After earning her law degree while teaching full time, Lori Wheal thought she might leave the field of education. She had spent 10 years as a middle school teacher in the Bronx and was tired. Thanks to low pay, little respect, and limited opportunities for growth, she was at a crossroads. Should she leave a profession she truly loved for something more financially lucrative and well-respected?
Before Lori had to make that decision, she was encouraged to apply for a new position at her school as a master teacher. In this role she would teach fewer classes and spend the remainder of her time observing and mentoring her colleagues. She got the position and returned to M.S. 391 in the fall. “That position is what kept me in the classroom,” Wheal said. “If I hadn’t had this opportunity, I would have left the entire system.”
Providing career lattices that give excellent teachers opportunities to lead in their schools is just one of Educators 4 Excellence’s (E4E) recommendations in their new report on teacher compensation. “A New Way to Pay: Reimagining Teacher Compensation,” penned by 16 New York City teachers on E4E’s Pay Structure Policy team, suggests that a different compensation structure can elevate the teaching profession. Their recommendations include increasing starting pay to $60,000 and providing incentives for promising candidates to teach hard-to-staff subjects.
Many of the recommendations made in the report align with the U.S. Department of Education’s RESPECT Project, which stands for Recognizing Educational Success, Professional Excellence, and Collaborative Teaching. The project seeks to engage teachers, school and district leaders, teachers’ associations and unions, and state and national education organizations in a much-needed transformation of our profession.
I had the opportunity to attend the release of E4E’s report and participate in a panel discussion about their recommendations. The room was filled with more than 100 teachers who chose to spend a schoolnight discussing education policy. They probably had papers to grade, families to call, and their own lives to lead, but they decided to join their colleagues in a conversation about elevating their profession.
I was truly inspired when I left the room. I was also reminded that we, as teachers, need to be involved in education policy at every level. Alongside unions and other associations of educators, more policy-focused organizations like E4E and programs like the Department of Education’s Teaching Ambassador Fellowship must exist at the school, local, and state levels. How do we ensure that teachers have a voice in creating policies that affect our students and our profession? How do we challenge states and districts to make these opportunities the norm? Our future depends on it. We can’t afford to lose more teachers like Lori. Neither can our students in the Bronx.
Geneviève DeBose is a Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow on loan from Bronx Charter School for the Arts in New York City