Teacher often are motivated into the profession because they want to nurture young people, to watch their students learn, grow, and thrive. Many see teaching as a calling. Because they believe that education can propel a child out of even the most hopeless of life circumstances, they teach to help all students—regardless of their zip code—to create bright futures full of possibility and promise. They enjoy responsibility for nurturing our nation's youth to become good citizens and independent, critical thinkers, and they appreciate having the autonomy to create plans and experiences for students to achieve these goals. Though there are myriad benefits of teaching that are not related to earning money, if we are to retain and attract our best teachers and principals, educators must both perform and be compensated as professionals.
Transforming education will require a professional compensation structure that supports highly effective teachers and principals and provides incentives for them to develop expertise and work with colleagues to progress in the profession. To be sure, compensation is only one incentive among many that keeps good educators on the job. Without good leadership, supportive school climate, authentic professional learning, opportunities to succeed and advance, and time to work and plan collaboratively, paying teachers and principals better alone will not transform the profession. However, our vision acknowledges that we cannot draw potential high performers into the profession or motivate them to stay unless we compensate them like other professionals who are highly valued by society.
In our vision, starting salaries for professional teachers who have completed their clinical residency and advanced beyond Novice status (generally 2-4 years after their apprenticeships) could be as high as $60,000-65,000, adjusted as appropriate to the different geographic locations' cost of living. Additionally, salaries would increase faster and maximum salaries would be higher so that master teachers and other teacher leaders would have the ability to earn as much as $120,000-150,000 after about 7-10 years, commensurate with principals' salaries. Whereas today's compensation tends to be linked solely to years of service or professional credentials, under this new vision, salary would reflect the quality of a teacher's work, his or her effectiveness helping students to grow academically, and the scope of the teacher's responsibility.
To attract the best teachers and principals to work with the students who need them most, salaries competitive with other careers might be paired with other incentives like bonuses, tuition subsidies, portable licenses, and loan forgiveness. These same inducements might be used to attract and retain teachers in high-demand subjects like STEM, English language instruction, and special education. In all cases, equal attention would be given to providing all teachers with effective principals and strong school cultures so that teachers and students can succeed. Also, it will be important to address the physical and technical needs of the schools in poverty, providing resources to help teachers to function well under more challenging conditions without spending their own money for basic supplies.
This is our vision for American education: that our students will graduate from high school as creative and critical thinkers who are well-prepared for college and careers and ready to participate as responsible and engaged citizens in our country and in the world. Certainly, our students have a part in the responsibility for their own growth and learning, and we adults have much progress to make in motivating them to make good choices. But our vision will only be realized when we as a nation take seriously our obligation to prepare all of our young people for the opportunities they will have and the challenges they will face and when we treat our principals and teachers as professionals. When we make a commitment to recruit, train, develop, support, and pay our educators well, and when these educators share responsibility for ensuring every student's learning, our children, our economy, and our country will reap the benefits for generations.