Teaching and Teachers
As a teacher, I understand clearly the difficult task of engaging the minds of a young audience and organizing difficult concepts into a logically ordered stream of digestible bites. I know excellent teachers who are employed in our community, and I know how hard they work. Classroom hours are not the sum total of a teacher's responsibilities. Time for grading, planning, and, especially for new teachers or those tasked with advanced courses, study, is essential. I support a culture and mindset which consistently recognizes and affirms the great value of our teachers and support staff, respecting their opinions and rights of self-determination, and providing market appropriate financial compensation.
The current Board of Trustees, led by President Charlotte Slack, implemented in the last year a much appreciated across-the-board salary increase. Our district has also already taken pains to ensure that our wages compare favorably with others across the state which share similar demographic, cost of living, and tax base statistics. Approximately 80% of the district's annual expenditures are directed to human resources, and utilities and maintenance for existing structures. We face the hard reality that even a 1% raise for all district personnel comes at an annual cost of a half million dollars.
Our current teaching pay scale is applied uniformly across all grades and disciplines, with allocation of pay raises determined solely by tenure of service. This is designed for fairness, which is an essential virtue. But we can take pursuit of fairness so far that it becomes vice. Without doubt, a teacher who fulfills the minimal expectations of the district has by definition rightly earned their salary. However, this is not where excellence is found. A great many of our faculty, for love of their students, and love of their field, willingly take on additional responsibility, and labor long outside the designated hours of their schedule. The first reward for distinction in service, reliability, productivity, and success with difficult students is often the assignment of extra work load. Proceeding as such, we risk rightly earning their resentment.
I believe that the issues of merit pay and scaling of pay to level of instructor specialization should be carefully considered, or reconsidered, within our district. The greatest peril of any well intentioned plan is its unintended consequences, possibly here in the form of discord arising from a perception of unfairness in the assignment of differential salaries. As such, we must take care that any bonus or wage adjustment be tied to tangible, quantitative, and uniformly applied markers of effectiveness, such as for example, rate of improvement in student performance on standardized assessment measures.
The teachers themselves, and most certainly the students, are well aware of who the outstanding educators are, and also those who fall short. During visits with College Station seniors I have met bright, engaged young people who are able to explain and defend their ideas. They do not complain about demanding teachers who expect and receive high performance. They are offended by teachers who project apathy, who are under qualified or under prepared, and who frequently occupy class time with wasteful busyness to avoid interaction. These students are the only constant classroom observers, and I believe that we should implement a bi-annual evaluation of their experience. This can be done in a way which is fair to the faculty, with specific safeguards against penalization for high standards. It would be confined to the upper grades, where students possess the emerging maturity to distinguish personality from professionalism, and to provide an even handed assessment of an authority figure.
I am sensitive to the uncomfortable feeling which the prospect of additional scrutiny may arouse in some of our teachers. Teachers who are successful and effective have absolutely nothing to fear. In fact, having identified these individuals, I believe in granting them additional freedom to administrate and manage the details of their own classrooms. They exist at the actual point of education, and no bureaucratically separated agent can match their perspective and experience on pragmatically effective best practice. Decisions made in good faith and with the interests of students at heart must be defended by an administration whose first instinct, knowing that it has judiciously hired and retained qualified and dedicated personnel, is to protect their back. This is an essential academic freedom and confidence which I cherish as an educator.
I understand that certain of these ideas are controversial. In fact, some of them might not be right for the district at all. I believe that they are points on which a debate would be healthy. I would like to be the advocate within our Board of Trustees for the opinions given, and I would look forward to hearing and considering opposing or alternative points of view.