Debate Magazine

We Don’t Need to Pay Teachers More

By Stevemiranda

I read the most recent piece from New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof today. He writes, “From the debates in Wisconsin and elsewhere about public sector unions, you might get the impression that we’re going bust because teachers are overpaid.

“That’s a pernicious fallacy. . . . If we want to compete with other countries, and chip away at poverty across America, then we need to pay teachers more so as to attract better people into the profession.”

Kristof continues,

“We all understand intuitively the difference a great teacher makes. I think of Juanita Trantina, who left my fifth-grade class intoxicated with excitement for learning and fascinated by the current events she spoke about. You probably have a Miss Trantina in your own past.”

I’ve never met Juanita Trantina, but I can guarantee one thing: she wasn’t a great teacher because of her salary, and she wouldn’t have been a better teacher if her school district had paid her more. No one does anything inspiring solely for money, but this is especially true for teachers.

The process of teaching and learning is among the most uplifting experiences human beings can have, and if we want to attract society’s best and brightest, we need to create work environments that are inspiring. That means allowing teachers to bring their whole selves to work: instead of limiting them to one academic discipline, let them teach all the things that make their heart sing; instead of demanding that they prepare students for high-stakes tests, let them develop authentic relationships with students unfiltered by arbitrary external standards.

We don’t need to pay teachers more. That’s the pernicious fallacy. We need to pay them enough so they don’t feel exploited, then create working conditions that will allow their genius to flourish.

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