Well, it seems the sky is falling in Nova Scotia education.
Over the past 4 months, anti-teacher sentiment has reached a feverish pitch in Nova Scotia, this time fueled by the awarding of teaching upgrades to approximately 500 teachers who signed on to take a distance course from Drake University in the US. The concerns raised about the Drake program have run the gamut of everything from it being full of “bird” courses, to concerns that some teachers were taking the program even though it was outside their teaching assignment, to criticism that the course was offered via CD.
Now, I could argue a number of points around this issue. I could point out that the Physed teachers I have spoken with have found the content of the program tremendously useful in the day-to-day operation of their classes. I could also argue that in today’s job market, taking a degree outside of your teaching area is sometimes a matter of employability rather than enrichment. And I could argue that in these days of massive open online courses and e-learning, criticizing a course for such things as having “little to no interaction with faculty” seems a bit, well, twentieth century.
However, for all the hoop and holler about teaching quality, a bigger concern in all this seemed to be the money this program was costing taxpayers. Drake seemed to raise the issue of teacher license upgrades in general, and focused more on finance than on function. Much of the commentary centered around what many seem to think are the “massive pay increases” teachers receive upon upgrading their licenses.
The”Drake issue” was brought to the forefront again recently when Education Minister Karen Casey announced that teachers who were pre-approved for the program would be allowed to finish and achieve an upgrade in their licenses, even though the Drake program had been pulled from the list of those accredited to do so. Criticism was swift and harsh. On April 30, Marilla Stephenson chastised the minister in The Chronicle Herald for not recognizing that the province is broke, and bemoaned higher teacher salaries resulting from the upgrades. An editorial on May 2nd called into question the “fairness” of using taxpayers money to pay for salary increases for courses that are not directly related to what teachers are teaching in the classroom. Finally, Bill Black (former CEO of Maritime Life) raised all sorts of alarm bells about how the upgrades could cost upwards of 60 million dollars and spoke of how “The big cost…is not tuition, but rather the resulting pay increases.”
Now, I’m no math teacher, but I decided I would play a bit, and look at this notion of large teacher pay increases. I started with the number $8964. That is the cost of a typical Master’s of Education program taken in Nova Scotia and used by many teachers to achieve the “…roughly $5000 to $8000” pay increase via upgrading. Next, I took the $8000 and divided it by 1.26 to figure how much would be left of that raise after paying federal taxes. I took the result of that equation, ($6350) and divided it by 195, the number of teaching days in the year. ($32.56) Finally, I divided $32.56 by 8, the hours in an average worker’s day. Not an average teacher’s day, mind you, but a common enough number.
What exorbitant pay increase did I arrive at?
$4.07 an hour.
This is an oversimplification, I realize. There are programs that do not cost $8964. I did not figure in all taxes, (which would have lowered the hourly wage) nor did I include the money teachers can get back for such courses (which would have lowered the final costs for teachers, but which is, itself, taxed). I also did not allow for interest paid on the $8964, nor the cost of books and such.
But if we allow that all these variables taken together may cross each other out, this seems like an awful lot of fuss over four bucks an hour.
Now, there are many in this province for whom a 4 dollar an hour raise seems like a hefty sum, but it is hardly the “fat pay raise” that many seem to assume accompanies teacher upgrades. Nor does it seem to justify, in and of itself, the standard requirement of a full two years of university, usually completed by teachers on evenings and weekends. Indeed, if a teacher were to take that $4.07 raise and put it towards repaying the original expense of $8964, it would take 1.41 years to pay back the initial investment. Including the two years it takes to actually complete most programs, it will be almost 3 and a half years before a net gain is realized.
I would like professional Nova Scotians to think about their own work place for a moment. Your boss walks into your job space and announces a new program for increasing pay. He explains that if you give him $9000 and work evenings and weekends for two years, you, too, could have a pay raise which will net you an extra 4 bucks an hour in about 3 and a half years.
Imagine the rush to sign up.
Teachers have been getting a pretty rough ride lately in the press because of these “revelations”. And I can understand it, to some extent. Teachers have always been expected to follow a higher moral code than the average citizen, and such a backlash against even perceived shortcuts is to be expected. This is especially true when it comes to improving teaching practice, even when the shortcuts may be pragmatic, practical, and of some use.
But if you were to listen to some of criticism that has been bandied about lately, it seems that teachers are to blame for every single financial woe and want this province is currently facing.
Teacher pay is always an easy target for critics. We do, after all, receive automatic increments of pay every year once we get permanent status, and after 11 years can be making approximately $72000, using the current pay scales.
But stay with me for a second.
Assuming a teacher gets a job right after graduation from university (which never happens) , they will reach that salary 16 years after leaving high school. At a graduation age of 18, that means they are making $72,000 at the age of 34, based on current pay scales, or about $39 an hour on an 8 hour day after federal taxes and before any other deductions. That is about 4 times minimum wage, and considered respectable by many.
Now, teachers can max out at a nice, healthy salary of about $90K in this province. However, this requires three upgrades, each of which offers progressively smaller pay increases. So, for example, a second Master’s degree, (which still costs $8964 and still takes two years to complete) will net a teacher approximately $2.50 an hour extra after federal taxes and before deductions, and a third ($8964 and two years) will get them about $2.40.
So, if a teacher gets a job right after graduation, works 11 years, then takes a full complement of Master’s degrees, working evenings and weekends for six years to complete course work, they will have spent $26,892 above their 5 year undergrad and will be making, approximately, an extra $9.00 per hour, compared to someone who has not upgraded, 17 years into the profession and with 11 total years of university.
Put another way, after an extra 6 years in university teachers can increase their pay by an amount that is less than that paid for a minimum wage job.
Those greedy devils.
Look, I’m not complaining. 90K a year in this province is an excellent salary, and I am glad for it. But there is a certain strata of society that would love to lay the blame for Nova Scotia’s financial woes directly on the backs of all middle class professions. Teacher’s are simply the flavour of the month. They love to talk about the amount of “bang” gotten out of the taxpayer’s “buck”, but it is not the middle class of this province that have led us into our current state of financial woe. In fact, it is through developing a strong middle class and paying good wages that economies can thrive.
The teachers in this province are doing an excellent job providing an education for the students of this province while weathering a constant barrage of criticism for not doing so well enough. But if Jane and John Q Public really believe we are the enemy, I would like them to consider this question:
What do they think it takes for, say, the CEO of Maritime Life to get a raise of $9.50 an hour?
I am no banker, but I guarantee the answer is nowhere near what it takes a teacher.