Burton: Teachers Can’t Succeed In Their Classrooms On Bonuses Alone


Peter Howard

“We will never support teachers the way they deserve unless we recognize teaching for the high-skilled, demanding profession that it is — and then fund it.” (Courtesy Flickr)

By Logan Burton, Opinion Writer


Teaching is known to be a difficult profession. Despite the fact that many regard teaching to be a noble job, teachers often do not feel valued for the work they do. Unfortunately, this has caused a high national turnover rate of 16% ⁠8% of which leave the profession altogether each year.

The demand for teachers remains high, yet schools have difficulty attracting people to the occupation, especially in high poverty schools. In an effort to combat this, state Rep. Mike Winder and Sen. Lyle W. Hillyard are proposing a bill which incentivizes teachers in schools with limited resources. Teachers that fulfill certain academic standards are eligible to receive an income bonus of up to $7,000 in the first eligible year.  While economic incentives like these address a serious issue facing teachers, they will not be enough to prevent some teachers from leaving the profession.


Teacher Stress

Although stressors exist in most occupations, teachers face demands that cause alarming rates of “burnout.” A 2017 University of Missouri study found that of the teachers interviewed, 93% reported they experienced “high-level stress” teaching.

Multiple stressors contribute to a difficult working environment, both for teachers and their students. For example, standardized testing causes many teachers to worry about their students’ ability to perform. In many cases, teachers also face little support from disorganized schooling administration and apathetic parents. The lack of resources and materials presents not only an economic inconvenience but also an unnecessary burden as teachers adjust lessons. Each of these factors creates a less-than-optimal workspace. Though some issues, like lack of parental support, may be difficult to address, simple measures can be taken to help teachers feel more supported. Administration can show both emotional and developmental support for teachers, and students’ parents can engage more in their children’s academics.


Lack of Professional Development

Career development and consistent improvement within an occupation are two of the most satisfying rewards in a career. While teaching does provide career development, it is notoriously poor. Despite the Department of Education historically spending up to $2.5 billion each year, professional development in the field has been described as being “useless.” The problem arises when school districts adopt “one-size-fits-all ” development programs, which tend not to address specific issues that teachers face within different classrooms. Development programs in high poverty schools are harmed by the lack of financial resources, and investment in better development curriculum will help teachers feel more satisfied with their careers. Perhaps the money dedicated to salary bonuses would do more if it were reallocated into better career advancement programs.


Teaching Conditions

The Learning Policy Institute, an education policy think tank, has seen that working conditions are the highest predictor of teacher turnover. In addition to lower salaries, high poverty schools have precarious working conditions. Students in these schools often come unprepared to learn and parents are uninvolved in their children’s education. The Economic Policy Institute has found that these are the byproducts of larger and more serious problems such as poverty, segregation and a lack of public investment.

It will take more than public school intervention to address the problems of poverty and segregation, but high poverty schools can improve their teaching conditions through structural changes. The Learning Policy Institute proposes several ideas, including a “residency program” (similar to the training doctors receive) that would prepare teachers to acclimate to the high pressure and difficult working environment found in high poverty schools.

Another suggestion proposes stricter standards for educational leaders. Principals, like the teachers, will be trained through residencies. Administrators will ensure that prospective principals are prepared with the skills required to manage a positive learning environment for both students and teachers. Teaching conditions in high poverty schools are considerably more difficult than more wealthy schools and require more than school district intervention. However, awarding teachers an income bonus will not alleviate the stress and difficulties they encounter every day in their workplace.

Despite being among the most important occupations, teachers are faced with many challenges. Though H.B. 107 does offer teachers in Utah a monetary solution, the problems facing educators are multi-faceted and not completely income-based. We will never support teachers the way they deserve unless we recognize teaching for the high-skilled, demanding profession that it is — and then fund it. It will take other large measures in low income classrooms to ensure that their teachers remain in their occupations.


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