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How Not to Attract Excellent Teachers

In the interest of full disclosure, let me begin by acknowledging that my wife is a public school teacher – soon to complete her 20th year.
I have nothing but the highest admiration for her. She brings a level of professionalism, integrity, not to mention compassion, which is emblematic of what is best about teachers.

Over the years, I have observed the hours she puts in – far beyond the minimum – to make sure her students receive the instruction they deserve.

I have also seen up close the amount of money she spends out of pocket to make up for the deplorable lack of resources that Alabama provides for its students.

Which brings me to the subject of my concern in this column – AlabamastateSen. ShadrackMcGill.

McGill believes that raising salaries for teachers is unbiblical. Apparently, he is citing that often overlooked passage from 2 Hezekiah, “Thou shall not pay teachers adequately lest they become proud, arrogant and ineffective.”

I am kidding, of course, about 2 Hezekiah. Unfortunately, I am not kidding about McGill.

The good senator is of the opinion that if we raise the salaries of teachers, it will ultimately result in attracting people who are not truly called to be teachers.

“It’s a biblical principle,” McGillproclaims. “If you double a teacher’s pay scale, you’ll attract people who aren’t called to teach.”

Of course that logic did not stop him from voting for a pay increase for himself and other state legislators.

His logic here is pretty straightforward. Government officials need to be paid enough to withstand the temptation of money and power that comes from lobbyists and special interests.

Is there really that much money available?

Meanwhile, teachers must submit to a vow of poverty in order to prove their worthiness.

While they may be immune to the wiles of lobbyists and special interests, the pure and unadulterated lure of money might corrupt them and create an environment of greed that results in ineffectiveness.

It’s hard to know where to direct outrage at such vapid nonsense.

Should we take note that teachers cannot sustain themselves on an entry-level salary? Or should we take aim at the fact that most classrooms in Alabama are woefully underequipped and are barely able to provide adequate instructional resources for students?

And how about this piece of conventional wisdom – true in every other area of endeavor: If you want to attract the best people in any given profession, then you must pay them competitively.

Where else in the professional world will we find people with 20 years of education who will work for dollars just a scant higher than the national poverty level?

“Calling” does not seem to be a big enough word.

While we are thinking about callings and public service, how about this for a modest proposal: Suppose we make it impossible for all lobbyists and other special interest groups to have access to any and all state legislators.

Simultaneously, let’s remove all financial benefits that accrue to serving as a legislator, other than perhaps a modest gas allowance so they can commute to Montgomery when the legislature is in session.

If our main concern here is to attract only those who are truly called, these measures ought to take care of that.

Unfortunately, the list of candidates will be fairly short. But at least we can take comfort in knowing that we are getting what we are willing to pay for.

JamesL. Evans is pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala.