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Sunday’s leading front-page story headlined the information that it can take 120 hours to assemble the portfolio necessary to gain the master teacher bonus pay of $4,000/year for three years. It was said that teachers were not doing it because of the time commitment. My math says that in the first year, that would amount to $33/hour to fill out the paperwork and gain the bonus. Over three years, it would amount to $100/hour to gain the raise. I must ask, when graduation from high school now requires students to prepare a portfolio pointing to their accomplishments, is it a chore for teachers to do the same thing? Especially since they will gain an immediate pay raise.

I do not intend to dismiss their concerns out of hand, but neither do I agree that the paperwork is an onerous task for a professional who is required to be able to organize and communicate information as the main purpose of their job. Reading between the lines, I suspect that they are really saying that they believe that they should already be receiving a higher salary without having to justify it. Indeed, teacher pay is subject to a great deal of public policy discussion. Let’s take a look at the history of public education. K-12 educators have always had a problem with public perception. Until the latter half of the 20th century, a student who had completed the 8th grade was literate enough to gain even high paying jobs. Teachers in public schools were mostly women or men who had to have extra employment in order to support a family.

University professors and teachers in prestigious private schools were held in much higher esteem and were paid better, if not well. Teachers have had a hard time attaining the professional designation of educators, but that is now what we expect them to be.

Being an educator deserves high esteem and higher pay. An educator must have an academic background as well as skill in teaching (or, formally, pedagogy). Nothing has changed the higher ethical standards required, but a professional is someone deeply immersed in their occupation. Education as a profession requires constant study and skill refinement. In fact, all professions have similar requirements.

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Public education is undergoing a major culture shift, and the tensions are certainly on display with this debate about the requirements to gain master teacher status. Part of the conversation revolves around unions which represent teachers. Do the unions simply exist to exert bargaining power for higher wages and working conditions, or are they also forums to encourage professionalism, best practices and recognize excellence? Another part of the conversation revolves around the administration of schools. How does management rate an educator’s performance? How does management protect academic freedom while also insisting on good classroom management, curriculum sufficiency, and measurable outcomes?

Professionals practice in groups and as self-employed individuals. Educators do not have the same leeway. Unless they call themselves tutors or establish their own private school, they are part of an organized educational enterprise. The profession of the educator will only be held in high esteem if educators themselves hold each other to high standards of academic preparation and pedagogy. In today’s world, word of mouth can be cherry-picked and even purchased. In selecting a doctor, a carpenter, an accountant, a plumber, or even a lawyer, I look for some form of objective proof of competence. I don’t think it is too much to ask educators to submit data to make their claim.

Finally, I must make one other point. We as parents and taxpayers have allowed the demeaning of our children’s educators to continue unimpeded. I am often appalled at the way parents and grandparents talk about the teachers in their children’s lives. Yes, there are some who are unsuited or unskilled for the profession, but the majority of educators are slogging ahead with making a difference every day in the lives of children. I use the term slog because they have an enormous responsibility in the face of derision and complicated personal lives. As a new school year begins, let us vow to find the best in our educators and to help them feel worthy of their profession.

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Linda Brugger retired from the Air Force and is a former chairwoman of the Twin Falls County Democrats.

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