Opinion: ‘One study says teachers should be paid $300K a year. Perhaps that would boost our reputation’

18th July 2015 at 15:00
Oliver Beach
Tough Young Teacher Oliver Beach marks three years in the classroom this week. Why, he wonders, is the reputation of teaching still so poor?

“I just got an amazing, flashy new job,” remarked a friend.

“How exciting! What is it?” I replied.

“Management consulting,” he said, without sarcasm.

Why is management consulting a lucrative career? It all comes down to simple economics: scarcity breeds value. When something is rare or more challenging to procure, it becomes more valuable; like an agreeable education policy. How can we apply this theory to education? Well, Teach First is a great example. The education charity, which has placed just under 1,700 teachers in schools this year, is the largest graduate recruiter in the country. Not to be biased (I'm a Teach First recruit myself), it's a highly reputable entry route into teaching. Part of this reputation is down to the difficulty and complexity of becoming a successful applicant.

The reason why I decided to take a small risk and take part in Tough Young Teachers was to raise the profile of education and to eradicate common misconceptions about the profession. I wanted to put a stop to remarks like, “But you get great holidays” and “You're always going on strike”. Sadly, and unsurprisingly, three years later not much has changed. And now the government has decided to cap our pay for the next four years – way to make us feel good. So how do we improve the value of our great profession?

The first area to look at is how much teachers contribute to society. Spoiler alert: it’s a lot. A US study found that having a great teacher can add more than $100,000 (£64,000) to a student's lifetime earnings. According to another study, cited by Professor Dylan Wiliam, if teachers were paid based on their contribution to GDP their salaries would average around $300,000 a year. (The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development average for teachers is about $45,000.)

So if teachers were paid based on their merit and contribution to society, perhaps then the profession would be deemed "amazing" and "flashy". Sadly, these figures don’t tell us how to attract more teachers to the profession. Incentivising through salary may attract more talent to the profession but it could also lead to teaching to the test without students gaining a love of learning.

Much of what motivates me as a teacher is based on Dan Pink’s theory of autonomy, mastery and purpose. I have control over how I work, how I teach and my actions in a day. I have opportunities to enhance my CPD to become a better educator and I have a purpose that drives me: helping students to create the best futures for themselves. The gift of autonomy allows me to search for innovative ways of teaching, to indulge myself in new pedagogy and to network with inspiring educators. Many management consultants don’t have that same control over their working lives.

Autonomy, however, is all too rare in some schools. If the government wants to value education, branding institutions as "coasting" is a detrimental decision. This label demoralises teachers and suggests a Nineteen Eighty-Four culture is unfolding as the government becomes less trusting of schools and their staff.

Society needs to trust teachers' commitment to young people. We should be trusted to make the best decisions for our students, and that we are working hard to better their lives. If we feel micro-managed then we become despondent. And who is going to bear the brunt of this despondency? The students in the classroom.

The credibility of the profession, however, comes down to the quality of its teachers. Robert Peal argues that teachers should re-accredit themselves to prove they're still performing well. Although I agree that upskilling and compulsory CPD is crucial, testing teachers suggests a lack of trust in them, in my opinion.

Yet some teachers have forgotten or lost their purpose, however controversial it is to say it. If your purpose as a teacher isn’t to improve the lives of young people, you shouldn’t be in the classroom. We must all be driven by that. If we are to raise the value of our profession in society, we must be seen to be following this mantra.

As I approach the end of my third year in the classroom, I wonder when my peers, business leaders and political masters will finally grasp the importance of the teaching profession and address us with more glee than opprobrium. I look with incredulity at people who complain about teachers when once upon a time they depended on them. I look forward with hope to the day when we are trusted by politicians to make the best decisions for our students.

One day, in the not so distant future, I believe that teaching will be a sought-after career, with idealistic, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed recruits (to quote Ofsted's chief inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw) skipping ebulliently through the school gates, eager to change some lives.



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