The $100k Teacher

You already know the situation public schools and teachers are facing. You’ve probably read hundreds of news articles, detailing the lack of school funding, low teacher salaries and an educational crisis on our hands.

If that is all true, then why would one public school decide to offer a single teacher $100,000 to come teach for them?

More importantly, what about this teacher warranted a six-figure salary when every other teacher is underpaid?

In order to understand this story, you are going to need some background and context. Let’s begin with why the district made the offer in the first place.

Every teacher in America would like to earn $100,000 to do their job. It would show them that they matter from a fiscal perspective, but also that teaching was a true profession, like being a lawyer or doctor. And why not, teachers have to earn a college degree before they can even be considered for state certification. Teachers have to pass a certification exam before they can get hired by a school district. And teachers have to complete a mentor/induction program in most of the 50 states.

Despite all of these requirements, teachers don’t earn anywhere close to $100,000. And most teachers want to know why?

The story of one of my former staff members is a lesson in what it takes to become an expert teacher. And also what a school district values above all else. If a teacher can understand these two components, more teachers could command higher salaries.

The First Issue

The teacher who got offered $100,000 to go teach at a public school district actually started their teaching career in the public school. This is back in 2009, right after I developed a comprehensive Teacher Development Program.

The teacher was a struggling teacher in the public school. It wasn’t their fault, most teachers struggle in public and charter schools. But the general public is unaware why most teachers struggle, and for some reason school leaders and teacher experts ignore the systemic problems caused by the backwards K12 system.

But here are the facts.

When a teacher is hired, they never receive any direct or individualized feedback or coaching to help them answer questions or develop their skills. Instead the system provides the teacher with a Mentor Teacher, who can only offer words of encouragement and tips on “surviving” the backwards system.

It’s not the Mentor Teacher’s responsibility to help develop the novice teachers skills. But no one inside the system takes on that role, which leaves the novice teacher alone and isolated pretty much from Day One.

The more assertive teachers seek out other teachers in the school building to answer questions or get tips and tricks. And some teachers will have the courage to go bug their school administrator to ask for direct feedback.

Here’s the problem. Some of the tips and tricks do not follow the research or best practices of the profession. In fact, some of the tips and tricks inadvertently create a toxic environment in the classroom that the teachers are completely blind to. This negative classroom environment has an effect on student self-esteem and achievement.

To this day, it’s hard for some teachers to believe they have a toxic classroom environment, not because they don’t care, but admitting their classroom environment would be hurting their own students would be a shame they could not live with. Denial is a form of self-preservation.

But according to the research and best practices in the profession, there are 10 things a teacher must do in order to create a safe and conducive learning environment. And those 10 things require practice, feedback and skill.

But let’s get back to our $100k teacher when they were working inside the public school. Because at this point they are like every other teacher in America. They were overworked and underpaid and teachers want to know why this happens?

The reason is all novice teachers are not fully ready to be considered professional level teachers. And I use the analogy of NBA basketball players to make this point. When Kobe Bryant, Lebron James and Kevin Garnett graduated high school, they were all drafted into the NBA in the first round.

Every expert and pundit believed these three athletes would be superstars in the NBA, but none of them played a lot of minutes or were close to superstar status in their rookie years. And the reason it took time for them to develop into NBA superstars was because there is a huge gap between high school basketball and the NBA.

It’s easy to understand this difference when we talk about NBA players, because we know that playing high school basketball is much easier than playing pro-basketball.

The same applies to teachers. When a teacher goes to college and majors in education, their last class is student teaching. For 3–6 months, the college teacher practices in the real classroom, like a teacher.

After that teacher graduates from college, they are qualified to teach in the public or charter school, but they are still rookies and it’s going to take some time to fully develop their skills and talent. Novice teachers are not ready to play at the professional level, the same way the veteran pros can. They need coaching, they need practice and they need time.

Second Issue

The current K12 system does not provide teachers with coaching, practice or time. The way our country has structured our schools goes more like this. We expect a brand new teacher to walk into a classroom and perform like they are an expert. And when they don’t perform like an expert, we shame them and blame them for being a horrible teacher.

Not only is this backwards, but it’s counter-productive.

Imagine if the LA Lakers would have told Kobe Bryant in his first year when he was taking too many shots and missing them that he was a horrible player. What would that have done for his confidence? Would that have ended his career before it started? We will never know, but there are so many rookie NBA potentials that NEVER make it. Why is that? Every player that gets drafted into the league has the highest level of talent.

Clearly, there is something ELSE that makes a player able to make the leap from college to pro. And that’s what the K12 system needs to do for teachers, they need to provide teachers with the coaching they need to make that leap from college to being a professional teacher.

Third Issue

Which brings me to the third issue. Instead of giving teachers professional style coaching, it provides something known as “professional development” aka. PD.

Whatever you do, don’t mention PD to a teacher, because it will trigger horrible flashbacks. And here’s why?

Professional Development has no clear goals or structure. Principals are typically in charge of creating a PD schedule for the school year. But principals don’t know what teachers need. So they create a PD committee to survey the teachers. The problem is PD is a one size fits all model. The PD committee and the principal look at the teacher survey and try to find outside consultants who can speak to what the majority of teachers wanted.

Automatically that means some of the teachers will be forced to sit through PD workshops that are not tailored for them. It can’t be. It’s a one size fits all model.

Not only that, but the PD workshop is being led by an outside consultant. In many cases that person has zero classroom experience themselves. What ends up happening at every PD session is some teachers begin asking really good questions, but the PD presenter cannot answer them. It’s not because they are not qualified to run PD sessions, but classrooms and students don’t behave in a vacuum.

What PD sessions end up doing most of the time is waste the teacher’s time and also distract them from developing their individual skills and talents.

$100,000 Solutions

When the teacher came to my K12 program, they were disheartened and disillusioned. Teaching in the public school didn’t turn out to be what they always dreamed of it being.

They wanted to inspire students and mold the next generation, instead their classroom was chaotic, mismanaged and they felt they knew just as much as they did when they got hired.

In other words, the teacher felt they had made little to no progress professionally. And contrary to public opinion, teachers want to become great at teaching.

This teacher was hopeful when I explained the Teacher Development Program to them. We did not do PD sessions, we offered individualized coaching for each teacher throughout the school year. And the total number of hours of coaching the teacher would receive was around 70 hours.

They were in shock. The public school they were leaving offered 20 hours of PD, and here I am explaining how this teacher will receive 70 hours of individualized coaching. It’s far and away much more attention to developing their skills.

The teacher asked the question any teacher would ask, “how will you know what I need coaching on?”

And the answer was simple, “through observation.”

Every new teacher, regardless of years of experience, was observed within the first 20 days to get a baseline of their teaching skill. And the teacher was given an observation score, which was formative.

For those that are non-educators, all that means is the score they received was for coaching purposes only, not tied to their teacher performance score.

Based on that initial observation and score, the teacher would know what their teacher strengths were. And the goal of the first year of coaching was to improve all teacher strengths, so the teacher could reach as far as possible to expert level in those areas of their practice.

Imagine how much more confident a teacher would feel in their second year, knowing that some of their skills were so good, they could consider themselves experts or close to experts?

In the second year, the goal of the coaching was to work on the needs improvement areas. The teacher would be observed every week and provided notes, feedback and data related to the goals of the first or second year.

The teacher would also be placed into a cohort of other teachers working on the same skills, to act like a peer mentor group. For novice teachers, they would meet with a Mentor Teacher once a week to get encouragement and further support. (Sound familiar?)

And lastly, the teacher would sit down with the coach once a month to discuss progress, go over classroom situations and to further make connections the teacher may be struggling making.

The Bootcamp

The reason the 70 hours of coaching worked was because all teachers were required to attend a week long bootcamp before the first day of school. This bootcamp was a total of 40 hours of direct professional instruction.

And a key to the bootcamp was outlining how to be an expert teacher.

Let’s go back to the NBA analogy for a second. For non-basketball fans, there are specific plays that all NBA players must know how to do. For example, there is one play called the “pick and roll” that is mandatory for every NBA player to do. (The “pick and roll” is where one player passes the ball to a stationary player, and then the original player runs past the stationary player, so as to pick the defender against him, and then he would become open for the pass back.)

Here’s the problem. Most teachers do not know what plays they need to know in order to become an expert teacher. If teachers had to learn the plays every single year, how long would it take for all of them to know how to become an expert teacher?

The answer is not very long. So for brevity, here are the four plays every teacher must know:

  1. Lesson Planning
  2. Delivery of Lesson
  3. Making Connections
  4. Classroom Environment

During the bootcamp, teachers would be exposed to research and best practices in all four practice areas of teaching. That’s 40 hours of instruction, 40 hours of learning and 40 hours of a bootcamp — every single year.

The Coaching Model

You already know that teachers were given two levels of support, unless they were a novice teacher who received three levels. But every teacher had peers to talk to and discuss best practices, issues in the classroom, or collaborate on solutions.

Every teacher would sit down with their coach once a month to go over observation data and provide individual feedback directed by the teacher. There was no wasted teacher time, because there was no required PD to sit through.

Because the teacher had the first observation score, they knew what they were working on for the first year. Meeting with the coach every single month, kept the teacher focused and on track, because it’s easy to get distracted and lost.

Administrative Monitoring

A school administrator is only as good as the teachers in their school. Schools do not fail because a school has a “weak or strong” leader. In fact, those two words have zero meaning in a coaching model.

The role of the school administrator is to ensure that a 21st century curriculum is well-written and that teachers understand how to use it in the classroom. The administrator needs to be there to help teachers write their lesson plans so that the scope and sequencing makes sense throughout the school year.

In conjunction with walkthroughs, the coach and administrator can discuss the progress of teacher development. The school administrator can offer more data points and observations to the coaches notes and feedback. The key is that every administrator needs to be focused on teacher growth and not some other agenda.

The End Results

What happens when a teacher goes through this whole system? What is the outcome?

You already know that a teacher who goes through this whole system is worth $100,000. That’s the value set by the public school system. That’s how much they were willing to pay for a teacher who completed my Teacher Development program.

The question is why?

Without sugar coating it, teachers have not reacted well to the backwards K12 system. Many teachers have decided to complain incessantly in school, on social media and to anyone that will listen about how bad the school system is. The truth is, principals and administrators don’t want to hear teacher complaints.

If a principal is looking at a new candidate and they perceive that teacher will be a complainer, they will not hire them.

School funding is not a myth, it is a real problem that districts across the country face. The problem is that teachers don’t seem to understand what school funding challenges really mean to the school board and superintendent. As a certified school business administrator, I can tell you that the goal from central office is to have the least amount of classrooms as possible. That means, increasing class sizes.

And I know what teachers are going to say — but that goes against the research. The truth is that’s not accurate at all. There is no definitive research that shows class size is the only factor that affects student achievement.

In fact, Dr. Robert Marzano’s research clearly shows that teacher quality is the single biggest factor in student achievement. And this story is further evidence of that fact.

The public school threw a boatload of money at my teacher because they could handle 30 students in class without breaking a sweat. My teacher would gladly teach 30 students without complaining. And my teacher could reach all 30 students and provide them with individualized attention, whereas most of the other teachers in the same school would struggle to teach 25 students.

If you are a Superintendent, you want a district full of MY Teachers because it would mean you need less teachers. Funny thing about needing less teachers. If a district could reduce their teacher force from 100 teachers all teaching 25 students or less down to 80 teachers, a district could increase all teacher salaries by 25%.

But most teachers want less than 20 students in their classroom.

Can you start to see why my teacher looked more valuable to them?

Remember, my teacher received 70 hours of coaching per year for several years. They were an expert in all four practice areas of teaching. And more importantly, they knew how to handle classroom situations. In fact, they knew how to handle classroom situations that would baffle and undermine other teachers in the public school.

When the principal was making decisions about who to hire and what to offer them, my teacher would reduce their headaches. They would never need to intervene in their classroom. They would never have to explain to a parent why their child was suspended, got a detention, or was failing the teacher’s class.

My teacher was going to be a fully independent and highly proficient professional level teacher. And those types of teachers are worth $100,000 a year.

Got Questions?

This is just an overview of what I developed in my K12 program back in 2009. As you can see, there was a lot going on. There was the bootcamp, the coaching model, the individualized coaching and the two tiers of support for each and every teacher.

We didn’t even get into too much detail about the 21st century curriculum, I implemented in my high school in 2011 and how I helped teachers with writing lesson plans and reducing their work week to a maximum of 45 hours.

I would be surprised if you didn’t have questions.

Here’s what you can do:

  1. If you have a specific question about this article or any aspect of it, just post your question in the comment section. I will answer it in a timely manner.
  2. If you want to learn more about implementing any aspect of what I describe in your school, contact me via social media, either Twitter or Instagram @theschooldoc
  3. And lastly, thank you for reading this whole article, please follow me if you enjoyed it and share it with other teachers, administrators and parents, so more people can understand what we need to do to help support teachers, but also improve the quality of education across the country.

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Professor Schwartz

Ed Consultant | Speaker/Author | Former Superintendent — Want to learn "how success happens?" Follow this link: https://leafacademy.org