Sure, there are great natural teachers who do amazing things despite mediocre salaries, piles of administrative trivia driven by legislatures and/or fears of litigation, and the broad popular belief that teaching is easy and that therefore everyone and their dog is entitled to second-guess what happens in the classroom. And sure, there are also brilliant, driven students who can get into Harvard despite a lifetime of homelessness. …
But, exceptions aside, good teaching is something that people can be trained to do-–or at least trained to be better at. It *is* a profession, after all, much like medicine. And good students, too, can be trained: that’s the entire fucking point of education, after all.
Now, that doesn’t mean that you can treat teachers like widgets and just “train” them in lieu of providing professional salaries. Or that any old teacher in front of any old student can do the kind of excellent job that we want every student to have access to. If you want people to adhere to professional standards, you need to pay them like professionals. And one important reason for that is that maintaining professional standards actually *does* cost money. Not just at the level of “the system,” either.
If the job is easy enough that people who are half burned out and/or not really paying attention can “go through the motions” and do it “well enough,” then fine; pay $40k/year. Your employees will be average, won’t be able to pay for ongoing training, won’t be able to take vacations very often to recharge, and won’t be willing or able to take their work home to a reasonably-appointed office space, since they won’t be able to afford the childcare, rent, equipment, or mortgages that make working at home possible. They won’t be able to afford the “networking” opportunities that keep them in touch with other professionals, who can alert them to new and interesting developments in various fields that can be brought into the classroom as examples, opportunities, or curricula (including field trips). They won’t be able to afford to provide students with the things that rich parents can afford to provide their children: educational games, toys and software; the ability to “try out” new, unfamiliar hobbies; the ability to experiment (which sometimes involves breaking or wasting materials) without being punished. They won’t be able to afford the “down time” that lets them come back every day and juggle not only the day’s curriculum, but all the emotional and psychological events that come up in any group of 20-40 (or more) young people every single day.
And yes, if they are bright, ambitious, and creative enough to be able to command six-figure salaries in other professions, they are unlikely to stick around teaching for more than a couple years because (1) teaching well actually is really hard work; and (2) we do, as a society, measure status in large part by income and lifestyle, and few bright, ambitious people really are going to feel happy for long living and being treated “lower” than their intellectual peers.