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What happens when salary systems become corrupted?

All faculty salary systems, no matter how they are constructed originally, become corrupt over time.

The signs of rigidity and inflexibility are obvious: “work arounds” that appear as additional graduate credits to earn more money; teachers moving into administration; back channel renegotiation of teacher salaries or “fixes” or “adjustments” that really represent bowing to pressure which sometimes reflects acknowledgment of earlier unfairness; professional development money being used as rewards for teachers rather than in support of specific needs coming out a substantive evaluation process; and a tutoring industry flourishing on the “side”. Other common signs are payment for extracurricular assignments, clubs, minor after school functions, admissions open houses, Saturday test sessions, field trips, overnight trips, all of which were once part of the definition of the job.

These changes occur over time and sometimes as many as 95% of the teachers have quasi administrative titles and stipends to go with those titles and often as well, a reduced workload that the school cannot justify or afford. Most school heads get a queasy feeling when they realize that teachers are unwilling to take on any assignment outside of the core classroom responsibilities without extra payment. But having gone so far down this path, school heads are reluctant to say “no”.

It is true that primary school teachers still do some lunch, recess, and drop off and pick up duties. In middle and upper schools, however, there may be no teachers assigned to student dining rooms or tables, or there may be one overall supervisor, or MS teachers may take rare turns overseeing the cafeteria or dining room.  This supervision almost never happens at the high school level anymore.  In some schools these duties are assigned to aides, assistants and room monitors, all additional paid positions. 

That is not to say that teachers are generally well paid or do not deserve the extra payments. The problem is that because base salaries have not kept up with the market or inflation, schools have resorted to extra payment systems to offset inadequate base salaries. In doing so, schools have corrupted and undermined the definition of a robust full-time job that includes teaching, advising, and perhaps some coaching—even if not the most sophisticated or rigorous coaching. 

When public schools—and later international schools and some independent schools—adopted rigid lane and track salary “scales” based on years of experience and graduate work, they marched down a path of rewarding teachers for aspects of the profession that matter little or not at all. As teachers sought to circumvent the rigidity of the scale that was designed for equity and transparency, these jobs for extra pay/stipends became more important than those aspects of teaching that are crucial but not recognized or rewarded officially at all. Many current evaluation/growth systems have further corrupted salary systems by separating, like a fire wall, any formal connection between quality teaching and compensation.

There is always a reckoning.  Where in our systems do we recognize the quality of teaching in the classroom? Yes, teaching is an art but also a science. Where do we recognize the quality of pastoral care and advising of students? Where do we recognize teachers who mentor and support and collaborate extensively with their peers? Where do we recognize teachers who are open to innovation and change and are not defensive when receiving constructive criticism? Where do we recognize teachers who go the extra mile without being paid extra for it? 

This Consultant would argue for much higher teacher salaries which can be justified by mission-based salary systems that are designed to support, nurture, recruit, reward and develop teachers who grow and develop into outstanding role models for their peers and students. It all comes back to the mission. 

Independent and international school boards and heads might say that they cannot afford to pay much higher teacher salaries. But if they add up the cost of stipends and the cost of reduced workloads, they may find that by returning over time to the definition of a full-time job, they can.