I first ran into the question of paying faculty based on the subject they taught some years ago during an industry advisory meeting for a university computer science department. We were discussing the issue of recruiting and retaining computer science faculty when there were (and still are) many opportunities for them to make more money in industry. It was explained that they administration’s position was that faculty all had the same job – teaching – and that all people doing the same job at the same level should be paid the same. It was seen as an issue of fairness.
Well that is the sort of thinking that causes people in industry to use terms like “ivory tower.” And “great in theory but not in practice.” But there is clearly some validity in that way of thinking as a matter of principle if not practicality.
The basic argument in favor of paying some teachers more is that they could make more money outside of teaching than as teachers. There is clearly some validity to that. After teaching for a number of years I returned to industry and made a lot more money (while it lasted) in industry. Of course I lacked something in job security as well. There are trade offs either way. I would argue that there are some strong reasons other than money to teach. (Anyone want to hire me to teach? I miss it.)
That being said I think there are other ways we could help attract and retain computer science teachers besides salary. Yes, they may cost money but not as much money and they have added value in making people better teachers. A couple of recommendations.
Pay for more professional development – It is very frustrating for people in computer science not to be able to keep up with the latest developments. Send teachers to the annual CSTA Conference, or SIGCSE, or other regional professional development opportunities. Take a look at the CS4HS programs. Or the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing! It will pay off in increased teacher satisfaction, increased knowledge and increased opportunities for collaboration between teachers.
Keep the computer labs up-to-date – I’ve seen schools where the top of the line state of the art computers go to administrators who use them only for email, Office apps, and playing background music while computer science labs get the hand me downs. That’s not right people! You want to prepare students well and support teachers with the latest hardware and software. It doesn’t cost what it used to BTW. Take advantage of programs like Microsoft’s DreamSpark for example!
Treat Your CS Educators as professionals – For Pete sake if your computer science teachers don’t have administrative privileges on their own systems fire you tech support people! Harsh? Perhaps. But either your CS teacher comes in knowing enough to be trusted with privileges or your tech support department has an obligation to teach them what they need to know. Nothing kills motivation like being treated like a child who can’t be trusted with grown up responsibilities. Can you imagine your gym teacher being told “you can use the gym as long as you stay away from the basketball hoops because you can’t be trusted with them.” Or your English teacher being told they can use the library as long as they don’t touch the books?
Understand that tech support and teaching are different jobs – In a lot of schools, especially small ones, some teacher is the tech support person as well. Sometimes they are technically half time one and half time the other. This seldom works well. Generally it means that teaching suffers while they spend much more than 50% of their time doing tech support. Teachers in other field tend to think nothing of interrupting a computer teacher to ask them to fix their computer “right now” so they can teach what they want. Inexcusable! But it happens all the time. If you need to do something like this make sure the guidelines are firm that teaching time is sacrosanct. And think about paying them more than 100% because they will be working more than 100%.
Fix Your Guidance Department – Bring up guidance in any group of computer science teachers and you are bound to hear some horror stories. Two things are typical. One is good students being chased away from computer science. Either it is “take 3 or more years of a language or you will never get into a good college” or its '”don’t take computer science as there are no jobs there.” Neither claim is true but both are repeated time and again. At the same time guidance often seems to use computer science as a dumping ground for students who don’t fit anywhere else in the schedule. There is little worse than a student who doesn’t want to be in a course that guidance has already explained “doesn’t count” for much. Guidance departments should be looking for good students who could benefit from a solid computer science course.
As I see it, the issue is one of respect and support. At one school I taught at we talked about people being “known, valued and treasured.” Understand, value and treasure your computer science teachers. Support them with more than just a pay check and the attraction and retention problem will largely take care of itself.