Talent, Devotion, and Compensation: Attracting and Retaining Teachers

April 2, 2008 at 11:27 pm 8 comments

Sometimes a juxtaposition is more powerful than a mashup. This morning I was at a public high school and later at a private school. While I was at each for different reasons, I was struck by the talent and devotion of the people at both schools. While I don’t know their salaries, compensation to attract and retain teachers and education support professionals is lower in the US than in other countries and lower than comparable professions. Teaching for many, myself included, is a labor of love and a chance to use one’s skills and knowledge to help others. Because of this juxtaposition I find myself wondering what triggers this devotion in people and what causes them to flourish in their profession, albeit in the very different environments I was in today. (The mental mashup here, by the way, was trying to understand the impact of salary after reading a press release about the Economic Policy Institute’s new study.)

Online teachers and adjunct faculty are typically compensated less, and have less prestige, than other teachers. While online teachers may have fewer advising or administrative responsibilities, they work very hard, sometimes harder, than teachers in the classroom because they have to master technologies and be available more hours. I wonder not only what triggers devotion in such teachers but what causes it to whither and even dissipate – and what role compensation plays in this.


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8 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Teressa  |  February 27, 2010 at 8:57 am

    I am currently enrolled in a graduate program in Instructional Technology and I hold both in-class and online classes at this point. When I first saw that I would have online classes, I took the intensity of the online classes to be much lower than the classes I would have inside the classroom. However, sometimes I catch myself paying MORE attention to the classes that I have online only due to the fact that the class isn’t as interactive as the ones in person and therefore have to pay closer attention to the ones with less information upfront.
    I didn’t ever think that the salary for online classes would be necessarily lower than other professors though. The same information is taught; just in a different fashion. I think that it would be unfair and completely unjustified if there was a difference in pay because the same effort is being put forth. I mean, I know some professors that teach in person and give forth zero effort during class and it is completely reverse for my online classes. I don’t think any “label” should be placed on online teaching professors. They are just as qualified.
    And to put in one more of my thoughts, it takes a lot to be a teacher/professor. Their compensation doesn’t reflect the effort they instill into their job. I have a ton of respect for those who teach.

  • 2. adjunct  |  April 28, 2008 at 9:49 pm

    I always thought that online instructors were low paid, but recently found that when factoring in all things (including rising gas prices), I’m actually paid more as an online instructor than my counterparts in a physical classroom.

    There is quite a range, but I do know other online faculty who teach make into the six figures!!

  • 3. biochemistryquestions  |  April 16, 2008 at 1:07 am

    Talent, devotion…that is the teachers’ part.
    For attracting teachers, compensation. can be enough.
    For retaining teachers, it is necessary compensation + respect + support.

  • 4. Bill Kopf  |  April 7, 2008 at 8:42 pm

    HI, Lisa,
    I retired in 2001 after 28 years of teaching English and Journalism (producing a newspaper, Lit. Magazine, yearbook and producing a student news show also). while my pay was low-about $50,000/yr- I was still the highest paid teacher in the district. The base pay normally would have been lower, but because I have an advanced degree in business, I realized that all things are negotiable. I negotiated a salary that was equal to or better than coaches, or administrators because I could justify impact, hours, etc.
    I taught at community colleges and universities at night or during summers gaining university level experience and credentials. This allowed me to teach at a university after retirement. I was given 14 years past experience and with my degrees was offered a position at $32,000. Many universities pay lower than public schools. In Texas , for example, school dustricts can change the pay scale depending upon how well off their district is financially.

    My experience was good. Getting feedback from students that what I taught them helped them, or seeing those students go on to advanced degrees, write books, invent, create, or simply learn to love learning is the inspiration that motivated me then and now.

    I would consider going back to the public high school because of the reward of knowing that I made a difference in somone’s life. The pay is nice, but the reward of hearing later, “Hey, Mr. Kopf, thought you’d like to know that I am using my journalism skills here in England as I prepare for my doctorate in Anti-terrorism,,,I am writing for a publication… Stay in touch!”

    I work with many thirty-somethings that make considerably more than teachers, but they also often have less job security and/or satisfaction.

    As the Director of Distance Learning for a university, I know that there are, nationally, a variety of pay schemes for online adjuncts. As a retired public school teacher who is not ready to retire and who thrives on change, the opportunity to teach other places just gives me an opportunity to expand my exerience with students in other locales. Teachers are often learners and use the chance to teach others as a springboard for learning themselves. Students often teach as much as the teachers.

    Toward the end of my tenure as a Journalism teacher I began to tire of the paperwork, state interference, inept administrators, and loss of classroom freedom. Retirement looked good. Dissatisfaction was not caused so much by the students as the system. I have noticed that some districts are acknowledging that there can be changes in the way secondary education is handled and are allowing teachers more freedom, more options and, providing an opportunity for injecting excitement back into their classroom.

    My concern after seeing public, secondary education from the outside is that many good, experienced teachers are leaving and the draw for younger, equally talented teachers s not there. I worry that the draw for those who love teaching and love children and have the talent for education is not there. I worry that schools may take less effective, less passionate individuals to fill spots.

    I see high schools that are using e-Learning to accommodate students’ needs and I believe that many “adjunct” secondary teachers will learn that a teacher can still touch lives, even through an electronic medium. Those that love to teach will always find a way or a place to teach and touch hearts and minds.

  • 5. Yoram Orad  |  April 3, 2008 at 3:55 pm

    Hi Lisa

    To my sorrow, teachers in many countries all over the world don’t get sufficient compensation in terms of salareis and proper conditions, and in many countries, like in Israel (where I live) the salaries are rather low in comparison to the average salaries of all the employees. Nevertheless, you can find many teachers who are devoted, willing, diligent and creative almost in all schools I know. I think the reason is that they came to teach not because of the salaries and the conditions, but in spite of them. The profession of teaching has some unique features that make it attractive to these who care about people and teaching people. The satisfaction of teaching people, especially kids, can be enormous when the work of teaching is is carried out properly, professionally and with devotion. That is why teachers continue to teach.

  • 6. biff  |  April 3, 2008 at 4:44 am

    compensation to attract and retain teachers and education support professionals is lower in the US than in other countries

    Hi Lisa,

    That statement is perhaps a little misleading. The link that you supplied ranked the starting salaries of teachers as a percentage of per capita GDP. Since the US tends to have a significantly higher per capita GDP than most other countries, the percentage values seem relatively low. If those percentages are converted to actual salaries instead of percentages, then one finds that the US actually has higher starting salaries for teachers than most of the countries. This holds true even when correcting for “comparative purchasing power,” a measure used often by The Economist for international comparisons.

    Perhaps the most startling observation is that Germany pays its teachers much, much more than any other country on the list (almost $50k vs $37k for the next highest country; the US is at almost $36k).

    Interestingly, your point about starting salaries compared to other professions is perhaps strengthened by my interpretation of the salary figures, i.e. US teachers compared with those in other countries may be very well-paid in terms of what their salary allows them to buy, but they may notice that their next door neighbors can buy even more.

  • 7. Lisa Neal  |  April 3, 2008 at 1:11 am

    Barbara Stein, an education technology specialist at the National Education Association (NEA), said, “My understanding would be that if the teacher is in a school system s/he is paid in the same manner as all other teachers. I don’t know exactly how the for-profit companies pay teachers who work directly for them, rather than districts. I think they may actually pay educators who write the courses differently from those who deliver them, but I don’t know specifics.”

    She adds that “while it doesn’t get into the issue of salaries”, their publication on quality in online teaching has more information — http://www.nea.org/technology/onlineteachguide.

  • 8. TheDeeZone  |  April 2, 2008 at 11:38 pm

    Some of us just get tired of all the other junk and would stay even with low pay.


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Lisa Gualtieri, PhD, ScM

Lisa GualtieriLisa Gualtieri is Assistant Professor at Tufts University School of Medicine in the Department of Public Health and Community Medicine. She is Director of the Certificate Program in Digital Health Communication. Lisa teaches Designing Health Campaigns using Social Media, Social Media and Health, Mobile Health Design, and Digital Strategies for Health Communication. Contact Lisa: lisa.gualtieri@tufts.edu


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