Reactions to “Stop Humiliating Teachers”

David Denby makes some good points in his The New Yorker article “Stop Humiliating Teachers”.  It does seem like a lot of the recent school reform movement has focused blame on teachers. Republicans and Democrats vie with each other over who could demand the most accountability from teachers, remove bad teachers, bust unions, privatize schools, and link teacher pay to student test performance. As a result teachers feel demoralized by high stakes teaching. Yet, the article claims, the real problem is that we don’t know how to educate children from families in poverty, especially African American boys.

Unfortunately, there is plenty of evidence that shows students from higher income families are not doing as well as their counterparts in other nations either. And, the testing and accountability movement was started because of low achievement so getting rid of them won’t solve the problem. At best, their removal will just return us to the problems we had before.

Yes, fixing poverty is necessary, but not sufficient. The big problem with the accountability movement is that it never really answers the question of where we can find better teachers. Teach for America has had some success but most of these teachers leave after two years, just when they’re beginning to get a handle on how to teach. Moreover reform that try to standardize teaching, by focusing on teaching to the test and removing the creative elements, will, if anything, discourage good people from staying in the field.

And of course, there is the problem of salaries. The average teacher salary in 2011-2012 was $46,340 for a teacher with a bachelor’s degree and $57,830 for a teacher with a Master’s degree.   or $56,689 in 2013-14. By contrast, in 2012, the average salary for a bachelor degree holder was $60,159 and a Master degree holder $75,008.  So those choosing to go into teaching receive salaries substantially lower than others with the same degree of education.  Yes, teachers in-school hours are less than most workers in other fields. But in-school hours do not count the time teachers spend planning lessons and grading papers. A teacher with 5 periods of 30 students each would have 150 students. So a test that took a minute per student to grade would take the teacher two and a half hours. An essay that took five minutes to read and grade would take 12 and a half hours. So, teaching requires more time than just the hours spent in front of students. If we want more good people to become teachers and stay in the field, we will need to pay them more money, and give them more respect.


Jay Mathews wrote in the Washington Post about the impressive turnaround improvements made by the JEB Stuart High School in Fairfax County, VA. But enabling students to succeed shouldn’t require teachers to come in on Saturday and risk their health by not taking recovery time after surgery. In 2014, the average salary for Fairfax teachers was $67,245. American education shouldn’t have to depend on teachers’ willingness to go to extraordinary lengths for that kind of pay.

That’s why many education groups have joined together as TeachStrong to work for better teachers and better support for teachers. The Center for American Progress launched the group and a new report, Smart, Skilled, and Striving: Transforming and Elevating the Teaching Profession calling for:

  1. High bar for recruitment and selection
  2. Excellent and relevant preparation and support
  3. Schools designed to attract and retain great teachers
  4. Opportunities for growth in leadership responsibilities, as well as pay

All this is important, but in the real world, as long as teaching is undervalued and underpaid, people will still be put in the classroom with just six weeks of training, teachers trained in one area will still be forced to teach out of field in another area, and classrooms will be filled with teachers whose real talent is acting as coaches for sports teams. We will have to improve people’s respect for teachers and improve the conditions under which they serve so they can be successful without requiring superhuman efforts.