Tradeoffs – Or: Exhibit A on Why We Should Pay Teachers More

Excerpt from a conversation with a coworker here at NASA Dryden, in my personal opinion one of the smartest people we have. Note that he knows I’m considering a career opportunity, but he doesn’t know at this point what it is. I presume the assumption is that I am going for another engineering-related position.

So, two rocket scientists were walking down the tarmac…

Me: Yeah, I’m still thinking about it. It’s a tradeoff. I really believe in the mission of the organization, but I just want to make sure I’m not doing something stupid. It would be a lot less pay, and I don’t know what to do about the house and all my stuff. It’s a lot to give up.

Coworker: I say go for it, if you think you can do it. That kind of passion for something greater, that’s worth so much more. Like, one time, I was thinking about teaching you know? Math. I would love that. I know I could help students learn to love it like I do.

Me: Why didn’t you?

Coworker: I have to support my parents now. There’s no way. Even if I didn’t have that, you know, it would be nice to support a family. I had this one math teacher… made Calc fun and understandable. I wish I could do that. But yeah, there’s no way. I could go into engineering which is so much more secure, so yeah, it made no sense to go teach.

So… yeah. Do we need to pay our teachers like rocket scientists? Maybe, maybe not. The better question is: what would a rocket scientist teaching and mentoring your kids every day for a school year be worth to you?

I’m single, debt-free, and without dependents; futhermore, I have the academic qualifications and work experience to return to engineering if teaching really doesnt work out. Though I would be giving up a lot to do this, I can actually seriously consider it without having to make these kinds of tradeoffs. Should highly qualified people who want to teach have to pit their desire to make a difference against the material security of their families?

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