Should Math and Science Teachers Get Paid More Than Other Teachers?

Lawrence Krauss gives his take on a touchy subject: Should math and science teachers get paid more than those who teach the humanities?

As much as I want to get behind this, it’s a short-sighted solution. At least in my experience, teachers aren’t in the profession for the money. The good teachers see it as a calling, the bad ones see it as a job, and it’s pretty easy to tell which teachers are in which group. Offering money as a carrot to lure in teachers for harder-to-fill positions won’t necessarily get you the best and brightest. (Though it’s easy for me to say that when I work in a community that’s pretty affluent to begin with.)

What would help to draw in qualified candidates across the board?

Here are two suggestions, neither of which is about to happen anytime soon: First, change the perception of teaching from something that people do only as a last resort to something that commands more respect. I know plenty of teachers who can make (and have made) more money elsewhere, but they came into our profession because it was more fulfilling. Second, raise the bar for entry so that it’s tougher to become a teacher in the first place. The certification exams to become a teacher are a joke, and once you’re in the system, it’s notoriously hard to get kicked out. The problem with doing this is that it’s hard enough as is to fill math/science positions — raising the bar won’t help staff already hard-to-fill positions.

For what it’s worth, anyway, this sort of incentive has been tried before. Whether it has made a difference is still up for debate.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Ronlawhouston

    Actually, some friends and I were having a discussion over whether more student loan money should be allocated for people majoring in math and sciences.

  • Rich Wilson's_hierarchy_of_needs You have to find out what motivates the person. I suspect that for good math and science teachers, it’s more about some level of freedom and leeway in teaching methods. And perhaps more support for continued career growth. I’ve never been a teacher, but I imagine I’d be frustrated by having to each to a strict curriculum when at the moment I’d rather talk about the conjunction of the Moon and Jupiter and what we can deduce from the observations of it. Or what Discovery JUST discovered on Mars, and what it means, or

  • Sackbut

    Are you seriously making the argument that pay doesn’t matter because the good teachers see it as a calling? Our execrable Alabama state senator, Shadrack McGill, made a similar argument last year, saying that we shouldn’t raise teacher pay, because then we’ll only attract people who want money rather than people for whom it is a “calling”. “Biblical principle”, he said. You really don’t want to make the same argument, I suspect.

    There are people who would make good math or science teachers but who cannot make a reasonable living as teachers and choose to take other options. People with non-technical backgrounds often have fewer other options. Sometimes people work as engineers because it pays the bills better, not because they have a “calling” to be engineers. I have known plenty of people intent on music careers who made such choices; I think it would be a disservice to those people to say they must be poor musicians because they didn’t wish to sacrifice their economic well-being to the extent necessary.

    The most reasonable information I’ve seen on the subject, focusing as I recall on creative technical workers like design engineers, said that money was not a good incentive, but only so long as the pay level was sufficient. That is, if they were paid enough to be comfortable, additional bonuses were not an incentive. I suspect teachers in general are extremely far from this level of pay. I don’t know that I’d support paying math and science teachers more than other teachers, but I certainly support raising the typical level of teacher pay.

  • Drew Hardies

    I’d open the certification exams to people with STEM degrees. Then, I’d try to create some part-time positions aimed at retired scientists and engineers.

    This would let us draw on many more potential candidates, especially ones who have used math and science.

  • Feminerd

    The solution is to pay all teachers more, not just the math and science ones. Current teacher salaries aren’t livable, so of course teaching isn’t an attractive profession. The only reason the humanities find teachers more easily is that finding other jobs is harder for people with humanities degrees. Given that salary correlates with the import of the job, paying math and science teachers more just means humanities will be even more undervalued than it already is.

    And am I the only person to note that math and science teachers are more likely to be male than humanities teachers? Sure, a lot of math and science teachers are female, but I had very few male humanities teachers even in high school. Is it coincidence that the more male teaching specialties are also the ones being targeted for a pay raise?

  • Atheist Diva

    I was a high school librarian. These were the best teachers in my small high school: 2 science, 1 math, 1 social studies (although he taught everything by PowerPoint, so i still doubt his proficiency), 1 band/choir (small school, remember?), and 1 English. Oh, and then there was me–one of the world’s best librarians. So someone is suggesting that the bad science teacher and the two crummy math teachers should have been paid more than me because of the field they were teaching? Baloney. My son would have been a high school dropout if it hadn’t been for his outstanding band teacher–he’s the teacher who gave my son a purpose in life, and a reason to work in his other classes. So, let’s see. Out of all the excellent teachers above, 1 science and 1 math teacher became assistant principals (more money). The rest are still teaching, but they are in various states of despair, not just over salary but over respect, and the way you have to avoid religion in that small school, and the behavior of parents, and all those other niggling things that tear you apart every day. My solution was to retire at age 57. Heard any talk lately about what they’re planning to do to the retirement age? At least I had that out.

  • xeon2000

    In general, I agree that Engineering-type degrees are more academically challenging than a history degree. I also agree that high school teachers should have an appropriate college science degree to teach their respective class. Should a high school physics teacher make more than a high school history teacher? Probably.

    However, I think the value of humanities are a bit overlooked. Look at the success of Cognitive Science groups that various universities have begin. Such groups involve a collaboration between math, engineering, psychology, linguistics, philosophy, sociology, music, and other fields. Life is too complex to look at from one perspective.

    As the video author indicated, good teaching gets the students to ask questions that interest them, not force them to memorize answers. High school history shouldn’t involve memorizing dates, it should involve things like analyzing past events, thinking about why events happened the way they did based on past cultures, and then perhaps looking for similar examples in modern day. Analyzing and creative problem solving instead of staid memorization.

    I’m not sure if I’ll get flamed for this, but I’m also not entirely sure if a capitalistic economy is entirely conducive to achieving the sort of educational system we want.

  • Tony

    I think the point is that if the salaries for math and science teachers were increased then maybe the quality of those people going into those fields might increase. After all if the majority of the graduates in those areas are going into industry then that will have a negative effect on the science teacher pool.

  • xeon2000

    …and ignore my typos…. naturally I made those in a thread like this *facepalm*

  • feedayeen

    I’m in my senor year; all of my friends are brilliant STEM majors graduating at the end of this year or the next. None of them have ever mentioned going to K-12 education as a career. When you have 20-50k in student loans from a state university and your starting salary in industry is nearly double that of being a teacher, it’s an easy choice.

  • Lily Queen

    Oh good grief. At my institution, English teachers are paid more than math teachers. You know why? THEY DO MORE WORK.

    Shut up, people who don’t understand teaching.

    (All teachers need to be paid more. In my case, my analytical disposition left me pulled between computer science and history. I went with history, but it’s not because I couldn’t have done well in EECS. I did my graduate work in another field entirely, and that’s what I teach now — and I can’t live on it — but … this kind of thing is just arrogance.)

    P. S. A big complaint from the math and science teachers at our school is that their students need to be able to read and write better in order to understand problems (let alone bigger concepts), Unfortunately, developmental courses in English and other courses that would help students actually develop reading habits, etc., are still being cut, while the little money out there is just for STEM. Shortsighted, and ideas like Krauss’ just feed into it.

  • tinker

    When my Mother decided that she had enough with nursing and dusted off her teaching credentials, she took her Master’s degree and Reading Specialist Certification from Arizona to California because they paid twice what they pay here. She only moved across the river until she retired then her and my retired Dad moved back here. She ended up teaching from first up to third grade and therefore put down the basics of math and science, but more importantly, her kids could read.

  • Katie

    When my husband quit teaching (high school math), no amount of money could have kept him there. What would have kept him there were students who wanted to learn and took education seriously.

  • Becky@ askanatheist

    Literacy needs to be incorporated into STEM; reading a science text or writing an engineering proposal requires different kind of literacy than literature (the stuff stressed in language arts classes), and that should be the job of the teachers that teach that subject. I’ve worked with plenty of science teachers who resent having to “teach reading.” Awesomely, I’ve worked with plenty that absolutely teach how to read and write for the STEM context.

  • Darrell Ross

    I considered teaching public High School math when I completed my MS in Math. The primary deterrent was the difficulty in finding a job where I wanted to live and the parent hazard. I taught college level math for two years. When a student misbehaves, you kick them out. No biggie. Parents are not involved.

    It really bothers me how many parents do a downright shitty job of raising their kids. My parents were very involved in my education, volunteering at the school, serving on the local school board, chaperoning, etc.

    If schools would pay just $50k starting for math teachers, they could lure in way more great prospects.

    I think you are being naive. :P

  • anniewhoo

    I have a master’s degree in science education and I had to take a whopping four science classes to earn that specialization. I took more, and I am naturally curious about science so I’ve learned a lot on my own. Also, I had a career in the biological sciences before going back to get my teaching degree. Fellow COE students, however, who graduated with the same degree as me could have gotten away with learning very little science. I think we do need to pay teachers more, but I think more importantly, we need to make education a competitive field by raising the standards in colleges of education. Since you can get a teaching job with just a bachelor’s, I would start by making it more difficult to get into master’s programs in education. When I was in school, the GRE requirement was 1000, which I would guess is possibly the lowest requirement of any master’s program.

  • monyNH

    I have to agree with Sackbut on this one. Graduates in the maths and sciences have more lucrative job opportunities outside of teaching, on the whole, than graduates in the humanities, so there is more competition for their talent. I do wonder if it would damage faculty relations if one set of teachers was automatically paid more than others (although I imagine it happens in sports all the time). For what it’s worth, I say this as an English major who is now a school librarian.

    As for making it tougher for people to become teachers…I would rather see qualifications in place that meant something. It shouldn’t be so difficult for a career-changing adult with experience in their field of study to move into the classroom. The byzantine process of teaching certification does little, in my experience, to prepare one for the classroom–but goes a long way toward turning off potentially great teachers. And don’t even get me started on the Praxis! :)

  • monyNH

    I think we’ll be seeing more reading across the curriculum with the new Common Core standards..yay!

  • TCC

    I’m an English teacher, and while I didn’t notice a significant gender disparity in my English ed courses, I have noticed it since then at professional events and such. My principal also remarked to me in one of my interviews for the position that she was surprised to find a male candidate for the position, which I was surprised by at the time. I’m not sure there’s any real reason for this, other than the stereotypical notions that men are more analytical and logical (thus, math and science) and women are more intuitive and emotional (hence, English, arts, and humanities). But even with that, there’s still a gender disparity towards women, which is a historical artifact (women historically weren’t breadwinners and thus could be paid less) that really needs to be corrected but probably won’t be any time soon.

  • Bad_homonym

    Hemant, I imagine you are one of those who view your career as a calling, and we need more just like you. I for one have always wondered about society’s misplaced values when we pay huge amounts of money to further the careers of athletes and musicians, and complain (at least here in Canada) everytime teachers and health professionals request a living wage. I am but a lowly tradesman and make more than the teachers who helped shape my future. I can say that his idea has some merit. A few years ago at my union job, during contract negotiations, the company offered a raise to the trades that production workers would not get. I remember one co-worker in particular was angry that raises weren’t being offered plant wide. I tried to explain that trades in our plant were below industry standard, but it didn’t get through to him. Even with my modest wage, in less than a year I took a job that pays substantially more! I may not be the norm. I dont know. I can say that the argument resonates with me though!

  • Chris Zahar

    What we need to start doing is looking at what works in other countries. Finland has one of the greatest education systems in the world. Does it pay its science and math teachers more than its humanities teachers? What about Japan, Singapore, and other countries with high-ranking education systems? If not, then I don’t think we should take professor Krauss’ ideas into much consideration.

    And speaking as a former History teacher, I would have no problem with science and math teachers getting paid more – that is, on the condition that they did more work. You want your math and science teachers to be paid more? Fine. Let them work until 7pm while the rest of us go home at 5pm or have them work an extra week during Christmas vacation. But if you think that for one second I’m going to do the exact same work for less pay, then you would be sadly mistaken.

  • chicago dyke

    i am so very sick and tired of people devaluing the humanities. thinking critically is important too! and: good writing. there’s that history stuff, and being creative. those can be useful.

    Math is Important. so is Science. i do not disagree with that at all. but paying people more to teach them rather than history or english???

    the whole fucking problem we have in this country stems from the fact that not enough children are being taught history. ok, that’s an oversimplification, but dammit. the “arts” are important too. economics is not a “science” and things like literature and history are vital to understanding the world in which we all live, and why some things are valued while others are ignored.

    you don’t learn to forge an effective argument that convinces people in math class. you need to understand why this country was founded in order to understand the political system we have and how to operate in it, effectively.

    math and science are awesome, and girls can do them too. but there is more out there to know. teachers should be paid, equally, regardless of subject, and paid well.

  • Feminerd

    100% agree.

  • Rich Wilson

    You just sparked something spinning at the back of my brain. What Krauss really wants to teach- what all of us want to teach- isn’t isolated to ‘science’ class. History isn’t about memorizing dates any more than science is about memorizing phylogeny or math is about memorizing formulas. They’re all about creative thinking and different points of view and problem solving and other mushy stuff. People can learn how to come at things from different directions in any class- not just science class.

  • chicago dyke

    yeah, i’m gonna flame you for that.

    how many languages do you speak? how many non-alphabetic characters have you mastered, that are used in writing? how many times have you made a composite? (look it up) do you have any idea how hard that is?

    there are some of us who work just as frakking hard as math folks do. my BIL is a brilliant, MIT trained engineer. and you know what? he believes in jeebus. he even thinks it’s ok to post the 10 commandments on courthouse lawns, but the Vedas (which i’ve read) no way, man!

    math and science are Hard. i get that, i have a science degree, even, also. but the humanities are just as challenging to the human intellect. is there silliness in those fields? sure. but there has been some totally wrong math and science done by “experts” too. we all drop the ball once in a while.

    the point here is that there should be NO devaluing of one academic field over another, just because, jobs, or something. the last time i checked, having a well rounded education was a good thing. and paying teachers of all types well, helps in better education for all our children.

    for grapthar’s sake, man, i don’t even have children, and i know this.

  • Chris

    They probably already worked a hell of a lot harder to get a degree in science or math. Lets face it, humanities degrees are easy. Humanities teachers aren’t in short-supply because they are easy degrees. Science and math teachers are in short-supply because the degrees are much more difficult. It’s a supply and demand thing.

  • Chris

    Is your terrible punctuation meant to prove the value of the humanities?

  • Mark Dorn

    I have an undergraduate and masters in engineering. I would love to teach, but I love making engineering money. It’s one data point, but it exists. If I could make anything close to what I make as an engineer, I’d teach.

  • McAtheist

    I wonder how much chicagodyke’s high school english teacher earned.

  • Mark Dorn

    I think you’re ignoring the fact that STEM fields can earn much more money outside of teaching. The argument really shouldn’t be about difficulty of work/material, it should be about comparative jobs. You may do a ton of work in humanities; but, if there aren’t any other jobs there, you have to teach and accept that pay. People who are sharp at STEM tend to look away from teaching because they can make more elsewhere. If pay were raised, it could tip that scale a bit.

  • Feminerd

    I don’t know about your first point, actually. I’m apparently unusual in that I’m quite talented at STEM fields but chose to major in political science. I like statistics, which is “hard math”. I didn’t enjoy calculus all that much, but I loved learning scripting in SPSS and other data-crunching programs.

    I did more reading and writing than most STEM people can imagine. They did labs, but I read 100+ pages of academic journals per week per class and discussed it. I read articles from different viewpoints on topics I had strong opinions about and sometimes changed my mind based on the data presented. I synthesized data from multiple different types of studies (single-case studies, statistics-intensive quantitative studies, comparative studies, etc) into a sort of overall big-picture. I wrote 2-3 10-20 page research papers over the course of each semester, each of which required more reading and, of course, some writing capability. These are all very valuable skills that you simply do not learn in STEM classes or fields.

    I agree with the rest of what you’ve said. The humanities are overlooked, collaborations across academic disciplines are awesome, and good teaching involves critical thinking and analysis instead of rote memorization. Also, I agree that a purely capitalist system fails at achieving a viable education system, which is why we implemented public education in the US in the first place.

  • Anthony McCarthy

    I’ve heard Lawrence Krauss trying to debate outside of his field of professional competence, he really should have done more work in basic rhetoric when he was in college but he probably didn’t take that seriously, meh! humanities. ta

    Big Think seems to specialize in getting people from academia with big names to talk about things they don’t know about and Penn Jillette who doesn’t know anything except what his misinformed obnoxious opinion is.

  • nakedanthropologist

    I don’t think this would work. First of all, some teachers are bad at their jobs because of the reasons Hermant cited above, but also some of the incentive programs draw the wrong sort to a profession that demands patience and understanding. I did my undergrad work at UCF (in Orlando, FL) and we had a state program that would pay for you’re entire education, as long as you taught your preferred subject in a Florida school for three years immediately following graduation. Second, the humanities are just as important as science and math, because they’re all interconnected. Last, but by no means least, is that I’ve observed many science teachers who outright refuse to teach things like evolution if they can at all help it (and even when they can’t they give students misinformation) due to their religious views.

  • SingerDude

    I teach music so I would say no to raises for other teachers such as math and science, but I used to be a touring musician and when I was home I would substitute teach. I got to see classroom in every subject and grade level. If anyone needs to be paid more, it would be the special education teachers. Toughest teaching job I have ever done. You have to be both an educator and a caregiver. To lesson the burden, schools hire assistants in the classroom but often time these people are paid even less and are very under qualified, and have no passion to be there. Pay Special Ed Teachers double!

  • setarcos89

    The certification doesn’t prepare you for the classroom so much as it sets out to see how well prepared you are. Nothing can prepare you for the classroom except for being in one.

  • Keith Stevenson


  • setarcos89

    As someone who has taught languages and went to a science high school and became a switch technician, both STEM and literature require critical thinking skills. The only difference between reading for science and literature is the vocabulary. The type of reading necessary for both fields is still a critical form of reading which someone should be able to do regardless of whether it is a math problem or literature issue. I read science and engineering magazines along with literature (in different languages.) I don’t use one type of literacy to read one and then change to another. I use the same critical thinking approach to both. BTW- Humanities proposals are similar to scientific ones but differ in content. A logical argument must be made and supporting evidence must be demonstrated along with the purpose of the work and what it sets out to achieve and how it benefits the field by expanding our knowledge of it.

  • setarcos89

    Exactly. The geniuses of history tended to be well-versed in many things. Einstein, Newton, DaVinci: they all were well-versed in different topics and allowed these to intermingle which allowed them to see more possibilities than had they separated one type of thinking for another.

  • setarcos89

    I completely disagree as someone who has a STEM and Humanities background. You say the Humanities are easy, yet you have committed several errors in your post. In addition, many people find understanding the likes of Hegel, Nietzsche and Derrida very difficult.

  • setarcos89

    I agree somewhat. I think education should be a minor while your expertise should be your major. Your master’s degree should only involve courses in your field and professional options should be available to expand one’s pedagogical knowledge. Also, in NY, someone who has taken a teaching test, can take the test ad infinitum. I think there should be a cap. If you have to take the same test about a dozen times, you should not be teaching.

  • MV

    Science and math teachers aren’t in short supply either. About the only field actually lacking teachers is special education. An actual shortage means positions go unfilled and subjects don’t get taught. This is far different from principals only having a choice of five candidates versus 30. People are calling a limited choice a shortage.

    I recently entered teaching through an alternative route to certification program in a “shortage area” (science). Let me assure you that there is no real shortage of math and science teachers, at least in my state. The job market for science teachers is not very good.

    And it’s not a supply and demand thing. There are high barriers to entry for all teachers. Perhaps you need to take (or retake) an economics course. After all, I did for one of my endorsements. Among the many other courses and tests and unpaid internship and practicum time. Some of this is needed, some less so. Despite this preparation, 50% of teachers leave within 5 years or so.

    The reasons that kept me away from teaching previously was not the pay. It was the low status of teachers in our society. This comes in many forms. For instance, comments like yours, for example, are part of the problem. Singling out certain teachers as most important is virtually impossible. That’s why most states have a set salary scale. If you can’t determine objectively who contributes the most, it’s least discriminatory to pay everybody equally.

    Then we get to the attitudes that teaching is easy, or if we only do “x” students will learn, or if we copy country “y” our problems will be solved, or teachers are lazy, etc. Sorry, but we use schools as levers to try to fix societal problems. Schools don’t work well for this.

    If I hear Finland used one more time as an example, I may scream. It’s not a bad example. But people miss the point. Students do well in Finland because it is an equitable society. Schools didn’t fix that. Schools benefited from that. If you want the results from Finland you have to change society first. And nobody in “education reform” makes an effort to change this because it doesn’t fit into their message. Reformers aren’t interested in reform.

  • MV

    Many schools pay 50k to starting teachers with an MS. Or pretty close to it. So that really isn’t a problem.

    I think you stated the problem: you can’t find a job (there actually aren’t that many openings, at least that are permanent), and you do have to want to interact with children (you just can’t remove disruptive students). Good classroom management is difficult. It’s also the difference between enjoying teaching and hating it.

    And just because you have a math major doesn’t mean you can teach. You have to be certified. This requires you to pay money to take courses, tests, and spend time in classrooms (practicum and internship). Figure about a year if you didn’t do this as part of your college education. That’s time you really can’t work.

  • MV

    Citation needed on the fact that STEM people stay away from education due to the pay.

    In my experience (new science teacher) there is no actual shortage of science teachers. This (anecdotal) seems to be confirmed by everyone I have talked to within my state. The state data also shows much lower than 100% employment for teachers with science endorsements. Lack of choice in candidates is not a shortage!

    And compensation outside of education is not very relevant. We aren’t paying people to do science. We are paying them to EDUCATE. These are different skills. Some people with great science skills would be awful in education (they could not handle classroom management, for instance). And just because they know the content in a work setting, that doesn’t mean they can teach content appropriate to 10th grade to students reading at the 4th grade.

    Finally, I don’t want people entering education only (or primarily) for the pay. I believe that schools try to weed these people out. Teaching has a high turnover rate, especially in the early years (about 50% in the first 5 years). It’s not fair to students to subject them to new teachers repeatedly. Because new teachers are rarely highly effective teachers. It takes time. The continuity of a teaching staff is important.

  • MV

    I think you would be correct. :)

    I don’t teach math but I was horrified when I saw a 9th grade Algebra textbook that one teacher was mandated to teach from.

    It was scripted. Completely.

    The teacher would say “x” and the students were expected to say “y”. If they didn’t, then the teacher had to backtrack, and repeat previous information until students got it correct.

    Just imagine the havoc a devious student could cause…..

  • Houndentenor

    It’s not a moral judgement. In some areas they have to pay more for math and science teaching positions to get someone to take the job. It’s supply and demand. Many school districts struggle to find anyone at all to teach Calculus and Chemistry.

    Also, the battle over which area of study is most important is absurd. They all have value or we wouldn’t bother teaching them at all. You need both language and math/science skills for a well-rounded education.

  • Houndentenor

    I am convinced that the better our understanding and appreciation of one field of knowledge increases, the more we are capable of understanding the others. This includes all areas of math, science, humanities, athletics…all of it. How sad that people in different fields are pitted against each other as if cutting music benefits the science department. Cuts in any area impoverish the overall educational experience. Learning to think requires seeing things in new ways. Just studying one subject would be limiting. The next time someone says your local school has to cut funding and acts as if it’s a battle between the departments over who has to take the cuts, start asking why you don’t cut the bureaucracy in the state capital. That’s where the real waste is in our educational system.

  • Earl G.

    “It shouldn’t be so difficult for a career-changing adult with experience in their field of study to move into the classroom.”

    Totally agree. Especially when that experience includes teaching in university classrooms.

  • K G

    “The good teachers see it as a calling, the bad ones see it as a job, and it’s pretty easy to tell which teachers are in which group.”

    I’m sick of seeing this. Teachers, Doctors, and Nurses are the ONLY professions who are supposed to be doing it almost solely for the “love of the job”. People take this excuse to underpay them for their services (yes, doctors get lots of money, but 1) they have tons of student loans to repay, 2) they have to spend a ton of that on insurance, and 3) they are saying your LIFE. That should be worth more than the cost of a meal at McDonald’s)

    Please stop acting like these few groups of professionals are ANY DIFFERENT than other groups of professionals! I am a teacher. I do it because it is convenient. I don’t have a passion for it. If I were independently wealthy and could do anything in the world to occupy myself, it would NOT be teaching. Heck, even with the change in the affordability of health insurance, I may start looking for other work.

    What may shock you, however, is that I’m good at it. Many students in my class keep in touch to say how I inspired them. Many of the students that whined during my class actually come back to say that even though I was tough, I really prepared them for other classes/the real world, in a way other teachers had not.

    I inspire students, but not because it’s a “calling”, but because it’s inherent to my job – a job that I’m good at.

    You don’t have to have a “calling” to be good at flipping burgers if you simply apply yourself and take your work seriously. And those burgers can save people from starving.

  • K G

    Part of me wants to say “yes” to this, but it isn’t that simple. What REALLY needs to be done is to evaluate the classes and give bonuses for the amount of work done.

    For example, for my college Science class, I lecture for about two and a half to three hours (depending on whether there is in-class work). Then I go to lab. I give instructions for about a half an hour and monitor the class for another two and a half hours. I don’t sit – I’m constantly having to walk around, examining test tubes, correcting technique, etc. I get paid for four hours worth of work – although I’m required to be in the room, assisting the students, I’m not compensated for all my lab time.

    I am taking an art class at the same college. The professor gives instructions for about fifteen minutes and then monitors the class for about two and a half hours. He gets paid for three hours. The set up is the same as a lab class, but it’s technically considered a lecture, so he doesn’t get the same pay.

    In my English classes, they were similar to the labs. Minimal instructions and then “individual” writing for the remainder of the class. But again, the professors got paid for ALL their time.

    The pay is simply unfair. The only thing *I* could do to make it *fair* would be to teach less during class time and let my students essentially work on what should be their homework during what should be lecture/new learning time. This is not right. When I had these times of classes as a student I felt RIPPED OFF. If the teacher in the classroom, they should be TEACHING.

    And NO – English teachers don’t have “more” work than other teachers. I currently have meter-high stack of papers of post-labs and homeworks to grade on my desk right now. More will be getting turned in next week. Meanwhile, my English colleagues say they’re still waiting to receive their first assignment – the students are still “compiling the research”. Are the assignments the same? No. But I’m sick of English teachers saying they have “more” work.

    If I had my druthers….I wouldn’t have Science teachers paid MORE than other teachers….I would have OTHER teachers/courses held up to Science standards. When students come to MY class they are absolutely shell-shocked regarding BASIC things….like having homework every week, taking actual notes (some don’t even bring a writing implement to the first class!), or being graded for correctness (as opposed to simply handing things in). My class is usually the first science course they have – but there IS a college-level English prerequisite.

    Science isn’t “hard”. It’s simply that everything else is so unbelievably weak.

  • Aaron Paul Gotzon

    Quick answer: no.

  • jk2001

    Teacher pay is okay, at least in my area. It’s not fantastic, but is basically a little above the median salary of 45k (or was it 50k), after several years. Veteran teachers pull down around 60k, and they have good retirement packages and 1-to-1 401k matches, so their net compensation is closer to a six-figure income. Granted, an engineer will make more, and that matters, but it’s not like you’re impoverished if you are a teacher. Comparing it to being a musician isn’t quite right. Also, they don’t work summers.

  • jk2001

    Is the classroom even a good place to learn math and science?

  • jk2001

    That’s not logical. Paying math teachers more won’t devalue English teachers. It only forces them into competition with each other for the budget resources. I’m not really convinced that the pay differential for math would be that great though. It’s just math. Same for biology – another relatively low-pay field. Chemistry and physics would be more expensive. But I think what would mess with people the most is that Econ teachers would be able to demand the most, because schools would be competing against banks and businesses. And what would cheese off all of the teachers would be the fact that the auto-shop teacher could probably demand a raise. If there were a plumber, he could demand almost as much as the economist. Home-ec and cooking would be potentially devalued to minimum wage to allow for all these salary increases.

  • marigold42

    In most universities, Business, Engineering, Medical, Computer Science professors make more than others because “they would make more outside of the university” while math, physics, biology professors make the same as English or History professors. Somehow this doesn’t seem right. I think we could get better teachers if we paid them more.

  • jk2001

    You can get a bachelors degree in some humanities without really having to delve into philosophy. That said, I agree that philosophy is pretty hard – it’s about as hard as some kinds of math.

  • jk2001

    I agree, it’s a different skill. The subject matter is pretty simple stuff except maybe in the last year of high school. The teaching is the critical part, not the subject matter.

  • Pseudonym

    I completely agree. One thing we’re actually seeing here is the devaluing of the humanities among many scientists.

    Not all scientists, of course. (Richard Dawkins is married to an actor!) And I’m not saying that any scientists think that the humanities are not valuable. But many of them seem to see the humanities as somehow less valuable. Just look at Sam Harris and his book on morality which was deeply ignorant of pretty much everything that philosophers have thought on the topic of morality over the last 3000 years.

    Science does ask some of those deep questions, like “are we alone in the universe”. But it’s not like the humanities doesn’t ask questions like “what does it mean to be human”, or “what is justice”, or “what should I do when faced with evil”.

    The other thing I noticed here is what I call “Economics 101 thinking”. It’s a family of ideas that are popular with people who took Economics 101, but didn’t make it as far as Economics 102.

    Economics 101 states that people respond to incentives. You see this from politicians all the time. If we set up incentives for good behaviour, people would behave better. If we paid good teachers more than bad ones, we’d have better teaching.

    However, Economics 102 states that people don’t respond to incentives in the way you’d hope. This is why Freakonomics is now required reading at any decent business school. What your incentives actually encourage is a proxy for the desired behaviour, not the actual desired behaviour.

    So if you want to rid Delhi of cobras (as the British government decided to do in the 19th century), you could offer a reward for every dead cobra. What actually happened was people started farming cobras, and as soon as the government caught on and axed the scheme, the cobras were turned loose, making the problem worse.

    If you want to reward good teachers, you need to define what a good teacher is. If you measure that by how their students do on a certain exam, then many teachers will teach and drill the material on the exam to the exclusion of everything else.

    It is inevitable that if you teach maths and science teachers more, you will get more people in the market who are well-trained in maths and science, but terrible at teaching.

    This is why you don’t send a scientist to do an economist’s job, let alone a teacher’s job.

  • Pseudonym

    Lets face it, humanities degrees are easy.

    The hell they are. Becoming a linguist or a historian requires just as much hard work as becoming a physicist or engineer.

    The work is different, though. Physics majors get three-hour lab classes which are scheduled at inconvenient times such as Friday afternoon (the memories, they burn). History majors have to spend the same amount of time reading and critically evaluating texts, but they get to do it any time during the week.

    You would not think that humanities degrees are “easy” if you’d ever done one or lived with someone who was doing one. I know it seemed that way when I was doing my degree. But it’s actually an illusion. Humanities degrees are easier to schedule a social life around if you a) have one, b) are an extrovert, and c) are organised. That doesn’t make them easy.

    I think you might be confusing a specialist humanities degree with a general education liberal arts degree. Alternatively, you might live in a different country than I do, and the system may be completely different.

  • Pseudonym

    To be fair Penn Jilette doesn’t try to argue areas outside of his competence on Big Think. He would never use that platform to advocate a reform of the education system despite having no qualifications in education or economics.

  • Pseudonym

    Betteridge’s law of headlines wins again.

  • Pseudonym

    A couple of comments about teachers and nurses.

    1. Teaching and nursing are traditionally women’s work, and are hence of lower social status.

    2. Everyone at some point in their life has to deal with teachers. In the case of teachers, it’s often both as a student and as a parent. Therefore, everyone thinks they know what teachers do, even though they see less than half of it.

    Incidentally, it doesn’t help that every second kids’ TV show or movie pits (at least some of the) teachers as the villain. Kids are taught from a young age that at least some teachers are bad.

    3. Teaching and nursing are the only professions which are unionised. All other professions have a professional association, not a union. Yes, I know that there are good historical reasons for this, but you have to admit that it’s not a good look. Unions enforce an impression that their members are adversarial blue collar workers, even though teachers and nurses are actually professionals.

    These are not the only reasons why nursing and teaching have a deep perception problem, but I think these are the biggies.

  • Todd Anthony

    Ask any math or science teacher how much time they spend outside of school on homework grading, test grading, and lesson planning. Then ask an English literature teacher (who likely teaches essay writing, proper grammar, MLA guidelines, critical thinking, reading comprehension, vocabulary, public speaking, state test prep, and SAT test prep) how much time they spend on essay grading and test grading and planning.

    Then ask the math and science teacher how many scantron tests they give in a year. Ask the English teacher the same question.

    If teachers were going to truly be paid based on merit, then the amount of time put in throughout the school year must be considered. The best English literature teachers probably spend an average of at least 20 hours a week outside of school on planning and assessment. Of course, the best math and science teachers probably spend a respectable amount of time outside of school as well. The fact is, there is no fair way to quantify how much time any teacher spends outside of class and to therefore compensate them accordingly. However, the fact remains that most English teachers spend way more time than any other teacher and receive just as much money as other teachers who teach anything from AP Calculus to Physical Education.

    Because I am an English teacher, I am partial to this way of thinking. That being said, no teacher should get paid more than the other simply because of what he/she teaches. The message this would send to teachers, students and parents all around the country is that math and sciences are more important than the humanities. You would create unnecessary animosity between departments in schools everywhere. You would say these teachers are “better” than those teachers based on absolutely nothing to do with how well they actually teach their respective subjects.

    If the point of higher pay for math and science teachers is to make teaching a more marketable field for people who go into math and sciences in college and therefore attract more qualified individuals to become teachers, then I would say “hell yes!” But I would use this logic across the board. Of course better teachers would be the result of higher pay, but not because you would attract all of these super smart people who would have otherwise been brilliant in another field. The reason would be that you would attract more people to the teaching profession, some of whom would be smarter, harder working and willing to spend 60 hours a week to do a job that, yes they love, but also that they feel that they are being compensated for these extra hours.

    Nothing in teaching will ever change until ALL teachers are paid more. More oversight and better methods of assessing teachers is also an important part of this equation, but I bet if you start forking over more money for teachers’ salaries you’ll also be more willing to pay a little bit more to make sure they are all earning those extra dollars.

  • S. James Schaffer

    No. I didn’t learn much about Critical Thinking in my Math and Science classes.

  • El Beamer

    now you must be an actual educator, not to mention the so-called college education.

  • TCC

    If you’re going to be pedantic, the problem is capitalization, not punctuation. Personally, I suspect that the general lack of capitalization is a stylistic point, not an inability to understand their use. But great job trying to capitalize (pun oh-so-intended) on that as if it were relevant.

  • TCC

    Unfortunately, a lot of schools aren’t hiring new teachers with graduate degrees because they cost more. When you’re on a limited budget, you’re more likely to go with a candidate with a freshly-printed undergrad degree rather than a candidate with more education, as backwards as that seems.

  • El Beamer

    i know a fair amount of science and math teachers who “teach” from their desks…i’m an english teacher and i am on my feet 80% of the time (down from 90% from last year) and work a minimum of 60 hours (down from minimum 70 last year) per week…i only remain in the business because of the days off (out of the classroom), i still work on many weekends, holidays and summers at home, on the road or in the classroom…the pay if fairly sufficient, except for the fact that i owe 70k in student loans…next to social workers, i bet that we are the lowest paid with a required college degree…bottom line, i should have been a phys ed, shop, art or home ec teacher and i wouldn’t be typing this…that’s it, back to work.

  • TCC

    Your experience is your experience, but I very much suspect that it’s not representative. At any rate, it’s generally because of grading papers, which is often very time-consuming (especially when there’s a research component), that English teachers are thought to have “more work.” As with all generalizations, there are bound to be exceptions.

  • TCC

    And frankly – and I admit my own bias – I think the humanities (especially English and history, but not those exclusively) are far better suited to teaching about the components of critical thinking.

  • jk2001

    Arguably, business or “capitalism” overlooks the humanities, but I find that most STEM majors do not. They are doing something musical, artistic, or literary, but not for money. They simply often aren’t in an economic situation where they can afford to continue going to school beyond the BS, and the generally better pay, and low unemployment rate, for STEM jobs makes a difference to them and their families (and often their extended families). If you want to find a population of people who are the first or second person in their family to attend college, go find the STEM majors.

    The solution may not be to increase pay for STEM teachers. Perhaps the solution is to focus more resources in developing STEM education for poor kids. They already do it on their own – and often, simply throwing more money at people already doing what you want is a great way to increase participation even more.

  • Darrell Ross

    The reason there are not any openings is because schools don’t have enough money to hire enough teachers.

    Good classroom management does not mean you cannot discipline kids or send them to the school office for being unruly. You can remove disruptive students in schools which have enough money and staff to handle them.

    I did teach. For two and half years. I still tutor. I can teach. Agreed that not all math majors can teach. I did not make such a claim.

    Why bother going for HS certification when the salary is so low? You don’t need the certification to teach college level and the pay is better. Don’t need it for private schools either. Higher pay would make the certification less of an issue.

    In California, you can get an a substitute certification (which I had but never used) really easily. You can also get an emergency-certification and then work on certifying while you teach. At least that’s how it was when I finished school years ago.

  • Mark Dorn

    My statement, like yours, is based on experience. I’m not saying that all people who can do science can teach. I do believe, however, if pay were better, you could get better candidates. Obviously, most people in industry would have issues immediately becoming teachers; but the concept is that they would choose to major in education while at university, thus making them more equipped to handle a classroom.

    If your employment data were true (at least in all states), why are we having this conversation at all? Shouldn’t that say that there isn’t a problem?

    Under your argument, why pay teachers well at all? Shouldn’t they just be doing it because it’s their “calling”? Ignoring capitalistic motivation is naive.

    Your argument about turnover doesn’t make sense to me. I rarely had the same teacher from year to year; I don’t see how that holds.

    Where I work, different engineers get paid different amounts based on degree. HR compares everything to the market. I don’t see why it should be any different in an education setting.

  • Cortex_Returns

    Something that really concerns me about placing such a high priority on science and math classes is that it implies that the most important thing about education is turning children into good employees, not into good thinkers or good citizens.

    I had what was generally considered a fairly high-quality public secondary education, and now that I look back on it, we had plenty of advanced coursework opportunities in science, math, and even government. But no ETHICS at all. Seriously, how fucked-up is that? What are any of these skills worth if we aren’t teaching children to think about how to responsibly use them?

  • scott

    I had to take a dozen ridiculous exams and courses to become certified to teach in NYC public schools and one, only ONE, was at all remotely interesting and provided any challenge, the CST (Content Specialty Test). You learn so much more in the field or taking high level content courses in grad school or in preparing lesson plans than you do in any teacher certification course or exam.

  • PA_Year_of_the_Bible

    If teaching wasn’t an attractive profession (relative to other common occupations) there wouldn’t be a shortage of teaching positions except in the STEM subjects. Pennsylvania produces three times the number of teachers than it can hire. Try getting a non-STEM teaching position in PA unless you have connections. Fewer people go into science/math because….(ta-da!)…it’s HARD and BORING, and you can’t B.S. your way through it like you can in many other subjects. Teaching majors have the lowest SATs of any majors, especially elementary ed majors. Most Caucasian kids are too stupid or lazy to study STEM subjects. Asian kids, on the other hand, are willing to work hard and do the tough, boring stuff, and they deserve to be paid well for it, and they know that. So you won’t find many willing to be teachers. What irks me most is that teachers want to be immune from the dog-eat-dog capitalistic system that the rest of us (i.e. the teachers’ bosses—the taxpayers) must endure. Who else gets summers off? Who else gets almost-free health insurance? Who else, these days, gets a pension? And it’s not just the great teachers who get these perks, it’s the lousy or burnt-out ones too. But the unions want EVERYONE TREATED EQUALLY, and what that has produced is mediocrity. No, the answer is NOT to pay all teachers more. Want to get paid more? Do the really hard work that others don’t want to do. Earn it.

    And there we go with the allegations of sexism! Sexism around EVERY corner. The reality is that fewer women are INTERESTED in STEM professions. The subject matter isn’t warm and cuddly enough for most of them.

  • anniewhoo

    I think it is this way for HS teachers, though I’m not sure… it’s been many years since I was in college. Well trained and well-versed teachers in their subject matter is more common in HS and middle schools. I think the problem lies in elementary teachers (which is the level where I currently teach). I have met so many that are afraid of science, and teach math strictly from the text where they have a set of correct answers. Elementary teachers seem more comfortable getting creative and developing interesting curriculum for language arts, but many shy away from science. I think this is where we really need strong science teachers. Teachers that can get their students interested and excited about science at an early age.

  • Feminerd

    PA, if your only experience with math and science is that it’s hard and boring, I feel sorry for you. Science is fascinating stuff- I mean, it’s how the universe works! And math describes it all! As just one example, I cannot describe how super awesome it was to do the basic derivatives that describe the relationship between position, velocity, and acceleration and truly *get* it. Or create aspirin in a lab, or peer through a telescope and see the rings around Saturn, or …

    Science and math are hard, yeah, but so’s understanding people (psychology), how groups of people work (fluid dynamics and sociology), and how people set up societies (political science and sociology and economics). The annoying and hard part about all the “soft sciences” is they aren’t described by formulas- people are irrational in many ways and have odd ways of responding to incentives and environmental stimuli. In that regard, science and math are easier, because at least they’re predictable! And literature- oh man, the intricacies of language and how the author (who was thinking one thing) puts words to page that another person reads (who is thinking another thing) and still they communicate, even across time and culture. To understand literature is to understand how we communicate, which is extremely difficult.

    And then, to not only know these things, but teach them to someone else! That’s a whole nother skill set. Yes, teachers in this country aren’t trained nearly well enough. Getting a teaching certificate is too easy and doesn’t require nearly enough pedagogical training, and education majors need to also be trained in the subject they are going to teach. But teaching is also a difficult job that doesn’t have nearly as much time off as you seem to think and is paid only slightly better than receptionist.

    As for solutions. Don’t be mad that teachers still get pensions- demand them for everyone else! Don’t be mad that unions protect teachers from the evils of capitalism- demand union reform and more unions that protect more people! The height of the labor union in the US correlates with the height of middle class prosperity, and their declines parallel each other. We pay teachers poorly- if we want the best and brightest to become teachers, we need to pay them commensurate to their skill and ability. Being a bad teacher is easy, but being a good teacher is very hard, so pay people for what you want them to do and make it possible for them to do it, THEN fire those who can’t.

    And no, women aren’t less interested in STEM positions. They enter college at almost equal numbers to men in STEM fields, taken in aggregate. And then they drop out. Wanna know why? Because being one of two women in a 30 person lecture, and having every guy’s eye riveted on you waiting for you to fail, is not fun. Because every group project, no one wants the girl in their group. Because the professor makes sexist jokes, and everyone sniggers, and you can’t say anything because then you’re the poor widdle feminist who just needs to grow a thicker skin. Because when you want to go to a civil engineering project out in India, the professor pulls you aside to warn you to be careful because you might get raped and maybe you want to go somewhere else (yeah, thanks, didn’t already know that). I could go on and on … suffice it to say that all these things happened to relatives or friends, some of whom changed majors. Until our cultural milieu changes so that it’s not actively discouraging women from entering STEM fields, that argument is completely invalid.

    Finally, if you think political science or literature is warmer and cuddlier than math or science, think again. I read descriptions of atrocities that would make you vomit. I learned the effects of radiation, chemical and biological weapons, and land mines so that I knew why people have tried to limit their use. I studied war- not the pretty tactics and charts, but the gruesome things that happen on a battlefield when the plans happen. A nice, clean, scientific lab class would’ve been much nicer than that.

  • amycas

    Holy crap. Teachers do work summers. Have you ever been a close personal friend of a teacher? Is anybody in your family a teacher? My mom is a teacher, and she does work during the summer. She goes to mandatory conferences, and she has to structure her “free” time to plan out the next year. Not to mention the fact that during the school year she works about 10 hour days, 5 days a week. The rest of your comment stands, more or less, but that last sentence repulses me.

  • amycas

    “men are more analytical and logical (thus, math and science) and women
    are more intuitive and emotional (hence, English, arts, and humanities).”

    The funny part about this assumption was that I learned to use logic and analytical skills from studying humanities (music, history, literature and law). I didn’t have to apply critical thinking skills (not much anyway) to math and science until I was in college.

  • Puzzled

    As a math teacher, I think it’s a mistake to assume that better teachers = better education, let alone that better pay = better teachers. The problem with our math education is not the teachers, it’s everything else. The standards are bad (the common core are worse), the textbooks are bad, the basic philosophy the schools use is bad. Let’s work on that, then attract better teachers. Good teachers, regardless of the pay, burn out quickly in a bad system.

  • Puzzled

    A lot of people find math and science hard and boring because of the quality of math and science education (not teaching.)

  • Bryan Johnson

    If the English teachers at your college are having their students write for the majority of class time, they are awful English teachers.

  • Bryan Johnson

    This is actually a pretty big problem at colleges that have a standard freshman comp course. The course is supposed to teach students “how to write”, but there are so many different conventions and standards depending on the field that there really isn’t one proper “way to write”. So you have the 300-level history professors complaining that their students don’t understand how to format a history paper, you have the science professors complaining that the basic comp students can’t write a lab report, and you have lit teachers complaining that students’ papers are poorly researched and sound like book reports. Nobody wins.

  • Puzzled

    I’m less than concerned about losing to the teaching profession someone who is this interested in kicking kids out of class.

  • blackbeltatheist

    I love both of your suggestions. As a teacher, I’ve said for years that the problem in K-12 education lies in 13+. Many teacher education programs have become little more than diploma factories. The standards need to be more rigorous there to prevent bad teachers from getting into the profession. I also think that that might help the overall impression of the teaching profession.

  • Fish Jones

    My math teachers sucked. My science teachers were pretty fun.

    I would have dropped out and flunked without Orchestra class.

  • imppress

    I was a tutor during college. One of my students asked me “Why doesn’t the teacher teach it this way?”

    I saw starting salaries of teachers and went into computers because my science training made me a natural. Those poor sunsabitches put in a two year internship with an effing STIPEND before getting a teaching job.

    If English majors could be offered 50% more money starting outside the education field it’d be tough to land English teachers too. Teaching is a plum job for an English major. It’s what a science major settles for or a grand sacrifice a saintly math major makes.

    I would have been GREAT at teaching kids. I proved it in an environment where parents paid EXTRA for my services out of their own pocket.

    Public school said they’d pay me the same that an English major got. Unions, jack. It’s unions that say everybody gets the same regardless of supply and demand, market forces, or the effort required to get to where you were. I saw more than a handful of science majors switch majors to history or sociology. NEVER the opposite.

  • imppress

    “The message this would send to teachers, students and parents all around the country is that math and sciences are more important than the humanities. ”

    And why do so many seem to be wanting to convey that very message?

    Math and science ARE more important; just as air, water, and food are more important than sex.

    Without necessities the luxuries cannot be enjoyed. But without the luxury, there is nothing better to hope for. America strives to strengthen our capabilities to provide for necessities before they long for luxury. It is a symptom of a fearful, cautious people in a land where the remainder of our great exports are passenger jets, aerospace, microelectronic design, and blockbuster movies. This same country laments the loss of the family farm, the flagging of our auto industry, and feels in its gut that you should be able to buy a pair of tennis shoes made in America.

    Our nation’s art and frivolities sell very, very well, but we fear as our parents taught us… “Sure, be an artist, but have something to fall back on.”

  • imppress

    In my school district, Spec. Ed teachers are hard positions to fill and they are ALWAYS mentioned along with Math and Science for fields that should be considered for merit pay.

    If Math and Science teachers got 20% more than you, how does that hurt YOU? You don’t make LESS. Yet there’s this envy going on. It screw the whole country. They’re worth more. Deal with it. If we had a glut of math and science majors, it might be arts teachers getting the boost. Paying high demand students under-market salaries means you get the dregs that couldn’t land the better paying jobs (along with the saints that “hear the calling”)

  • MRASoldier

    Simple answer is No, but I have noticed Krauss of late has been spewing a lot of hate..wanting children to be taken away from religious people for example..maybe Krauss divorce is making him bitter and angry..good..

  • Rich Wilson

    No, he said that “religious indoctrination is akin to child abuse”.

  • MRASoldier

    and when real child abuse happens, what is the the usual outcome? The state takes away the may not agree with religion but you and Krauss have no right to tell people how to raise their kids, this country was founded on religious freedom. If people like him did get in power they would try to do the same thing the Soviets did(burn down churches,execute people of faith etc) and even then people kept their faith albeit underground but considering Krauss can’t keep his own family together he should worry about that instead of worrying about others people lives.

  • Rich Wilson

    I’m just correcting the accuracy of your quote for anyone else who reads this. I’ll leave you to your wild speculations about how atheists want to eat your babies.

    Although maybe I should also point out that Krauss has stated that certainly not all forms of “child abuse” are equal, and it was intentional rhetoric to bring attention to the issue.

    And the state does indeed intervene when people decide that prayer is a perfectly good way to treat diabetes.

    And of course the Soviets killed plenty of non-believers too. Except the babies. I hear they ate them.