's hand and thanking us for putting up with him. He said he knew, then, how much of a burden he'd been on the rest because he wasn't able to pull his share of the load but that he was earning more money than he ever dreamed, quit drinking excessively, had a lady in his life with whom he was talking about getting hitched and buying a home. Life was grand.

What's this have to do with teachers and their pay? A lot, actually.

As with any profession there are teachers who are true educators and will perform their jobs admirably no matter what, those who will whine and complain about every little thing, those whose solution to every problem is more money, those who can excel at their profession (by far the majority), or just get by, and those who exhibit various levels of competence. There are those who inspire, disciplinarians, and those who are just waiting to expire. There are those whose faces would fall apart if they cracked a smile, others like that little cutiepie who takes great delight in the giggles when she tells her high school studii that when the bell rings they're to be sitting erect in their seats and ready to start work. Like all people their personalities run the gamut. But how do they get set up to succeed rather than fail?

In order to set teachers up to succeed, the true educators of the bunch, there must be some changes. Otherwise we'll all be asking the same question posed in Jimmie Rodgers' 1967 song... Tell me, who is to blame for this child of clay?

But right now I have one primary question that needs answering. Who chewed up the doggie bed I just bought yesterday? So far all three of these heatherns are giving me that "not me" look when I ask. But that's okay. They've lost their chicken tenders and daily rides until they tell. Eventually somebody's going to break.

Royce Burrage, Jr.
Royce@Officially Chapped.org

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