I heard John Huppenthal on the news recently and, as a teacher, I am afraid by what I heard. I am afraid for my job and my students.
Most of us grew up in the public education system and believe ourselves to be experts on education, but that is far from reality. Educating students is a very immense task. It requires dedication and intelligence, but it also requires teachers to attempt to overcome obstacles that are completely out of their control.
Mr. Huppenthal, our newly elected state schools chief, said he would like to see 50 percent of a teacher’s salary based on student achievement. In my school district, teachers make, on average, $34,000 a year. Having $17,000 of your salary based on how well your students perform is terrifying.
I agree that there are teachers who are not effective and should not be in the classroom, but there are other ways to solve the problem, such as instructional coaching or evaluations out of education.
There are many factors that need to be considered that impact the success of students. At my school, this year, the average class size is higher than district recommendations, with one kindergarten class at 26 students. There is no money to hire another teacher. With large class sizes, teachers cannot give students the individual attention they need as often as they need it.
On average, each class has at least one special-needs student and at least 50 percent are second-language learners. Students are recognized as having a specific learning disability if there is a large discrepancy between their achievement and their ability level. Students who are of lower intelligence do not qualify to receive any special services because they are “working at their ability.”
Teachers of students who have low ability always hate to hear that their students do not qualify for special services, but the truth is that it is not a disability to be of lower than average intelligence.
This year we have four students above second grade with no knowledge of English. Statistically, children who have no English at all acquire the language more slowly the older they get. Students in all-day kindergarten can start the year with no English at all and leave at the end of the year fluent. This does not hold true for students in fifth grade.
Students who have lower intelligence struggle even more to master the language. Yet, in spite of these issues, teachers choose to work with these students because they know that their efforts make a difference.
I agree that the most important part to ensuring a quality education for students is to have quality teachers teaching them. That is, beyond a doubt, the most important thing. However, basing 50 percent of a teacher’s minimal salary on student achievement is not the way to ensure quality teaching. In our district, we have been trying hard to retain quality teachers, but it is very difficult when the district cannot afford to pay them to stay.
Would you expect a doctor to only receive 50 percent of his pay if his patients are not all healthy? Would you base 50 percent of a policeman’s pay on how well the residents of his town obey the law? Would we base a politician’s salary on how well he keeps the residents of his state happy?
By putting 50 percent of a teacher’s salary at risk based on the performance of their students, teachers may not be willing to teach students with special needs, with lower intelligence or with limited English proficiency. In charter schools, a charter can be written in such a way that all those students are prohibited from enrolling, but public schools must and should serve everyone.
We teach everyone, regardless of his or her gender, ethnicity, home life, English proficiency, economic situation, parental support, attendance or intelligence. We greet each student every day they are in our classrooms and give them our best, despite the lack of materials, technology or pay. We experience every triumph and failure of our students as if they were our own.
Mr. Huppenthal, please visit the schools, classrooms and teachers across Arizona and talk to us before you decide our fate.
— Sonyia M. Roy, M.Ed., Bullhead City