Teacher pay is a big issue beyond IPS, education leaders say

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

Indianapolis Public Schools isn’t the only place pay hikes for teachers are under discussion as a key strategy for keeping teachers in the classroom.

“Obviously work conditions need to be right, school culture needs to be right,” charter school founder Earl Phalen said at a Mind Trust-sponsored panel discussion last Thursday. “But we need pay more, and it’s really that simple. And I don’t think we necessarily need more dollars to do it. I think we need to restructure how we’re using dollars.”

IPS made headlines last week by agreeing to a new union contract that not only raises teacher pay for the first time in five years but boosted pay significantly for new teachers and those at mid-career. The contract even offered big stipends for teachers who play leadership roles, such as mentoring other teachers, of up to $18,300.

But at both the Mind Trust discussion and a separate event sponsored by the West Side Chamber of Commerce on Friday, school leaders from townships and charter schools said teacher pay is a critical challenge for them also.

“I think all of us are looking at (teacher pay),” said Nathaniel Jones, superintendent of Pike Township schools. “But one of the things that we decided to do was look at lifetime earnings of teachers. How do we make sure that if this teacher stays in this profession and retire that we have found a way for them to get a halfway decent pension?”

In the wake of media reports in recent weeks suggesting fewer applicants for some teaching jobs, both discussions were centered on questions of how to both attract and retain good teachers in local schools.

Teachers in traditional public schools, universities and charter schools uniformly voiced a strong desire for higher pay for classroom teachers generally at the Mind Trust Event.

Phalen, the founder of the Phalen Leadership Academy charter school who is now partnering with IPS to manage School 103 independent from district oversight, said getting good teachers isn’t complicated: pay them more, and do it now.

But teacher performance also has to factor into compensation, Phalen said.

Teachers should be paid more, he said, but not if they aren’t doing their jobs well. Phalen was critical of educators in many consistently struggling schools.

“I think the teachers and administrators in those schools should be sued for educational neglect,” Phalen said. “I want to pay teachers more, but if you are not doing the job for our kids, I want you out the door. We don’t have a year to waste.”

Better pay for teachers who consistently perform well should extend up to those with long track records, not just new teachers, said Indiana State Teachers Association President Teresa Meredith, who was also on The Mind Trust panel.

“We’re doing better on the entry piece, but it’s as they add years of experience, then it becomes a problem,” Meredith said. “Pay is a huge issue and we’ve got to talk about it.”

Even though there is strong demand for some open jobs — Wayne Township Superintendent Jeff Butts said at the Chamber of Commerce event that he can get as many as 150 applicants for an elementary school classroom teacher opening — finding specialists good at teaching high school math, science and foreign language is tougher.

Decatur Township Superintendent Matt Prusiecki said he’s also found it more difficult to get as many strong applicants for open jobs.

“I would argue there are plenty of candidates in our district,” Prusiecki said. “The quality of those candidates, in my opinion, has dropped in terms of being prepared for what we are asking them to do.”

Some school leaders blamed gaps in preparation for new teachers coming out of college on some alternative training programs. The teachers don’t have enough classroom experience, they said, so they rely too heavily on their subject area knowledge.

“We don’t have teachers who are ineffective because they don’t know the content knowledge,” Butts said. “We have teachers who are ineffective because they cannot manage the classroom and inspire others to learn.”

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”