Teachers Deserve Respect—and Money

When a bright, eager, socially conscious 21 year old tells his family and friends he wants to go into teaching, he most often gets this retort: “Damn…that is a total waste of the good money your parents spent on sending you to college and a squandering of your talents and skills.”

How sad. When I told my parents I wanted to be a teacher in 1973, they were proud of my career choice. In the last 35 years the stature of teaching as a profession has been tragically downgraded. We can change this as a community—and we must.

If we are to attract more and better candidates to the teaching profession we must change the response to “Wow, that is fantastic that you want to dedicate yourself to sharing your skills and intellect with the youth of Santa Clara County. Not only that, but I understand that if you do exemplary work you can now make over $130,000 in salary and performance pay in the new pay system if you give up tenure rights. I am so proud of you.”

The prescription for the health of the Silicon Valley public school system must begin with increasing the pay for those teachers who do it the best, and work incredibly long hours to see that each one of their students succeed (not just on STAR scores) and failure is never an option. And concomitantly, we must develop a sophisticated multi-media one-year public relations campaign where we have people from all walks of life and ages (including current students) tell their stories of the teachers that made a difference in their lives. The Santa Clara County Office of Education quite possibly could become one of the partners in funding this critical campaign

If we significantly raise the compensation for the best (I understand this is a hot topic for the NCLB reauthorization) and promote the raising of the stature of teachers Silicon Valley will be able to increase the pool of talented young adults who enter the teaching profession…a very laudable goal as I see it. We most likely will also need to change the tenure laws as currently written, otherwise public education in the next 25 years might look a lot like the American auto industry today.

If you have a story about a teacher that made a difference in your life in extraordinary ways please share it here.

Joseph Di Salvo is a trustee on the board of the Santa Clara County Office of Education, and adjunct professor at both Santa Clara University and National University’s Graduate Schools of Education. During a 33-year public school career, he served as a teacher, principal, union president, and executive administrator.

Joseph Di Salvo is a member of the Santa Clara County Office of Education’s Board of Trustees. He is a San Jose native. His columns reflect his personal opinion.


  1. No one has commented directly over the past four hours, so I would like to ask you to write in the future on the topic, “How We Can Evaluate School Site Successes More Adequately.”

    This has always appeared to me to be a major problem in Santa Clara because usually the focus shifts to individual teachers, individual students, ethnic groups, and special needs, and away from school sites just as quickly as possible.  “No Child Left Behind” and statewide testing fail to adequately evaluate school site successes.

    Let’s say a school district has eight elementary school sites, three middle school sites, and feeds into two different high school sites.  It seems obvious to me that the middle schools determine which elementary school site’s students need remedial help with reading and arithmetic.  Perhaps one elementary school site may advance students among whom only 3% need remedial help at the middle school level, but another may have a share of 20% who need remedial help. Why is this metric such a closely guarded secret?  It would tell taxpayers, administrators, and voters which elementary school sites need help.

    And the same is true all the way up the line. High school determinations of remedial help will evaluate middle school sites, and university & community college determinations of remedial help will evaluate high school sites.  “No Child Left Behind” and even state-wide testing don’t provide such a good metric for evaluating school site successes.

    The figures we hear about from community colleges as to the share of newly admitted students needing remedial help are truly alarming, yet no one helps us understand which high school sites needs help.

  2. San Jose as it expanded during the 1950s and 1960s under City Manager Dutch Hamann and annexed adjacent areas, such as Alviso and Cambrian Park to avoid political opposition got an exemption from state legislature to have only 1 unified school district and San Jose schools unlike many other cities are not part of city government but run by 19 districts some of which overlay into other cities like Santa Clara preventing San Jose city government helping schools as part of city government or because the schools are inside San Jose

    San Jose has 19 school districts with 19 well paid Boards, Superintendents, staffs, maintenance, office support etc and over lapping and inefficent practices, purchasing and procedures wasting millions of education dollars that could be used in school classrooms for teachers and students.

    Many students don’t go to the nearest school they go to the nearest school in their districts increasing traffic, busing and cost to districts or parents and because of distance many parents are not involved in schools as they might be if schools were in their neighborhood close to homes.

    If we want great schools to merge school district together in 2-4 steps with goal a single efficient well financed great performing school district either independent, part of city government but with all schools in San Jose so redevelopment or city funds can help schools

  3. John #4- that’s not really being fair.  He’s arguing for raising incentive pay, not base salary.  He’s also arguing for giving districts a greater ability to fire teachers.  Between the two, it’s hardly a handout.

  4. Why (#3),

    This question has been asked over and over again.  You and I and many other folks around here can’t understand why this situation is perpetuated.  I’d hazard a guess that most San Jose residents never give it a second thought. 

    However, the school administrators are hard-pressed to come up with an excuse for the unnecessary cost burdens that taxpayers shoulder because of this inefficiency. 

    I find it most amazing that at a couple of the school districts only contain one school – can you imagine that?!?!  I’ll stand ready to pay more for education when the administrators consolidate the school districts. 

    Mr. Di Salvo, would you care to elaborate?

  5. Greg #5,

    I don’t believe that there is any fair and objective way of evaluating individual teachers to make “incentivation”  meaningful. The tendency would be to automatically increase salaries for all teachers except in rare exceptions such as a teacher being convicted of child molestation.

    No. This is just an attempt to hoodwink the public into falling for the idea that if we just pay them more they’ll do a better job.

  6. I don’t know about the same people doing a better job if you throw money at them, but it is well recognized in Silicon Valley that if you raise the pay range for a job, you attract more qualified candidates.

  7. We want more money.

    Boy, that didn’t take long- your second column in SJI.

    As an employer, I’m very skeptical of any worker who says to me, “I’ll do a better job if you pay me more”. I’ve discovered over the years that the people who say this NEVER do a better job. They always have excuses. I see no reason why the teaching profession should be any different.

    I don’t buy into the idea that we have to offer more money in order to attract better people. In reality, all we attract by offering more money are people who want more money. Keep salaries low and you’ll attract people who really want to teach. I’m not suggesting that we be unfair with teachers. I’m only pointing out the flaw in the logic of the “more money” argument. But $130,000/ year? Come on.

  8. John #7-

    I agree that there would be a tendency to just split the incentive pool among all teachers.  It’s the easiest thing to do, and raises the fewest complaints. 

    That doesn’t mean that there is no possible way to evaluate teachers.  Visit a class and listen to a lesson.  Read some of the students’ work.  Look at the test results from the students before and after the school year. 

    It might not be perfectly fiar and impartial, but neither is any else’s performance review process.  It’s certainly not impossible.

  9. Greg #9,

    Just who is it that’s going to visit the classroom and listen to the lesson and make a judgement that will determine the teacher’s salary? We’d spend more money defending lawsuits than we would by simply rubberstamping the salary increases in the first place. There is simply no way, in a government job, that you’re going to get away with paying significantly different salaries to people with similar job descriptions and an equal number of years spent on the job.

    And comparing test scores? Ever since “No Child Left Behind” came along, teachers have done nothing but complain about having to “teach to the test”. So “teaching to the test” is bad unless it might mean a pay increase?

    In theory it might be possible to create a system that would accurately rate the effectiveness of individual teachers but in reality it could never be implemented. It’s politics that will always become the defining factor.

    Looking at the whole issue more broadly, all this talk about evaluating teachers is based on the assumption that it’s the teachers that are the problem. Are they? Have we accepted Mr. Di Salvo’s assertion simply because it is the consensus opinion of all the “experts” he was hobnobbing with in San Diego?
    Let’s not forget that he and his associates are human beings. As such, they are just as motivated by self-interest as are the rest of us.

  10. The “teaching industry” has been producing a product far worse than has the auto industry for decades, and costs the taxpayers far more than the bailout of the Big 3. At least auto buyers can choose not to buy, or to buy the least awful car, but parents have no such choice. The “good” students are a function of demographics. Palo Alto students do better than Eastside Union students, though both schools have teachers with the same credentials, textbooks, tests, etc. The only diff is the education and income level of the parents—who are mostly not involved in making their kids better students. They don’t have to.
    As for merit pay and meaningful teacher evalluation, good luck with the CTA and NEA on that issue. They represent to hordes of useless teachers, and help those folks get rid of the idealistic, enthusiastic young teachers with no tenure.
    And it’s crap to blow the smoke that there’s no way to evaluate teachers. Give every kid in every class a subject matter test at the beginning of the school year, and one at the end. Guess what that might PROVE. But SJSU, Stanford, Cal, USC cook up phony classes for credentialling, and spend not a minute in constructing subject matter testing. The moment some high school graduate gets a job that requires making change, or writing a report, the untrained boss, in an instant, can make an evaluation of the student’s skills. It’s NOT a matter of sending an idiot administrator into a classroom to say what they see or hear. Education needs to get real, and find a way to recruit real teachers. Read Malcolm Gladwell’s great article in the current New Yorker. George Green

  11. It’s important to discuss attracting quality teachers, but many of our problems would be lessened if we worked harder to retain the quality teachers we already have in Santa Clara County.  The commonly-used figure of speech states that districts are hemorrhaging quality teachers.

    Your headline says that teachers deserve respect, but the only solution you have given is to throw money at the problem.  Good teachers don’t leave solely for financial reasons, and they won’t stay if the only change is an increase in dollars.

    In order to keep more teachers, we need authentic evaluation processes for school sites and the entire district.  Last week, our staff meeting focused on a recent evaluation of our use of strategies to help ELL students, but we didn’t learn much becuase the evaluation was so poorly performed.  In one instance, the evaluator didn’t even completely enter a classroom.  Instead, she opened the door, stuck her head and shoulders in, and then popped back out. 

    This is just one example of how teachers are patronized and shown disrespect.  Did you experience similar problems in your years of teaching?  Would a salary increase have made you feel more respected and valued? 

    Incentive pay is just one part of the solution.  Please look for ideas that will raise respect for teachers from the inside of each district and school.  Dale mentioned in the first comment that we need to evaluate school sites effectively; I’m confident that such an evaluation would find that teachers in effective schools feel valued and respected by their administrators and district management.

    Thank you.

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