Tie And Jeans

Making $50,000 Worth It

Tom Woodward posted earlier tonight looking at how the institutional culture and scale of K12 edu pushes the system towards building and refining processes that aim to prevent abject failure, rather than laying the groundwork for meaningful success.

In Akbar’s words, it’s a trap.

In Tom’s words, “continuing to build a system for the lowest level will likely drive even more high quality teachers from the profession.”

His post also links to a Netflix slideshow about their hiring, organization and compensation systems that, while not nearly as revolutionary as Valve, is light years away from anything I’ve seen in education.

Netflix's Keeper Test

What sticks in my head is the difference between how Netflix (or Apple, or Google) sees the value of an employee and how that value is seen in schools. This comparison is rather common at the moment, and tends to degrade down to various dystopian combinations of teacher evaluation schemes and “merit” pay. I’m going to sidestep that for the moment, although I’m certainly interested in finding positive ways to re-appropriate those tools.

Instead, I want to think about what else we have on the table besides salary compensation. What sort of culture should a school offer to attract our version of “high performing employees.” What should the teaching experience be like in order to attract the best teachers?

How about you? You’re here. You’re an amazing teacher. You’re dedicated to improving the mechanics of your craft. You’re committed beyond the boundaries of the school day or the academic year.

What would it take to get you out of your current job and into a new one? What makes a school jump out at you, from a stack of similarly compensated positions in the same geographical area. What could entice you to move across the country?

As a seed-thought, here’s my dream posting based on an old idea.

HIRING: Middle School teachers

$THIS_AWESOME_SCHOOL is searching for experienced, dedicated educators with deep subject knowledge, broad interests, and commitment to helping students discover their own best path through the world.

$T_A_S is dedicated to supporting students learning, creativity and choices. This requires personal and institutional flexibility, and and an iron-clad commitment on the part of teachers to truly listen and care for each student.

$T_A_S ability to respond to adolescents’ fascination means a short list of required classes combined with daily advisory hours in which students and teachers pursue diverse interests and projects across all disciplines.

Since classes offered change regularly in response to student and faculty interest, $T_A_S hires outstanding, passionate teachers with experience in the middle grades, but does not bind those teachers to particular subjects.

$T_A_S faculty engage in deep, daily collaboration to plan new courses and meaningful experiences for young adults.

To succeed at $THIS_AWESOME_SCHOOL, teachers need to be exceptionally well versed in teaching craft, feel empowered by the dynamic environment, and willing to experiment with new tools, topics, and techniques on a daily basis.

That’s a job description that would have me flying across the country* just to interview.

What does yours look like?

*(PS: Hi Brightworks! Let’s catch up over the summer!)

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8 thoughts on “Making $50,000 Worth It

  1. Adults & kids working on learning & projects in a Valve-like environment.

    Best,
    C

  2. I think about it from the other direction. I’m a career switcher who came into education through a private school. Teaching was really not on my radar, but given this opportunity, I loved it. It certainly wasn’t worth it for the money, but it was for the challenges it offered, working with the kids, learning stuff together and the freedom to build a curriculum. I’m getting my Masters in Education now to help fill in that gap, but I am not getting certified because I am not interested in teaching in the current public school environment. The compromises I feel I would need to make don’t seem worth it and so I’ll work from the outside in. I was listening to On Point yesterday about education lessons from Finland and South Korea. One person being interviewed in South Korea talked about the profession of teaching being more valued in their culture than lawyers and engineers. Imagine that! I really don’t think it is about the money. It’s about being empowered & valued. I’d definitely checkout $THIS_AWESOME_SCHOOL!

    • tieandjeans on said:

      Thanks Kim! I made the jump to private schools about a decade back, when the CA public schools were unstable enough that new teachers were routinely laid off in May and then *maybe* rehired in July. Combined with my desire to engage kids with tech and programming in ways that didn’t fit into a neat math/history/science bubble, it seemed like a good move.

      The archetypal private school trade off is curricular independence vs job security, but that doesn’t capture the nuance I’ve seen in my career. I’ve seen many examples of “close the classroom door” style of independence that can enhance job security for an individual, but proves toxic for the school’s environment. Apropos to Tom’s post, many independent schools try to control this behavior by binding teachers of related subjects in an uneasy yoke of common curriculum or assessments.

      My experience has made me suspicious of job descriptions that promise curricular independence OR faculty collaboration without some meaningful context.

      The cultural perception of teachers, like raw dollar compensation, is a powerful incentive for which I can’t find the lever. :)

      What’s left under “our” control is the daily experience and conditions of teaching. Chad has some nasty things to say about suburban teachers in The Evaluation, what with their cushy stats and art as detention, but those are variations on the factors that most of use to choose our next jobs. Is it 4 preps or 2? Will I only do remedial Algebra with a homogenized test in May, or is there a chance to teach an elective around a personal interest?

      A crucial factor that we rarely discover during interviews is simply “how awesome are my colleagues?” The tech world uses culture descriptors like those slides from Netflix to convince new hires that everyone is signed up for the same train to Awesome Town. I think schools that have that flexibility would be well served by doing the same.

      • I have a friend who is thinking about switching careers and becoming a (public school) math teacher. As part of the process for earning a certificate of eligibility, he needs to observe a math classrooom for 4 hours. So he came and observed mine. He saw me teach 2 algebra 1 classes (of very differing abilities) and one Calculus BC course – pretty much the full range of abilities and ages. After he saw them, we talked about what was important to look for when one is applying to schools for jobs.

        I think as a public school teacher, the single most important thing to consider is the quality of one’s colleagues, followed closely by the supportiveness of your administration and supervisors. Unfortunately, the “4 preps or 2″/”only remedial Algebra or elective” question is not one that comes up in public schools. You teach what you can teach, and a good department chair will do their best to play to your strengths, but the reality is that there is a need in public schools for everyone to do their part at every level of course. That’s why I think the quality of colleagues and support of administrators is so critical in that regard.

        Now, of course, if $This_Awesome_School existed in the public sphere, things would be different – you could have real conversations about interesting elective you’d like to (and would be allowed to) teach, for example. I think one of the big questions for public education in the 21st century is how can we combine that flexibility and desire for “awesomeness” with the need to educate everyone?

      • tieandjeans on said:

        Thanks for comment, Mike!
        Yeah, it’s clear that $TAS is biased by my experience in independent schools. But while public schools don’t have that flexibility, independent schools rarely use it. We hire math teachers in much the same way as a (small) public school would. There’s some internal politicking and shuffling about who teaches which section from year to year, but we’re leagues away from anything like the 100 hour course.

        But it seems like the core issue of ongoing teacher satisfaction is the same, namely the strengths and disposition of our colleagues.

        Given that a public school can’t adjust salary, prestige, course selection or course load, what’s left to make one school more appealing than another?

        There had better be something, or else we’re institutionally and personally screwed. If both teachers and schools are engaged in basically random selection among vast, unsorted pools, then the worst case scenario policies that Tom discussed are here to stay.

        And we’re going to be increasingly desperate to find bright, engaging colleagues to join us in that system.

      • Just caught this – I hope my “nasty things” to say can be taken as a critique of the system. The system creates the inequities – the teachers do not. Teachers generally make rational decisions within the system regarding self-preservation and helping kids make it through school. The story is meant to be an indictment of the double-standards we – as a people – hold (or are willing to let be) for our public schools. Certainly, David Cruz is not in any way heroic or a suggested foil to teachers in the suburbs. I think it is a systemic problem that rational self-preservation in the sector pushes to the schools that often have what the other ones need, as well. I am not apart from that problem.

        Of course, we all know about authorial intent –

        Thank you so much for reading the story!

        All the best,
        C

  3. joeystarnes on said:

    I’d fly across the country to interview with $TAS. Or, we can just slip this fine pitch in right here in Oakton.

    • tieandjeans on said:

      Maybe I miscalculated on this post. I was hoping to find some other educators’ version of the school culture that they’d jump ship for. :)

      As for Oakton… here’s the thing. I don’t currently teach at $TAS. I’d love put in the (years of) work, both in shaping that practice and shaping the community, to remake the teacher experience here into something closer to $TAS, but that’s a vision and a relatively sketchy one at that.

      Putting that pitch out now would be fundamentally dishonest, and unfair to both teachers on the ground and new hires.

      This is a deep concern, and ties back to a lot of “just leap already!” thinking that happens in schools. Pitching a school and hiring as if it’s a progressive wonderland, when it’s deep in or just beginning that transition, is a losing proposition for all concerned. No matter how many teachers would flock in towards that vision, the good will generated by that pitch evaporates within a semester of fighting with a structure that prevents them from doing the kind of teaching they were promised.

      How to attract the best teachers to Oakton, teachers ready to teach a year of Alg 2 on the way towards $TAS, is an essential question … for another day.

      What I’m still looking for is a broad survey of what “ideal conditions” look like for progressive, engaged, teaching/learning centered faculty. IN his comment above, Mike points out that under the restrictions of his school system, the primary differentiator between a good teaching gig and a lousy one is the quality of his colleagues.

      I was trying to brainstorm what sorts of teaching experiences would attract the best colleagues. The immediate and necessary follow up would be, what changes can we make NOW to bring that culture into existence, so that we’ll attract more of those teachers in the near future.

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