Tag Archives: Chris Lehman

The Choice to be in the Middle Class

Recently I came across a thought provoking blog post written by Chris Lehman, the principal of the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, entitled “Making Teachers Rich”.  The article deals with the hot-button issue of merit pay for educators and the notion among education reformers that higher pay for the best teachers  is a key to attracting the best teachers to the profession.  Lehman begins by reflecting on a statement by Jason Kamras, the Washington, DC district’s chief of human capital, who says, “We want to make teachers rich”.  Lehmen then says,

“We shouldn’t.

Economically, teaching should be a wonderfully middle-class career.

You should be able to buy a house in the district you teach in.

You should be able to afford to send your own children to college.

You should be able to teach for a career and then retire with a pension.

You should not feel like teaching is unsustainable economically.

I don’t think teachers should aspire to riches, and I worry that someone who is running the Human Resource department of a major urban district would think we should.”

Lehman continues,

“To me, that speaks to so much that is wrong in our country. Right now we have a disappearing middle-class… and those of us left in the middle class are made to feel that our grip on it is tenuous at best. I worry this creates a dichotomy where there is only “rich” and “poor” – and that is no good for our country. I make more money as a high school principal than I ever thought I would when I went into education…. and I make about 125% what a teacher at the top of the pay scale in Philly makes. That should be enough. What bothers me is that making a teacher’s salary (or even a principal’s salary) doesn’t feel secure. I don’t know how I’m going to pay for Jakob and Theo’s college… and I worry a lot that the pension and social security that should take care of me when I’m retired won’t be there. I worry that the house my wife and I bought could lose value – although Philly has held value much better than most places in the country. Dealing with those issues as a society would go a long way toward making teachers feel much more financially secure than a raise based on test scores ever could.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be economically secure. But thinking that we are going to somehow find the “best” teachers and make them rich is to set teachers off on a chase for something that makes the kids a mere means to an end that we shouldn’t be chasing in the first place.

Let’s make teachers feel secure economically. Let’s make sure there’s a middle class for them to belong to. Let’s make a life of service honorable and secure. But let’s not forget that service doesn’t have to — and probably shouldn’t — “make you rich.”

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As a retired pastor and as a teacher, I agree with Lehman completely; and I can’t help noticing that a parallel controversy is happening in the United Methodist Church.  Greed has infiltrated both systems. In the church we think that we will attract bright young people to seek a career in the ministry if we dangle the prospect of a high salary. We try to recruit the brightest and the best young adults to be the future leaders of our congregations.

Somehow, the United Methodist Church has forgotten that Jesus did not seek out and call the best and the brightest folks to be his disciples. He chose rugged fishermen, a despised tax collector, and other ordinary people to be the leaders of his movement.  Jesus did NOT promise  his followers wealth, fame, or adulation.   In fact, he told them right up front that he was headed down a difficult road that would culminate in a cross. As we seek to develop a “culture of call” I am concerned that I am hearing recruiting pitches and I am NOT hearing preaching that asks young adults to “deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Jesus.”

I don’t think we should become a denomination anchored by mega-churches.  I believe we should adopt a new vision of recreating the middle class in the United States, and CREATING a middle class in areas of extreme poverty.  Historically, the Wesleyan movement is credited with preventing a bloody revolution of the poor in England.  Methodists cared for the poor, set up schools, and reformed the nation through their emphasis on spreading scriptural holiness throughout the land.  That is a worthy mission for us now in the 21st century as well.

Instead of enticing young men and women to enter the ministry with a promise of wealth and super-stardom, I believe we should be planning to work toward the restoration of the MIDDLE class.  It will take hard work,  personal sacrifice,  and a lofty vision of staying contentedly in the ordinary middle to make it happen. I believe my petition to General Conference on creating a More Equitable Salary may be a step in the right direction.

Do you agree? Or do we need to appeal to greed  and ambition in order to become a healthy church?

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