On Jan. 27 I read the Albuquerque Journal Editorial Board’s piece on rewarding New Mexico teachers while attending the N.M. High School Congressional Debate State Championship. Here I was among 40 other educators giving up 12 hours of their Saturday to give students the opportunity to research, write, speak and debate against the top students from across the state. I appreciated the fact that the Editorial Board put out a call for alternatives to teacher bonuses based on students’ test scores. As I looked around the room of these dedicated educators sacrificing their weekend, some ideas crossed my mind.
One of the flaws of the NMTEACH Educator Effectiveness System is that it assumes teaching only happens in core academic subjects between the normal school hours, weekdays between 8 a.m.-3 p.m. But when a student participates in an extra-curricular activity, they are exercising academic skills before school, after school and on weekends. Because it’s the activity I know, I will use speech and debate as a model; however, it should be noted there are dozens of other equally enriching activities available to students in New Mexico.
Let’s compare the rigors of participating in speech and debate to a standard class. In your usual English class, students may have six hours of class time, with an additional two hours of homework per week. A typical speech and debate competitor spends an average of 12 hours per weekend reading primary source material, writing dozens of speeches, and debating against students from other schools. The 12-hour average comes from most tournaments actually taking 25 hours but periodically there may be a competition-free weekend. A speech and debate coach could have an additional 60 students they work with, in addition to their regular class load. Those 60 students are extending their researching and writing skills, probably even more rigorously than they do in their English classes. Yet, the sponsors of speech and debate are not evaluated on the academic progress of those students.
The most significant struggle facing the activity of speech and debate is finding teachers willing to serve as sponsors. Given the incredible time commitment, it’s not difficult to see why. Having coached this activity since 2002, spending hundreds of extra weekend hours every year, winning dozens of state and national titles, and securing the 2020 National Speech and Debate Tournament to be hosted here in Albuquerque, I’ve never made more than a $1,200 per year stipend for sponsoring the activity. Obviously, money is not the reason any of us go into speech and debate coaching. We’re in it for the transformative experience it provides our students. But if we’re brainstorming possibilities for compensating excellent teachers, let’s consider our extra-curricular sponsors for a moment.
Districts and principals always find themselves operating within tight budgets. Finding ways to better compensate the sponsors of extra-curricular activities is almost never a priority. However, the New Mexico Public Education Department, focusing on reform and innovation, could designate compensation for those teachers going above and beyond their everyday teaching duties. There may even be ways to utilize the current NMTEACH framework. Domain Four requires teachers to demonstrate a commitment to professionalism, collaboration and school culture outside the classroom. If a teacher is demonstrating extraordinary commitment by sponsoring an extra-curricular activity, extra compensation via Domain Four may be an intriguing option. Especially as performing arts electives continue to be cut from our schools, activities outside the classroom are more important than ever.
In our conversations about improving education, let’s not forget about all the factors that contribute to a student’s success outside the normal classroom setting. Student test scores have a role to play in that conversation, but so do the extracurricular activities that are directly impacting those scores. The music teachers, the M.E.S.A. sponsors, the speech and debate coaches, and the hundreds of other professionals giving their time and talents to make sure New Mexico students are achieving their best deserve to be at the center of any and all conversations about education reform.