Should Teachers Be Paid More? Sure, But Here’s an Idea!!

Just for the sake of leading in, it is negligent to talk about education these days without mentioning the changes being made in the controversial program known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Enacted in 2001 by then-President George W. Bush, the bill was best known for giving teachers and administrators headaches from coast-to-coast.

While the reasoning behind the bill made sense, it was never a realistic proposal. Over the 13-year course of the plan, schools were required to incrementally improve their standardized test scores every year. What many people do not realize is the pattern of the improvement. Most of the gains were slated for the years 2011-2014. On a graph, the improvement curve looked like the first half of the Griffin roller coaster at Busch Gardens. For those who do not live in the Williamsburg, Virginia area, let’s just say the curve was about to become very steep. And the numbers were not good. In my region of Virginia, only six of 37 schools in Newport News met the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) goals, while only five of 31 accomplished the feat in neighboring Hampton. Even more suburban systems such as York and Williamsburg-James City had percentages in the 30-40% range.
Arne Duncan, the current Secretary of Education, has been given a lot of money and freedom to run his department. He will probably go down as the most powerful DoE leader ever. His initial plan called “Race to the Top” pitted states against each other for Federal funds. This plan was met with mixed results, usually criticized by the states losing out on money.

His plan to rework the entire NCLB plan to include room for more classroom creativity and less “teaching to the test” should be met as a positive sign in American schools. The jury will remain out while this is reworked, but the stage is now set for a true meaningful change to be made in our educational system. Many hope that Duncan and his associates take advantage of this opportunity.
With this in mind, I’d like to make a modest proposal with regard to the teacher salary plan.

Are teachers underpaid? It depends on where you live and who you ask. In Virginia, the starting salary ranges from about $33,000 in the most rural divisions to the following in its larger divisions. These numbers are based on a 10-month scale having a bachelor’s and master’s degree.

(Data found on the websites of the various school systems through the Virginia Department of Education website at http://doe.virginia.gov)

            Starting Teacher Salary With a Bachelor’s/Master’s
Alexandria   $ 43,632/ 50,047
Arlington        43,910/ 48,412
Fairfax Co.     44,440/ 49,928
Harrisonburg  39,214/ 41,764
Norfolk          38,012/ 41,053
Richmond      39,712/  41,697
Roanoke        36,604/ 37,967
VA Beach      38,597/ 41,097

The bottom of the scale begins to widen after the first 5-10 years, but here’s what the same teacher can expect to be making after 20 years, and the final number is the highest possible salary on the teacher scale for a standard contract:

Alexandria     75,299/ 92,313                     99,063 with a Masters plus 30 credits                              
Arlington       65,256/ 87,450                    101,298 with a Doctorate
Fairfax Co.    74,395/ 79,884                     93,015 with a Doctorate
Harrisonburg 47,377/ 49,927                     67,229 with a Doctorate
Norfolk          59,854/ 64,642                    70,460 with a Doctorate
Richmond      49,818/ 52,307                     71,664 with a Masters plus 30 credits
Roanoke         52,197/ 53,562                   60,851 with a Doctorate
VA Beach      54,098/ 56,598                    70,014 with a Doctorate

There is an obvious disparity among the regions within the state, but outside of Northern Virginia, a teaching position pays equivalent to a GS-7/8/9 government job. Here’s what the GS scale in the Washington DC Metro area looks like


The arguments here become obvious. To the full-time government employee, it’s “well, they have summers off!” For the teachers, the cry is “we have to do all this extra unpaid work and we never have enough time!”

Both arguments are valid and true. The typical teacher contract consists of a 195-200 day work schedule, with additional requirements to complete 180 hours of professional development during the term of each license (5 years). Taking two graduate courses can satisfy this requirement, but at least half of this can be accomplished through regular faculty meetings and division-wide development training.

Considering that eliminating summer school is not an option (by the way, teachers can make between $1500 and $5000 extra depending on the pay plan - usually $22-30/hr. – and length of term – four to eight weeks), what can be done?

Notwithstanding any upcoming merit pay plans, my solution is to add 20 mandatory days to the teacher contract. The first 10 days would be added to the end of June and involve a student remediation session. This could be used as a way for some students to avoid summer school, if used properly. If a student meets certain academic benchmarks, they can stay home. This time can also be used for debriefing and reflection among the teachers and staff. Under the current contract structure, teachers pack up on the last day and leave without having an opportunity to look back at the past year and determine where ideas went right or wrong. With remediation, it could be possible to reduce the amount of time and resources needed for a summer session.

The other two weeks would be added before the current check-in date in mid to late August. These two weeks would be devoted to professional development and school meetings. The current argument from teachers is that they come to school for 5-8 days of preparation and spend most of the time in meetings (school-wide, division-wide, grade level, content level, team level, etc…). There is not enough time to plan one’s lessons, decorate the classroom, get to know the new teachers and make general preparations for the first day of school. My proposal suggests getting the professional development out of the way first, and then allowing for the 5-8 days to be used strictly for class preparation, which is the most important element of education. It will lead to a much smoother transition into the school year and alleviate some of the time teachers have to spend working at home, or the late afternoons/evenings in the school building.

For working these extra days, teachers would be paid based on their current contract, but generally this would result in a 10% raise.

Of course, there are a number of elements to be added into the mix, with the first being funding. However, my belief is that this covers a lot of angles including higher teacher pay, meeting greater community expectations, more classroom time, more potential face time with troubled students and a greater sense of teamwork within a school building.

I’d love to open this forum and hear from those in favor and those opposed. If I may make a request, please, use the comment link to respond as opposed to my Facebook page, if possible J


How ESL Teachers Relate Their Ethnic and Social Backgrounds to Practice: An Article Review

In her article, published in the March 2011 journal of Race, Ethnicity and Education, Dr. Lasisi Ajayi, a professor at San Diego State University, uses the ethnic background of her state, California, to present a strong argument for the importance of ESL teachers relating their ethnic and social backgrounds to instructional practices.

California, as a whole, is one of the most diverse states in America. But, instead of concentrating on her San Diego base, Ajayi traveled two hours north to Los Angeles, where she found 57 English as Second Language (ESL) teachers from inner-city junior high schools who were willing to answer her questionnaire, sit down for an interview and share their own perspectives in writing with regard to how their personal histories were reflected in their teaching pedagogical practices.

Ajayi presents useful data to note the increase of ethnic minority students, as well as teachers, in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), and then uses her data findings to pose two questions:

      ·         How do ESL teachers backgrounds influence their conceptions of their roles, instructional decision-making, and efforts to negotiate the increasingly complex institutional and policy climates in which they work?

·         How do teacher educators and researchers engage in the development of teacher education programs and curricula that incorporate exploration of teachers’ personal backgrounds and attitudes?

 Ajayi came into the study with the hypotheses that ESL teachers make connections between their ethnic/social backgrounds and instructional practices (p. 255). On a larger scale, having the ability to draw on these backgrounds and experiences can benefit teachers now and in the future if the pedagogical choices made by the teacher can be identified and used in future teacher education programs.

The author’s states her purpose as determining the ways that ESL teachers interpret their ethnic and social backgrounds to mediate their pedagogical roles. She guides her study using two more questions:

·         How do the teachers’ ethnic and social backgrounds relate to their instructional decision-making in teaching ESL?

·         How do their views mediate their understanding of their roles as teachers and their interpretations of the institutional and policy climate of their schools?

After the introduction, Ajayi moves on to presenting her theoretical framework on teachers’ backgrounds and practices using the poststructuralist theory, while looking at the rejection of human beings having a coherent identity, a person’s link to society, the relationship among thinking, teaching and knowledge, and the classroom as a social and political site.

Her literature review concludes with the suggestion that ESL teachers’ backgrounds are a crucial source of knowledge and experience from which they construct their practice (p. 257) and that there is more to learn from investigating how ESL teachers reconcile their personal backgrounds and perspectives with teaching ESL (p. 257).

Ajayi proceeds to the demographic data of the student population of LAUSD. Having no personal relationship with the students, this data is useful in presenting the broad picture of the student makeup. According to the school system website, in 2008, there were over 746,000 students in the district, of which 72% were Hispanic, 12% African-American, 9% White and 6% Asian. On the other hand, the teachers’ demographics showed that 47.8% of teachers were White, 27.9% Hispanic, 12.8% African-American and 8.4% Asian. (p. 257). Other notable data includes 25% of K-12 public school students being ESL and representing more than 100 languages.


 Ajayi’s first step was to develop a questionnaire to collect biographical data. There were four parts to the survey. Part I included 11 questions focusing on the teachers’ racial, linguistic, gender, experience, age and educational backgrounds. The second section was used to determine the relevancy of the ESL curriculum and program in the teachers’ schools and how well they were addressing the students’ needs. Additional questions looked at California policy of the ESL program and use of personal experiences to deliver instruction.

The researcher bolstered her findings in other ways. Each teacher was required to write a statement commenting on their views on California’s language-learning policy, school policy, ESL programs and curriculum as well as standardized tests. This was based on the Ajayi’s belief that teachers’ views were a social construction, a belief previously introduced by Wenger (2005, 153)

Each teacher was also interviewed for a 20-30 minute period to explain their views about teaching ESL and the effectiveness of using English-only within the program, which was one of the four programs used in California (others being Basic Bilingual, Dual-Language and Structured English.) other questions looked at the effectiveness of their teacher education program and how they used their own background in their classrooms.

Her schools were randomly selected from two of the seven mini-districts in Los Angeles because over 20% of the students in the schools were classified as ESL learners. The teachers were recommended by the schools’ ESL or bilingual coordinator. There was an 81.42% response rate to the initial survey and the teachers represented approximately 37% of the ESL junior high teachers.

The quantitative data was analyzed using the SPSS PC+ statistical software with the probability level of p<.05 set for all tests of statistical significance.

To analyze the qualitative data, the author applied the framework of critical reflexivity, which is the practice of having teachers examine their presuppositions about their roles and responsibilities based on their personal views of teaching (p. 262).

In short, the findings of the researcher were varied. She found that Hispanic teachers were most likely to employ their personal views and experiences in their roles as teachers. African-American teachers understood the importance of using their personal histories and generally felt that their social structure had an influence on their view of the ESL program. White teachers also noted the importance of using personal backgrounds, but felt more inclined to have to make a conscious effort to build relationships with students.

Conceptually, this can be a useful study. Although it centers on teachers in one city, the findings deal with relationships between teachers and ESL students and address the ethnic differences by presenting the findings of Hispanic, African-American and White teachers. These findings may transfer to other geographic locations in the United States. However, it may have been more useful to find teachers in other diverse cities. New York, Phoenix, El Paso, Washington D.C. and Miami come to mind. Certainly, time and money would be necessary to advance the study.

I am impressed with the methodology used by Ajayi. She covered many bases as part of her mixed-methods study. Getting an 81% response rate showed dedication and care to the selection process used for her initial survey. She also employed other methods for data gathering, such as written perspectives and interviews. It may have added richness to the study to have subjects bring in historical artifacts for their interview, but Ajayi’s findings are relevant and thorough as is.

This study serves as a good starting point for what I am aiming to accomplish with my pilot study on ESL teachers. First, Ajayi gives the methodology which presents many ideas on how to tackle this topic for my pilot study. In fact, the author notes her own pilot study in her validation of instrument section, recalling her interviews with eight ESL teachers in four junior high schools in Los Angeles. This could serve as a model for my pilot study, although I anticipate more difficulty finding ESL teachers in this region, so my pilot study might have to work with four teachers in two schools.

A second helpful feature comes in the author’s section on further research. She feels the needs of this to be in the specific approaches that teachers use to teach ESL – a collection of data about classroom practices, as well as student responses to these approaches. From these findings, Ajayi theorizes that qualitative differences in instructional effectiveness and ESL student learning can be realized.

Finally, although this study cannot be used for the pilot study, it does provide references for almost 50 other sources which can enhance my further research on this topic.

Ajayi, L. (2011). How ESL teachers relate their ethnic and social backgrounds in practice, Race,

            Ethnicity and Education, 14, 2, 253-275.

Los Angeles Unified School District (2008). Los Angeles Unified School District Student

            Demographics. www.lausd.k12.ca.us.html.

Wenger, E. (2005). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning and identity. Cambridge

            University Press: Cambridge.


Remembering Mikey D

Today marks the 15th anniversary of perhaps the worst day in modern American history - the day when thousands of Americans were killed due to the acts of terrorists. I can't believe it has been this long.

One of our friends from my alma mater, Wagner College, worked for Cantor Fitzgerald on the 104th floor of North Tower and was killed. To put the schools location in perspective, Lower Manhattan was right on the other side of New York Harbor from Wagner and many graduates had their senior picture taken from the roof of 15-story Harbor View Hall with the Twin Towers in the background. On that fateful day, many Wagner students were able to witness the explosions from their dorm room and the second plane appeared to have circled back toward Manhattan from just over the campus.

As a tribute, I wrote this piece for a special issue of the Wagnerian, our school newspaper which I was editor of in 1985-86. I also posted it to an online tribute website at the request of Ken Nilsen, fellow frater, and now Dean of Student Life at Stevens Tech in NJ. From this, Hank Nuwer, the site's caretaker, published it as part of a tribute to fallen fraternity and sorority members. Since then, Hank, a journalism professor and foremost authority on hazing and fraternal issues, has become a friend and mentor for me.

Anyhow, over the years, several people have asked for a copy of this tribute to our friend Michael DeRienzo, affectionately known as "Mikey D" to us at Wagner. On this, the day before the 10th anniversary of his death, in his honor, I would like to resubmit a writing of 15 years ago, simply titled, Remembering Mikey D.

R.I.P. Michael DeRienzo -- 9/11/2001

Michael DeRienzo, Class of ’87, was one of many lost in Sept. 11 tragedy

I know that the tragic events of September 11th affected everybody that is going to read  this. We continually feel the pain, and it is a horrible pain. Our hearts have reached out, and we feel for our families and friends.

The Wagner community lost good friends on that terrible day. Michael DeRienzo is the friend that some of us knew best, and with the help of his friends, I wish to tell you why our “Mikey D” meant so much to us.

Our Wagner history dates back 15 years or so, but the time frame really doesn’t matter. We did the same things as current students do. We played football on the Oval, painted the anchor for Homecoming, grabbed a bite in the Hawk’s nest when the dinner menu looked bad, and as Tau Kappa Epsilon brothers, enjoyed our fraternity home. At that time, it was in a dark hallway under Cunard Hall.

Mike was a big part of our college experience. He was a Staten islander, and attended Wagner with his twin sister Lisa. They were very close, in a way that only twins can know. Their mother, Mrs. DeRienzo, also worked at Wagner, in the audio-visual department. She was a single parent, so it was just the three of them, and it must have been special to be that close on a daily basis.

Chris Ryan remembers Mike with one word – family. In January of 1986, the DeRienzos invited a large group of people over to their home to watch the Super Bowl. It was quite obvious to see how close they were. Last spring, Chris played the role of host when Mike and Steve Mehler passed through his home in Albany, en route to some skiing in Vermont. As he recalls, it was a meeting filled with big laughs, and big smiles. A couple of beers at Troy Pub, a quaint establishment where Chris is managing these days. A great visit. There was no reason to think it wouldn’t be repeated at a later date, but as Chris recalls, “I’m a handshaker, not a hugger. I’m glad I was a hugger that day.”

The day after the attack, Wade Appelman was stuck in Atlanta, GA, quite far from his home in Boulder, CO. There were no planes flying out, and a 22-hour car ride awaited. Wade began telling his work colleagues about his last “road trip.” Again, this dates back to 1986, more specifically, “Spring Break.” Wade, Raj Muthusamy, Dave Smolka, Pete Radigan and Mikey loaded their gear into Wade’s 1968 Mercury Montclair and headed to Ft. Myers, FL. To keep their expenses low, they spent a few days at Wade’s grandparents’ house.

Swimming in the family pool was fun, but Mike was getting edgy, so he invited Wade’s octogenarian grandfather out to a nice local restaurant… Hooters! Over a decade later, the grandparents still ask about the “nice boy that took Grandpa to that restaurant with the girls in the orange shorts.”

Mike had a sly sense of humor about him. I can recall bringing my then-fiancée’ to New York in 1990. A bunch of us went carousing through the city - Mike, Raj, Steve, possibly Brian Buckley, myself and my fiancée’ Ritz. Funny thing about our trips to Manhattan, during college and after; a visit to McSorley’s Pub always found its way onto the itinerary, and it certainly did so on this night. After  a while, my hollow leg filled up, and I had to excuse myself to go visit the trough (literally, it’s a ditch.) This was never a quick process at McSorley’s, with the single relief facility and the waiting line.

During my extended absence, one of the other customers decided to go talk with the single woman who, in spite of her engagement ring, looked to be alone. His advances were quickly shut down, not by Ritz, but my Mikey, who advised the gentleman that pursuing a conversation with “my wife!” was not a good idea. Embarrassed, the Romeo wannabe left.

Most often, Mike’s humor came out in a positive way. I always thought that Mike reminded me of Jerry Seinfeld, without the biting sarcasm. Years ago, Mike learned that I had taken up singing, country music nonetheless. For a New Yorker talking to a Virginian, he could have had a field day with this. Instead, his correspondences would ask whether I had met Garth Brooks yet. No, Garth never quite made it to the Cowboy Café on Route 1. 

Ernie Jackson has a much better recollection. Ernie and Mikey were fellow R.A.’s; in fact, his favorite memory of Mike was watching him perform the dreaded “Exterminator Duty,” required of all R.A.’s on Friday morning. Mike didn’t immediately understand Ernie. He was music major and played the guitar. Mike got a few laughs from that; after all, who goes to college to learn how to play the guitar? But it wasn’t mean spirited. In fact, after some time, it was obvious that it was his way of showing acceptance. It must have had some effect, as the two would laugh about those days later while riding the Staten Island railway from Dongan Hills. In Mikey’s honor, Ernie is having a custom guitar built and donated to Wagner College. From what I’ve heard, it’s going to be one awesome ax.

Ernie touched on some other points that I have heard many times in the three weeks since learning of Mike’s passing. His infectious smile, can-do attitude, positive outlook, they all existed. Tom Kettell mentioned Mike’s easy demeanor, and that was also a great part of Mike’s personality. But he possessed a charm that’s hard to explain.

Here’s one example of this. In the mid-1980’s, the Wagnerian office was located in Union 227. Its location made it the perfect shortcut to get to the cafeteria, and most of my TKE brothers traveled freely through the office before and after meals. Looking back, we should have charged a toll. This used to drive my dear friend and Wagnerian editor successor Mystica Alexander crazy to no end. But she did make mention of the fact that “well, at least Mikey D stops and says hi and how are things going? He’s probably the nicest of your fraternity brothers.” I may have to answer for this later, and the wording may not be exact, but the thought is there. Actually, it was Mystica who informed me of the tragic news of Mike’s death.

It was terrific to see that Mike turned into an accomplished adult. He graduated from Wagner in 1987, with a degree in business administration. After five years at U.S. Trust in Manhattan, he took a position as a broker with Cantor Fitzgerald, and worked on the 104th floor of 1 World Trade Center.

I only know one detail of Mike’s whereabouts on the morning of September 11th. He had arrived for work and was there at 8:46 AM, when a jumbo jet crashed into his building. He was at work and this was confirmed by a call from Todd Rutman, the father of Mike’s goddaughter. Mike assured Todd that they had heard an explosion downstairs and were leaving the building immediately. I don’t know the tone of this conversation, but I get the feeling that Mike was optimistic about his chances for survival that day.

A scholarship fund has been started in Mike’s name. Donations can be made out to the Michael DeRienzo Scholarship Fund, Wagner College, 1 Campus Road, Staten Island, NY 10301.

It is hard to confine the grief that we have all felt and are still feeling. There are other Wagner graduates who lost their lives on September 11th, and we mourn for Timothy Finnerty, Michael Clarke, Joseph Doyle, and Michael Cammarata. Although this is written for our friend and fraternity brother, the hurt is also felt for the people that we never had the opportunity to meet.

Our community at Wagner lost a great deal of innocence on September 11th. It is saddest to realize that some of our most innocent friends and family members were the ones who died. To our friend, Mikey D., we pray for your soul and for your family. You were a great friend to many of us, and we will greatly miss you. Goodbye, friend.


Developing the Qualitative Research Matrix

Deciding to undertake a qualitative research project generally begins with a self-check of sorts. Unlike the quantitative project, which is data-driven, the qualitative researcher is looking to find matching threads, marked by thoughts, feelings and experiences, which are qualified by a number of aspects about the subjects own views of reality.

Much like the subject, however, the researcher also enters into a project with his/her own world views, beliefs and opinions. Since we all view a situation from a different “lens,” it is risky for the researcher to enter a study with the belief that his world views will not possibly skew the findings from others. Knowing one’s own values and nature of reality is a necessary part of the qualitative research process.

To satisfy the self-checking process, it is important for the qualitative researcher to develop a matrix. Generally, the matrix addresses assumptions about reality which look at five different types of assumptions. They can be put into the form of a question and are listed below:

Matrix overview

·         Ontology – what is the nature of reality?

·         Epistemology – what is the relationship between the researcher and that being researched?

·         Axiology – what is the role of values?

·         Rhetorical – what is the language of research?

·         Methodological – what is the process of research?

Here are some of my concerns with regard to developing the matrix.

Ontology – reality is viewed from many different lenses, same picture can be seen many ways. The researcher is an instrument.
Epistemology – use self-immersion if necessary. Become immersed enough in the community to be taken seriously, but not enough to influence answers. Intention is to build trust with participants.

Axiology – embrace differences, but be careful with questioning. Researcher does not want to influence data.

Rhetorical – pay great attention to developing questions. Ask open-ended questions to develop follow-up topics. Use “How” and “Why” questions instead of “What”

Methodological – evaluate and adjust methods. Ask “What methods work with a group?” Interviews, observations, archives..?? Pilot studies help.