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What is a math teacher worth?

By Murray Bourne, 05 Dec 2006

There was an interesting opinion piece (by an anonymous author): Teaching should pay better, across the board in (which has since disappeared, unfortunately). The article describes how salaries for some mathematics teachers will be increased in Guilford County, North Carolina, in order to reduce teacher turnover and improve test results.

We're all for teachers making more money. But there's a problem with Guilford's plan: Almost guaranteed discord among the teachers themselves.

If math teachers in some Guilford schools see other math teachers making significantly more money than they do - and the difference could be more than $10,000 a year - discontent could arise.

Most societies do not value their teachers, preferring to pay obscenely high salaries to footballers, golf players and movie stars. Why is that, when teachers have a profound influence on the future of any society, especially as parental influence wanes? Why are we happy to pay more dollars to Hollywood, the advertising agencies and the Internet to influence our children?

There is a worldwide shortage of mathematics teachers. I agree with the opinion piece that paying some more than others will lead to unhappiness, but then again, the forces of supply and demand will always win out in the end. There have been a lot of capable mathematics teachers that have left the service for a host of reasons, a common one being the lack of support from the administration, the parents and the society generally.

So it boils down to deciding what do we want? Do we want an educated, creative and productive society, or are we happy with mediocrity? Are we willing to pay for better teachers, better training and better conditions?

I'm fed up with hearing things like "Anyone can teach" and "Teaching [ability] is a given". Nope, teaching is a highly skilled occupation and should be recognised as such. Anyone can play the violin, but few can play it well.

See the 3 Comments below.

3 Comments on “What is a math teacher worth?”

  1. Vinod says:

    it's economics though, isn't it? there're more math teachers around than superstar footballers (average footballers get paid beans)

  2. Murray says:

    You pay peanuts, you get monkeys. How many superstar math teachers are out there? Not many, since they use their talents elsewhere.

    If you pay beans to average footballers, what do you get? Wind?

  3. Kai Tain says:

    "Anyone can play the violin, but few can play it well."

    Very well put. Teaching needs to pay much, much more and bad teachers need to be fired.

    The problem is that while there are lots of really, really good teachers out there there are a lot more really, really bad teachers out there. I just watched a piece a few months ago about some people here in Florida who had just received their teaching certificates and they sounded like they were mildly retarded. If you can't speak using proper grammar and pronunciation how are you supposed to be a good teacher?

    I suppose my view is biased as well because the one teacher I know personally is dumb as a rock. She's a very sweet, caring woman but dumb as a sack of hammers. She should not be teaching our children but she's actually one of the smarter teachers at her school.

    Which brings to mind the question, why are teachers so adamant about not wanting to be graded on their own performance? How can someone who's whole job is grading people not want to be graded? This may be a typical misreporting by the press but that's how I understand the issue.

    And a final thought, how many teachers could we have hired with all the billions of dollars we've wasted in Iraq?

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