The title of this blog relates to a problem common to many professional occupations. How do you translate your experience and ability into added value for the customer?
My friend Dave Cloniger runs a charter fishing company in Seldovia Alaska—the secret gem of the Kenai Peninsula. Dave takes his clients fishing for Alaskan halibut—flatfish ranging from 40-500 pounds. As part of the package, Dave fillets any fish his customers catch, flash freezes them and ships the fish home. It's a great adventure and a great value.
Sometimes people not fishing with Dave will bring in a big halibut. Faced with the daunting task of filleting a giant fish, they often ask Dave to cut their fish—which he gladly does for $20. What always freaks out the customers is that Dave can fillet a 100-pound halibut in about 2 minutes. Sometimes, after seeing the ease with which he can break down the giant fish, customers calculate the hourly rate and balk at the price.
That's when Dave smiles slyly and tells them, "You're not paying for my time—your'e paying for my skill."
I wish teachers were paid, at least partly, like Dave. Dave isn't concerned about inputs. He doesn't have a special halibut carving certificate. He isn't a member in a union that legislates knife sharpeners and lobbies for liberal causes. He just cuts fish like Michelangelo cut marble.
As Ben Degrow points out, there is well-designed research that teachers, at least when they bargain collectively, want compensation tied to inputs—things like education, certification, experience, etc. They fiercely resist tying payment to outputs like students performance, school improvement, and performance evaluation. Don't even get me started on job security. If teachers' unions ran the fishing business, Dave's 20 year's experience would entitle him to hang around the harbor jigging for flounders off the jetty. Instead, Dave has to compete for his clients by delivering great value season after season.
Many teachers agree with Dave that pay should reflect excellence. Those teachers seem to gravitate toward charter schools where their skills are valued. May their tribe increase.