I have been reading a lot about educational reform and ways to "fix" the public school system and a common theme is teacher pay. There are a fair number of people who believe that we can create a highly effective teaching work force if we offer teachers the same kind of salary that lawyers, doctors, and other such professionals make. Doing so would theoretically bring the best of the best into education, would motivate teachers into doing the best teaching practices, and would provide the necessary accountability to the workforce. Also, which teacher in their right mind would turn down the opportunity to make that much money?
Let me counter with this: the worst thing we can do to teaching is make it attractive by the amount of money that can be made. Yes, it would be wonderful to be fairly compensated for the work that teachers do (for the time I put into my students far exceeds the amount I'm paid for it). And yes, it would undoubtedly bring smart and bright individuals into the profession who might not otherwise think of educating because there is more money to be made elsewhere.
But what makes educating a child unique as a profession is this fact: teaching has never been about the money. And it can never be. We will never be paid what we deserve, for what is it worth to change a life? Not even a life, but 22 lives, or 150 lives, or thousands of lives over the course of a career? Such work requires commitment, passion, personal sacrifice, and an acceptance of a belief that sometimes we will never know what is produced from the seeds that we sew. Teachers become teachers in spite of the salary because it's not about the pay, it's about our love and commitment to working with students. It's about a belief in helping a cause greater than our own good. It's about a desire to make a difference in people's lives and in the world. And it's about a sacrifice we willingly and knowlingly make so we can give back what we have received.
To upset this balance would mean an influx of less qualified teachers entering the workforce. They would be teachers who are doing it for the money, who would think that the effort they put into students must be equaled by the compensation they receive for it. And when the compensation is not enough (as it inevitably won't be) then the desire to keep pushing one's self for the sake of others will diminish. We should want teachers who want to teach regardless of what they make because they know they are serving a higher purpose. What we have now is a workforce of teachers who are here because we want to be without the expectation that they will be paid fully for their work. We do not want a workforce of teachers who will only put into the education of a child what they will get out of it. The want of money cannot replace or exceed the want to help.
If anything else, we need to learn that not all problems we face are solved by throwing money at it. Let us learn from the lessons of the banking industry, the auto companies, and our federal budget. Money is a necessary evil, but not a solution to education.