Doing More with Less: A Teacher’s Perspective

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Camsie Matis received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics Teaching in 2009.

Camsie Matis received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics Teaching in 2009.

Guest Blog by Camsie Matis, Albert Einstein Educator Fellow at the National Science Foundation

Yesterday, I attended the American Enterprise Institute’s Conference: “Bang for the Buck in Schooling,” where Secretary Duncan gave a speech entitled “The New Normal: Doing More with Less.” Listening to the opening remarks, I wondered how he would reconcile calls I had recently heard him make to pay teachers more with the current need for school districts to make difficult budget cuts.

I care about this issue deeply because when I started my career as a highly qualified math teacher in the San Francisco Bay Area, I earned under $30,000. I have long felt that being able to earn a decent living is part of the equation that would help attract more talent into America’s classrooms, and it certainly would help keep extraordinary teachers working with children and helping reform the education system.

In the speech, Duncan explained, “Doing more with less will likely require reshaping teacher compensation to do more to develop, support and reward excellence and effectiveness, and less to pay people based on credentials.”

Then Secretary Duncan went on to make remarks centered on being strategic and smart about what to cut and what to invest in—ideas that resonate with my own philosophy on teaching and learning. As he spoke, I found myself nodding about the need to systematically reward and recognize excellence, not just so that teachers feel valued, but so that we as a nation can take effective best practices, replicate them, and ultimately help reassert ourselves as a leader in K-12 education.

We recognize our students with Student of the Month, with competitions like the Intel Science Fair, or FIRST. Why not recognize teachers in a similar fashion? There are some great programs that do recognize and reward excellence, like the Einstein Fellowship, or the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching, but these reach only a small percentage of the amazing teachers out there. The District of Columbia Public Schools has begun an interesting evaluation system, IMPACT, where teachers are compensated based on evaluations of effectiveness. Recently Arne Duncan celebrated their successes at a Standing Ovation event where he spoke to the strengths of their program and the importance of their effort. Maybe other districts can learn from this system?

While I agree that teachers need to be paid more and need to be recognized in many ways, it doesn’t take a $100,000 salary to feature effective and excellent teaching in a local paper or on the evening news. Districts should make strategic decisions to make sure that the cuts stay out of the classroom as much as possible (a sentiment echoed by Secretary Duncan and Superintendent Shawn McCullough [Nogales, AZ] during today’s event). Rewarding and recognizing excellence shouldn’t be the “New” normal—it should be normal, period.

Camsie Matis is a public school math teacher currently serving as an Albert Einstein Fellow at the National Science Foundation.