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TeacherWhen I decided to attend the University of Miami in 2002, I wanted to follow in most of my family’s footsteps and become a teacher.  I always had a passion for mathematics, so I decided to double major in probability and education.  Five years later, I completed all of my classroom required training and was ready to take the plunge.  Graduating in May of 2006, I took on a teaching stint at Coral Gables Senior High in August of 2006.  The job payed $450 a week, which wasn’t great for a kid with over $150K in student loans (for an undergraduate degree … I know, I know) but I knew if I stuck with it, I could be an excellent algebra and geometry teacher.  In December of 2006, I resigned.

I taught five out of the nine periods of the day.  This means that I had about 120 kids under my wing and of those 120 aspiring minds, around 30 of them spoke English as their first language.  Another 30 or so had a firm grasp on the English language and the remaining ~60 struggled to understand me.  These were not children that just moved here from another country, they were students passed through the system year after year.  Mathematics you see, is like a ladder.  You take something you learned yesterday and apply it to what you’re learning today.  Each step allows you to take the next and skipping steps causes future steps to be farther and farther apart.

I spent every minute I could trying to get through to a lot of these kids, but I ran into three major problems.  Problem one was that some of them were habitually absent from class.  How can I teach them if they aren’t there?  Problem two was the language barrier.  I spent three years in college studying German and outside of Fritz and Franz Bierhaus, you won’t find many Germans in Miami.  The third and final problem was that they had no background knowledge of mathematics.  I spent an entire week after class teaching long division to 14 and 15 year old 10th graders.

December rolled around and I was struck with a dilemma.  Without a doubt, 60%+ of my students deserved a failing grade.  I could either pass them along to the next unsuspecting teacher or start my career off with a bang.  In a life filled with tough decisions, this was one of the easier ones, and I flunked all of em!  Well, that didn’t sit well with the principal and when I was asked to re-think my decision, I did.  The next day, I decided to resign from the decision I made in August to teach mathematics in South Florida.

Bringing this story full circle, the Florida Congress passed a bill a few days ago, known as SB6, that changes the pay structure and job security for teachers in South Florida.  Beginning July 1st of the current year, new teachers that are hired will be given one-year contracts.  The decision on whether to renew the contract depends on the students progress on state test scores and the school’s review of the teacher (usually completed by the principal).  Graduate degrees and tenure are a thing of the past ladies and gentlemen and existing teachers will have their raises based solely on student performance.  The 61 page bill includes the following changes in Florida:

  • Decrease the ability of local school boards and school districts to make a wide array of decisions having an impact on local schools and replacing them with a one-size-fits-all approach mandated from Tallahassee.
  • Require that all teachers be retained, certified and compensated based on student test scores on standardized tests — not years of experience or degrees held.
  • Penalize school districts that even consider length of service or degrees held when determining compensation or reductions in force.
  • Order that teachers be issued probationary contracts for up to five years; then an annual contract every year after that … eliminating due process.
  • Mandate more standardized testing for students (end of course exams for all subjects) and for teachers (additional certification requirements).
  • Exclude the salary schedule as a subject of collective bargaining. The state will decide what categories of differentiated pay will be provided for.
  • The state will have a much greater hand in appraisals.
  • Abolish an effective and popular program that rewards those who become National Board Certified Teachers, a rigorous national program that awards certification after a yearlong, independent review of a teacher’s work in the classroom and knowledge of their field.

The governor of Florida, Charlie Christ, has until Friday to veto the new bill, otherwise the bill is final.  While teachers cannot officially go on strike in the state of Florida, many have organized a “sick-out” where they are calling out sick to protest outside of schools.  In some schools, over 75% of teachers have called out, making the day virtually lost for educators.  Any channel I turn on right now is focused on this story, and I felt compelled to write about it to see what others outside of my state think about it.

The education system found in Florida has never been highly regarded, and the day Florida is known as “average” will be monumental.  Had my four month salary been based on my students performance, I may have been required to pay back everything I earned, plus interest!  While I understand the reasoning behind regulating teacher salaries like this, I think the execution has been downright deplorable.  Teacher’s salaries in the state of Florida are already in the tank, and while lawmakers think teachers will work harder this way, I think it’s the exact opposite.  Current teachers will become extremely frustrated when the raises they see aren’t what they expect and new teachers won’t be as creative as they can be knowing their job is on the line the second they step in the classroom.  Some people handle pressure well, many do not.

Nearly all professions in this world base their pay on performance.  If you do well, you are rewarded.  If you do poorly, you are not.  Should teaching also be added to the list?  It’s pretty difficult to pinpoint a teacher’s performance, and I think basing it solely on state test scores is shortsighted.  There’s a lot more to be learned in the classroom than the answer to a multiple choice question, and if this bill is signed by Charlie Christ, I fear Florida will lose every bit of the little progress they have made over the last few years.  How would all of you feel if this bill were passed in your state, teacher or not?

Author Bio

Total Articles: 158
After amassing more than $255,000 in debt on a math degree from the University of Miami, Michael now enjoys spending time at home and writing about personal finance.

Article comments

Tina Jeffe says:

If you’re a teacher in an affluent suburban school where the children are fed, cared for, encouraged to think that education is important, and all speak the same language, this bill MIGHT be workable. I can’t believe that anyone who has ever spent more than a few minutes in a classroom could think that this is fair.

Mike says:

I don’t think this bill is perfect, but I think its something to look at and try. First, the idea that a school teacher gets tenure after 3 years is crazy, they should never have tenure for school teachers (or college professors). As a result 0.03% of tenured teachers ever get fired, despite problems. This is a reason so many kids end up in high school and aren’t prepared, teachers advanced them because they would have no repercussions. I think getting rid of this tenure would be the best step the state could take so that bad teachers can be fired.

I also feel that more students need to be held back. Students need to show they are proficient enough to pass to the next grade, its not an automatic advance. If a high school diploma was a right they would print it on the back of your birth certificate; you need to work to graduate high school. I doubt the FCAT is the best way to tell if someone if ready to advance a grade, but the teacher should know after a year. (I’m not an FCAT supporter, but we need something to see how teachers and students are doing.) I think you being willing to fail all your students is what is needed at times. If we had teachers from K-12 willing to do that, education overall would be better.

I just want to add that I live in FL, and my wife is a teacher (albeit private school). We both support this. My wife feels if she can’t figure out a way to get her students to learn then she isn’t doing her job. I think the American education system needs to try to change so that we can become more competitive internationally, and not fall behind China, and India in education. Also Florida is ranked 14th among the country’s public schools, we’ve made big jumps recently. http://www.nefec.org/news0/556/

Weston says:

I also live in Florida. I believe that I have a unique perspective since all 4 of my kids went through Florida public education but because of a disparity in ages (there is a 14 year gap between my second and third kids) my two older kids went to school before the FCAT and the two younger ones went to school after FCAT went into effect.

I think that is the major reason that I feel that my two younger kids got a far worse education than the two older ones. As a means of self preservation for the administrators and teachers the entire focus in the public school system has become “teaching the test”. The school system has become entirely focused on what is the best way for increasing the FCAT scores without regard for what is best for the kids and their education. If this bill passes the entire focus on passing one damn test will become even more acute.

Michael says:

Good point Weston.

If my job security and pay grade were dependent on one test a year, I would focus my entire year around it, wouldn’t you?

I was very fortunate to go to a quality public school in northern NJ that taught a curriculum throughout the year. Sure we had a state test, but it was more of a formality that we used 1 or 2 days of the year to review for. Now, teachers take last years test and just run through the questions day by day. If it’s not on the FCAT, it’s not important to teachers.

Michael says:

Mike & Tina

I think you’re comments work very well together. Teachers that work at private schools are probably very more understanding of this bill than those at public schools and I would agree that tenure to teachers just because they’ve been there a few years is ridiculous.

However, I think before the state bases teachers pay on student performance, they should see about improving the major problems teachers face in schools, like attendance, curriculum and communication. Why not give every teacher a fair chance at this, rather than just the ones that teach in more “affluent” areas?

No, the bill is not perfect but I think it’s starts too far along the progress line.

Mike says:

I think the problem overall is the core of government. You need some objective way to rate people (the FCAT). If they could just trust the instincts of the teachers and administration to pass the kids that should and hold the kids that shouldn’t. I don’t know what is on the FCAT ( I have never taken it), but it seems like basics are being lost in school. The biggest thing I notice (and maybe it is just because I am getting older), is poor grammar. Many kids and college students I speak with can’t form complete sentences or use proper tenses. I feel like this will hold students back in life; equal in other aspects, the person with the better grammar will get hired.

SB6, I thought, started teachers in traditionally low income areas at higher pay bases so they wouldn’t be completely thrown to the wolves financially. Before this bill goes too fat though, the state needs to first decide how to approach teaching the non-English speaking students.

Ryan says:

I think too many school districts and states focus on teaching how to pass standardized tests when they should be teaching students how to read and think. My mother is a teacher in Texas and they have made many similar changes in the last few years (not basing teacher pay strictly on how well students pass standardized tests, but influencing school funding based on test results). The result of these influences is teaching tests over and over until students can “think” like a test maker, but can’t perform any critical thinking on their own.

Valerie says:

I am a teacher and have taught in several high schools and middle schools in Miami-Dade. When people ask me what it’s like I tell them it is like missionary work, often students don’t want the message, but it can be life changing for those that do. I always told me self I would teach as long as I could make a difference and enjoy the work. If this bill passes it will be nearly impossible to do either. As far as ridding schools of incompetent teachers, I’ve found that we should be more interested in retaining the good ones. I’ve seen so many talented teachers leave because they felt they could be more effective and better compensated in other fields.

unicorn says:

Teacher pay bill is fair for teachers who teach the students who do well on the FCAT. Teacher pay bill is not fair for teachers teaching at-risk students and ESE students. Good luck finding teachers for the students who need us most. I’m OUT.

Denise says:

Teacher pay absolutely should be predicated on teacher performance. But “teacher performance” is not == “student performance on standardized tests.” It is something that must be evaluated on a case by case basis (way too expensive and time consuming for administrations to actually do). They should get performance evaluations every year (including MULTIPLE observations of their teaching), and sure you get points for raising test scores, because if you can pull that off, that’s fantastic; but you also get points for meaningful participation in IEP meetings, meaningful parent interactions, participation in curriculum mapping/curriculum design/department meetings, meaningful professional development, work with mentor “Master Teachers,” and so on. These are all things that can be evaluated by your direct supervisor (math department head, for instance) and overseen by your principal. It is not easy, it is not fast, it is not cheap. But it is ACTUALLY ACCURATE. I have participated in “probationary certificate” programs, I have gone through our state equivalent of national boards, I have taught in public and private schools, and have been a private school administrator for five years. This is the system we have in place, as we thankfully are not under the thumb of a school district (since we are private) and I can tell you that it significantly improves teacher performance and student outcomes. But you can’t base it all on student outcomes, because so many of them DO come to you unable to read/write/compute/keep from swearing/etc. And so many of them DON’T come to class, or smoke up right before (or between!!) class, or just don’t care. And I for one am not basing my salary or my career on elements which are under the direct control of TEENAGERS. After all, have you MET any teenagers lately?!

G says:

Professionals’ that have their pay based on performance have a choice… teachers don’t have a choice… they get who they get.
What if your 150k paycheck was based on selling, or providing a service; lets say you didn’t get to pick your clients, you are given a random list of people. Let’s, again, say that you sell multi-million dollar cars and your pay is based on how many of these you sell. Rather than getting interested, motivated customers that know what they want and can afford it… lets say you get a list of 10 people, 9 are average housewives that don’t have jobs and one is a banker with a 100k salary.
How many cars are you going to sell genius? Probably none.
This pay based on test scores is a bad idea it leads to: teaching to the test, cheating, test manipulation and worse. If my pay is based on my students test scores I want to choose the students! I can’t choose the students then you can’t pay me based on their scores! Why do people who have no understanding of education stick their noses where it’s not needed…. leave education up to people who understand that it’s not teachers… its parents!

William says:

The “ideal” and work of Abraham Lincoln for integration and freedom menas nothing to Trasher, the Florida propulsor of this idea. I think that Mr. TRASHER is a racist and discriminatorist charlatan. He is a real image of a “desintegration activist” and “anti workers. He is discriminating against the emerging and growing minority groups and thge best way for this RACIST to stop the coming of families to Florida is cutting the RIGHT to a FAIR EDUCATION each citizen has. This type of person and each one of his teammates in Tallahassee who supported this discriminatory and anti teacher bil should be baned from Tallahassee. We, the voters will have them in mind in the elections campaign. They have been unable to bring benefits, jobs, security, health plan, and proper education (even with the failed FCAT) to make our lives better. Instead, they are PLAYING as lawmakers trying to retain their positions with negative proposals. They are going to make of Florida a state who in the future will have to BEG for good teachers and will have to contract non-teaching degree people to occupy the teachers positions. Lets take TRASHER out of Tallahassee.

Michael says:

I agree with William’s concern that highly qualified teachers will avoid Florida as a place to work. Reading several of the comments I can see that this is a very touchy subject in Florida, consider this problem: What do you do about the student who is behind before they get to you? Given all of the constraints facing teachers today in all states to help every student recieve and understand thier curriculum how does a teacher do what is expected of them andf get the student cought up on perhaps years of past material? I would support a law like this if the people who made it faced a similiar law, can you imagine legislators payed based on the success/failure of teh laws they pass? Perhaps that would be a utopia!

Jan says:

Our school will be dropping the Reading Counts program next year because the district head does not believe that only qualified Reading teachers should have children read—CRAZY.
Teaching to the test is CRAZY.
And for the guy who has a wife teaching private school- walk a minute in my shoes. One third of my class is ELL, one third SPED (and I am talking really SPED)and then there are the gifted and regular students. In private school I ONLY taught the gifted and regular students.
Never mind- don’t walk in my shoes- I am walking out the door. Maybe someone without experience will be much better suited to teach my 120 sixth graders…..
Last day of a 25 year career- THURSDAY!
Anyone want an incredible poster collection?

Dave says:

In Massachusette teachers are being asked to teach the unteachable for all the reasons given.

dee says:

I feel that it is wrong to displace everyone at a school because children are failing and not passing school. It is not always the teachers fault. You have poor excuse for students and parents who do not care about education.