Well-Paid Teachers? Im on Board October 7, 2008, 6:00 pm By Christine Gralow When I recently saw an ad for a $125,000-a-year teaching job at a New York City charter school, my first thought was that it must be some sort of phishing scam. Everyone knows teachers dont make $125,000. My second thought was, Why shouldnt we? After visiting the schools Web site and reading a New York Times article about the school, I realized it was not only legit, but potentially revolutionary in terms of education reform. So this school year, in addition to my regular special education teaching job, Ive decided to get involved in the creation of this new school. The Equity Project Charter School (TEP) will open in September 2009 in Manhattans Washington Heights community, and it will aim to enroll middle school students at risk of academic failure. Students with the lowest test scores will be given admissions priority. In order to recruit the countrys top teachers to work with these at-risk students, the schools founding principal will cut administrative costs and put a higher percentage of the schools public funding into teacher salaries. Hes also seriously raising teacher qualifications, offering teachers a potential $25,000 bonus, and expanding the school day and work year for teachers. The principal will make $90,000. There will be no vice principal. As a New York City teacher, Ive often felt the need to get involved in education reform on a broader scale. I fully respect teachers who can put 110 percent into their lesson planning and teaching while not getting frustrated by the overall chaos in public education that currently surrounds them. But Im not one of them. I get angry about the inequities and bureaucratic chaos Ive seen in public education, particularly in inner city and special education, and I feel the need to change things. Teacher ranting and raving about unfairness clearly isnt the solution, so one of my goals for this school year is to get more involved in education reform projects. Volunteering to support a new school with a new, reform-oriented education model is helping me feel less frustrated about the status quo in public education and more proactive about change. Ive decided to volunteer significant time this year as a member of TEPs Capital Campaign Advisory Board, because I believe the schools model, if successfully executed, could potentially spark the change needed in many of Americas worst-performing schools. Although I currently work with special-needs children in Manhattan preschools, I remain seriously troubled by the low graduation rates, unhealthy working and learning environments, and the general disarray of the high schools at which I recently taught in the South Bronx. While there were, of course, several well-meaning teachers and administrators at these schools, it was clear that the citys model of recruiting inexperienced teachers and administrators to work at hard-to-staff schools in troubled neighborhoods wasnt working. I was one of the new teachers who was recruited from another career to work at a school with a 17 percent graduation rate. Most of my teaching colleagues at this school were also new teachers, and we were all in over our heads. The school had three principals in four years. While most of us tried our best, it was clear that the students needed more stability and experience than we could provide. I also noted while working at this school that there were a lot of seemingly excessive staff positions various coordinators, academic coaches, and subject supervisors that, while originally designed to help students succeed, were in fact making little difference, or in some cases actively getting in the way of teachers classroom focus. For schools serving primarily at-risk student populations, it makes sense to cut such positions; put more money into recruiting and retaining the countrys smartest, most competent teachers; and divvy up the schools administrative responsibilities amongst those highly competent teachers. Good teachers already serve as parent coordinators, academic coaches, and subject supervisors anyway. When I see promising teaching colleagues quit because they simply cant afford to live in Manhattan on their salaries, and I see staff shortages and inexperienced teachers at the citys highest needs schools, its clear a new model is needed. So far this school year, Ive seen one good teaching colleague quit to pursue a higher paying job. Teachers realize were not going to become wealthy when we choose this profession, and low salaries may in some way be a test for those truly committed to the job, but theres no doubt that low pay also keeps a lot of well-educated, talented Americans out of the classroom. Good teachers also regularly leave the city for higher paying jobs in nearby counties, and low teacher pay has created serious teacher shortages in math, science and special education, particularly in low-income communities. To effectively recruit and retain the teachers needed to turn troubled schools around and give the kids who need it most a fighting chance, education officials should re-consider how schools are financed. Im sure TEPs first years will be closely watched by both supporters and detractors of the schools model..