How Much is Experience Worth?

After missing their budget deadline by nearly three full months, the North Carolina Legislature just released new salary schedules for the 2015-2016 school year.  I’ve been poking through them today — you can find them posted online here — and tinkering with the numbers.

Here are some general observations:

A first year teacher with a Bachelor’s Degree will be paid $35,000 by the State of North Carolina this year*.  A teacher with a Bachelor’s Degree and 25 years of experience will be paid $50,000 by the State of North Carolina this year.

Back-of-the-napkin math, then, makes one year of experience worth $600.

North Carolina provides a 10% stipend for earning a Master’s Degree and a 12% stipend for earning National Board Certification.  Both programs reward teachers for investing extra time into honing their craft and developing skills that can help them to become more effective instructors.  They are real opportunities for teachers to raise their own salaries.

North Carolina will pay teachers with 25 years of experience, a Master’s Degree and National Board Certification $61,000 this year.

Those numbers and a bit of back-of-the-napkin math makes one year of experience, a Master’s Degree and National Board Certification worth $1,040.

(*Note: The numbers cited here include only the portion of teacher salaries paid by the State of North Carolina.  Local municipalities can — and often do — add supplements on top of that base salary.  Those supplements vary greatly, however, from county to county.)


So what does this all mean?  I have no real idea.  Do other professionals see similar rates of salary growth over time?  Is making $15,000 more per year after spending 25 years in a field reasonable — or are people with significant experience in comparable professions (nurses, managers, police officers, firefighters) making significantly more at the end of their careers than they do on day one?

One of the things that I do know is that I’ve spent my entire career in North Carolina’s classrooms — and I’ve had my Master’s Degree and National Board Certification for 20 of my 23 years.  That has made it possible for me to say in the classroom — but I can’t say that I’m financially comfortable by any means.

In fact, I often wonder if I made the right choice when I decided to stay in the classroom.  I see the homes that the friends that I grew up with are living in, the salaries that they are making, and the cars that they are driving and I feel cheated because their families have opportunities that I cannot provide for my own.  I am — without exception — earning thousands of dollars less per year than everyone that I grew up with.  I’m also the only guy still working part-time jobs to make ends meet.


But here’s the thing:  None of those friends are filling the exact same role that they were filling on the first day of their careers.  They started as Sales Representatives and then began climbing the corporate ladder — moving steadily into Sales Manager, Regional Manager, and Corporate Trainer roles.  Or they moved from Associate to Partner positions.  Or they started as beat cops before becoming Sergeants and Detectives and Chiefs.

There is no corporate ladder for teachers, and while my experience is undeniably valuable — providing me with pedagogical expertise that makes it possible to effectively respond to the thousands of different circumstances that influence learning every day — my work is fundamentally no different than it was on the first day of my career.

My friends aren’t luckier than I am — and they sure as hell don’t work harder than I do.  They just pursued opportunities to advance in their professions — and each advancement came with a salary bump.  There ARE NO opportunities to advance available for classroom teachers.  You either teach and accept the stagnant salary growth that comes with that decision or you leave teaching.


So maybe my beef isn’t with the salary that I’m paid or the value placed on a year’s worth of experience in my state after all.  Maybe my beef is with the fact that education provides no real opportunities to remain a teacher while simultaneously accepting new professional responsibilities.

It’s education’s glass ceiling all over again — and it hasn’t changed in a hundred years.



Related Radical Reads:

Still Tired of Education’s Glass Ceiling

A Hapless Search for Organizational Juice

I Made $54,000 Last Year


Update 2: Using @RemindHQ to Share Nonfiction with Students

As I’ve mentioned before (see here and here), I’ve been using Remind — a free tool that allows teachers to push out notifications to parents and students via text, email or app — to send out a daily current event connected to science and technology to the kids in my class.

My goal is to hook students on nonfiction — and my guess is that hooking kids on nonfiction starts when every student is exposed to really cool content.  For most students, “reading nonfiction” elicits groans because it is synonymous with “reading the textbook.”  Changing that perception matters if we hope to have a scientifically literate population.  Our kids need to learn to love nonfiction — not to begrudge it.

Anecdotally, my plan seems to be working:  Darn near every day, I have students come up to me to talk about the current event that I send out.  Better yet, they are talking to one another about the current event, too.  And as soon as kids hear me talking about the event with one of their peers, they pull out their devices to check their texts, emails or notifications so that they can join the conversation, too.  Each current event becomes an impromptu social event — bringing people together around a shared topic they wouldn’t have otherwise had.  That’s been fun.

Statistically, my plan also seems to be working.  I currently have 84 people signed up to receive my daily messages.  Just over half of those subscribers are my students.  Most of the rest are moms and dads — which creates neat opportunities for conversations about science at home.  Given that I only have 88 students on my learning team this year, those numbers are fantastic.


Here are two other interesting numbers — pulled from a recent survey of people receiving my current events — worth considering:

  • 76 percent of respondents report “really enjoying” receiving daily current events on science content.
  • 67 percent of respondents report “almost always” reading the current events sent out each day.

And here are a few comments shared by parents and students who are receiving my daily current events:

  • Parent: “It give me a chance to have a conversation with my son…every day!….since he likes it too.”
  • Parent: “My son and I went outside early this morning to look for Venus in the sky.  Thanks for that moment.”
  • Parent: “A huge thank you for doing this, the info is awesome and not only provides “theater” at the dinner table, but I often use these quirky and cool facts in my work life – they get people’s attention, break the ice and create common ground quickly.”
  • Student:  “It’s really fun reading the current events and I think it’s worth the little time it takes. I also like discussing it with my friends and family and it also gets them interested in it.”
  • Student: “I think it would be great if you have 2 posts a day instead of 1 so we can read a new post when we get home.”

My favorite comment, though, addressed a concern that one of my boys had about our upcoming three-week vacation — which we call “tracking out.”  He wrote:

” I love how you take the time to send out something everyday. Will you be sending some over track out?”

How awesome is that?  When eleven-year old boys are worried about whether or not they are going to have interesting nonfiction to read over their three-week vacations, that’s GOT to be considered an instructional win, doesn’t it?

When I started this project, I really didn’t know what to expect.  I wasn’t sure whether anyone would sign up to receive my current events.  More importantly, I wasn’t sure that anyone would actually READ the events that I was sending out.  I knew that the project wouldn’t take much of my time — I’m already reading interesting science every day anyway and Remind makes scheduling and sending notifications a breeze.  But an easy project that has no impact is STILL a waste of time.

Now, I’m pretty sure that sending out daily current events will always be a part of my teaching practice.

Seeing my students excited about the science that surrounds them, listening to them talk — to me and to one another — about the content that I am sharing, and hearing from parents that my efforts are creating new opportunities for interesting conversations at home has been the highlight of my first quarter.



Related Radical Reads:

Using Remind to Share Nonfiction Reading with Students

Update 1:  Using Remind to Share Nonfiction Reading with Students

In Celebration of Teaching Geeks

If Grades don’t Advance Learning, Why Do We Give Them?

Warning: I’m more than a little grouchy today.  

It’s probably because I spent close to four hours hunched over a stack of student work in the back of a dirty McDonalds grading papers yesterday.  It was a total grind — marking errors, leaving comments and looking for patterns in the mistakes made by close to 100 middle schoolers so that I can plan my next instructional steps is a heck of a lot harder than most people realize.  And that all has to happen BEFORE transcribing student marks into a paper version of my gradebook and then entering scores into our district’s online gradebook program.

All of that time was essentially wasted, however, the minute that I turned the assignment back to my students.  The simple truth is that my kids weren’t all that interested in the comments that I’d written on their papers.  Some quickly filed their papers in their binders and moved on.  Others dropped their tasks into the recycling bin like too much intellectual detritus and wasted energy after asking the question that makes every teacher cringe:  “Do we have to keep this?”

Sound familiar?

Chances are that it does. Grading practices — think writing letter grades or simple percentages on student papers as an indicator of mastery — are almost universally recognized and repeated in American schools.  And while our traditional grading practices might feel comfortable to parents and policymakers, they are stifiling progress.  Isn’t it hypocritical to preach about the importance of innovation in education while simultaneously clinging to a system which is almost as archaic as it is useless.

What’s even more frustrating is that feedback and assessment experts have been pointing out the flaws in our grading practices for a long, long time.

Need proof?  Consider these quotes from three of the biggest feedback and assessment experts in the business:

Dylan Wiliam:  “When students receive both scores and comments, the first thing they look at is their score, and the second thing they look at is…someone else’s score.  Being compared with others triggers a concern for preserving well-being at the expense of growth” (p. 34 of this Ed Leadership issue).

Grant Wiggins:  “The most ubiquitous form of evaluation, grading, is so much a part of the school landscape that we easily overlook its utter uselessness as actionable feedback.  Grades are here to stay, no doubt — but that doesn’t mean we should rely on them as a major source of feedback”  (p. 15 of this Ed Leadership issue).

Alfie Kohn: “Most of the criticisms of grading you’ll hear today were laid out forcefully and eloquently anywhere from four to eight decades ago (Crooks, 1933; De Zouche, 1945; Kirschenbaum, Simon, & Napier, 1971; Linder, 1940; Marshall, 1968), and these early essays make for eye-opening reading.  They remind us just how long it’s been clear there’s something wrong with what we’re doing as well as just how little progress we’ve made in acting on that realization” (in this blog entry).

This all begs the obvious question:  If I know full well that grades are ineffective, then why do I keep giving them?

My answers to that question leave me more than a little ashamed, y’all.  I’m giving grades because there are times when my students don’t seem to respond to anything else.  “Is this going to be graded?” is often the first question asked when I introduce a new assignment in my classroom — and my answer can be a hinge-point for students, determining the amount of effort that they plan to invest in the task at hand.

And I’m giving grades because some part of me is convinced that I am being judged by the number of tasks that I score each quarter.  The narrative that I write in my own mind is that people — parents, principals, policymakers — see classes with dozens of individual grades as more rigorous and see teachers who are scoring machines as more professional and determined.  After all, we ARE data-driven organizations, right?  How can you make effective decisions without a heaping cheeseload of scores to sift through?

Finally, I’m giving grades because I’ve learned over the years that families can be consumed by averages.  I’ve seen the panic that sets in at the end of every quarter when the kids in my classroom realize that their letter grades aren’t where they want them to be.  Bs are inherently dissatisfying, Cs are a real disappointment and Ds are a complete disaster.  Giving more grades means giving students more chances to raise their scores — and giving students more chances to raise their scores feels like the right thing to do when averages are a priority for both parents and students.

Did you see what was missing in my rationale for grading papers?  

I spent four hours last night grading papers because my kids wouldn’t have invested in the task unless they knew it was going to be scored.  I spent four hours last night because I am worried about the perceptions of my peers and principals.  Now, I can wear my paper grading grind like a badge of professional honor.  And I spent four hours grading papers last night because I wanted to get a few more grades in the gradebook in order to help my kids maintain their averages.

But I didn’t spend four hours grading papers last night because I’m convinced that it will make a meaningful difference in what my students know and can do.  In fact, I’d go as far as to say that the four hours that I spent grading papers last night will have almost NO impact on the learning of my students at all.

Stew in that for a minute, would you?

And then explain to me why we are still giving students grades.



Related Radical Reads:

Learning about Grading from the Baljeetles

Are Grades Utterly Useless?

Feedback Should be More Work for the Recipient



Blaming and Shaming Teachers for Low-Level #edtech Practices

This is going to make darn near everyone angry:  I cringe every time I hear people pitching Kahoot as an #edtech supertool.

Ask any ten teachers who are interested in #edtech and nine are likely to wax poetic for an hour about the sheer beauty of Kahoot.  They will testify about how engaged their students are when they are playing Kahoot in class.  They will passionately argue that Kahoot is the single best tech tool known to man and that Kahoot games are the most popular activities in their classrooms.  I haven’t seen this kind of universal commitment to any digital product since Interactive Whiteboards stormed onto the scene just over a decade ago.

My beef with the popular tool is a simple one:  While Kahoot argues that it is “Making Learning Awesome”, it really IS a tool that is best suited for nothing more than facilitating the review of basic concepts.  It’s a flashy way to get kids to answer MORE fact-driven multiple choice questions.  And while I get the notion that early #edtech integration efforts almost always start by substituting technology for existing practices, I guess I just keep hoping that our vision for the kinds of things that kids can do with technology would move BEYOND preparing them for the next knowledge-based end of grade exam.

What if “Making Learning Awesome” meant something more than coming up with a killer strategy for engaging kids in the study of content that they don’t really care about?  What if making learning awesome meant giving kids chances to do work that matters or to study topics that motivate THEM?  What if making learning awesome meant creating opportunities for kids to ask and answer interesting questions together.  What if making learning awesome meant  getting kids to wrestle with the issues that are defining our world.

Here’s an example:  Right now, one of the largest humanitarian crises in history is taking place right in front of our eyes.  The news is filled with stories detailing the struggles of migrants and refugees who are risking their lives to make it to nations where they have a better chance for a future that’s NOT defined by abject poverty.  People are drowning.  People are starving.  People are WALKING across Europe.  But instead of asking our students to reflect on the root causes of — and possible solutions for — this heart-wrenching human tragedy, we’ve got them sitting in classrooms answering trivia questions.


But here’s the thing:  Getting frustrated with folks for embracing #edtech practices that faciliate low level behaviors overlooks the simple truth that most teachers are working in positions that have incredibly high stakes attached to those low level behaviors.  

Our very public attempts to hold teachers and schools accountable have nothing to do with developing higher order thinking skills in kids or creating problem-based classrooms or giving students chances to change the world for the better.  No one is interested in whether or not the kids in our classrooms are prepared to act when faced with challenging situations.  All we continue to care about in this country is producing higher test scores — and producing higher test scores still depends on nothing more than getting kids to review and to memorize and to regurgitate basic information.

Now I know what all y’all idealists are thinking:  If teachers teach higher order skills, students will master the kinds of basic information required for succeeding on standardized tests.  

That’s just NOT true.

How do I know?

Because I refused to give much attention to standardized tests for years when I was teaching language arts.  Instead, I focused on making Socrative Seminars — a practice that encourages higher order thinking through collaborative dialogue — around issues like poverty and racism and hatred a regular part of my instruction.  I was quickly recognized as an expert teacher.  I was observed time and again and was celebrated for the kind of thinking that was happening in my classroom on a regular basis. My students were genuinely engaged in meaningful issues day after day.  I won the teacher of the year award in my county, and was named a finalist for teacher of the year in my state based largely on my commitment to higher order instruction.

And year after year, I had the LOWEST test scores on my hallway.

The skills that the students were mastering in my classroom are exactly the kinds of skills that employers say that they want from graduates, but they just didn’t translate to higher scores when it came time for my students to take the kinds of knowledge-first end of grade exams that we use to identify successful teachers and schools.

The lesson that I learned every time that I was called into the office to review my “results” and to look at my “value-added” numbers was a simple one:  The BEST way to prepare students for low level tests is to grind them through constant review and recitation of “the basics.”  Kahoot — with its fast paced music and updated standings after every question — really IS a great way to get kids to embrace that kind of learning.

And THAT’s why it’s so darn popular.

You see why this is important, right?  The tension we feel about the instructional technology decisions made by clasroom teachers is nothing more than a direct reflection of the disconnect between our stated priorities and our actual practices for evaluating teachers and schools.

WE like to wax poetic about the beauty of critical thinking and problem-based learning and purpose-driven opportunities and self-directed experiences .  Worse yet, we turn our noses up whenever teachers spend their time and professional energy on #edtech tools that do little to advance “a new vision for modern learning spaces.”  But we continue to use the most traditional of metrics — results on multiple choice exams — as a cudgel to influence the actions and behaviors of teachers and schools.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that maybe it’s time we STOP blaming and shaming classroom teachers for struggling to move beyond #edtech integration efforts that facilitate low level behaviors and START blaming and shaming the policymakers who continue to perpetuate high-stakes situations that prioritize schooling over learning.




Related Radical Reads:

What Kind of Students is YOUR School Producing?

HERE’s What We Have to Stop Pretending

What if Schools Created Cultures of Doing Instead of Cultures of Knowing?

Feedback Should be More Work for the Recipient

I’ve been doing a ton of reading about the impact that feedback has on student learning over the past few weeks (see here).  It’s something that I’m passionate about AND something that I’m working to get better at in my own practice.

One quote rolling through my mind right now is this one:


William’s argument — which he articulates nicely in Embedded Formative Assessment — is a simple one:  The primary purpose of feedback is to cause learners to think.

An example of William’s notion of effective feedback comes from the math classroom.   He argues that instead of collecting homework, marking problems right and wrong and then handing papers back with a grade, a teacher could tell each student nothing more than the number of wrong answers that can be found on their papers.  Then, students should be held accountable for finding and correcting each mistake on their own.

William shares another example from the language arts classroom.  He argues that instead of correcting grammar and punctuation mistakes FOR students, teachers should make simple marks in the margin indicating sentences where students have made errors.  Then, students should be held accountable for reviewing sentences with marks indicating errors, finding their own mistakes, and making corrections.

Both of these practices require LESS of the classroom teacher, don’t they?  It’s WAY easier to simply indicate mistakes than it is to cover a student’s paper in detailed corrections.  And both of these practices require MORE of our students, who have to carefully return to their work — something that rarely happens once papers are passed back in traditional classrooms.  The REAL value in these examples rests in the reflection that students do after feedback is given.

Stew in all of this for a minute:  If William is right that effective feedback should be more work for the recipient than the donor, how much effective feedback are you giving in your classroom?

What’s keeping you from giving more?



Related Radical Reads:

Effective Feedback is a Work For/Work On Process

@shareski is Right:  My Students CAN Assess Themselves

Another Student-Involved Assessment Experiment