I want to preface this particular article by admitting that I love my job. I love the 180 days that I am in the classroom more than I should. I love my students and my co-workers and the fact that every day I get to make a difference. I am not a teacher that pretends not to separate myself from my profession during the summertime, either. I think every professional should have a summer break. I think it is the one of the few perks of the profession that keeps me sane and excited about what I do. I go to the pool; I enjoy going on road trips; I go to afternoon movies…I am sure to get every major holiday to myself. Teaching has its benefits.
This post is not an attempt to suggest that my profession is more difficult than your profession. Teachers shape the future, but corporate employees lead the present. That is a challenge all on its own. After sharing stories from my high school students moments, my friends almost always admit that they work with the same bullies, jocks, and mean girls from high school. Some people never grow up.
This post is about the ugly truth about my beautiful job. The truth is that many teachers cannot afford to teach. Many teachers take on two or three other positions to fill in the gaps that a teacher salary cannot fill. So many of my friends do not have the luxury of having a savings account, as every dime that they make goes to living expenses and a cold beer on the weekends. And trust me, that cold beer is just as necessary as a safe apartment.
There is a problem with a profession when “The average salary for public school teachers in 2011–12 was $56,643 in current dollars (i.e., dollars that are not adjusted for inflation). In constant (i.e., inflation-adjusted) dollars, the average salary was about 1 percent higher in 2011–12 than in 1990–91.”
So…that’s a 1 percent pay increase since I started my days at Davis Elementary School…over twenty years ago. Let me be clear about this statistic…$56,643 is the average salary and not the median salary. Most public school teachers make under $45,000, especially when, over the last seven years, step increases have been frozen. In my county, teachers are not eligible for a pay increase until year six, which is about a $2000 increase. However, most teachers don’t make it to year six.
It is a beautiful business model, really. Recruit the excited teachers right out of college and pay them the lowest possible salary; work them until they burn out; the new teachers quit; recruit new teachers to replace them. One of my colleagues admitted “I am tired of working for a company that blatantly ignores its employees…they can hire 2.5 of us for every (experienced teacher). Treat us (poorly) and get us to leave, and within fifteen years, no teacher has a salary over $60k.”
If teachers are simply education’s copy paper, why not purchase the cheapest reams instead of using card stock–right?
What if, and I’m just throwing out ideas here, teachers, not students, are education’s product? Would teachers be compensated differently if we started placing more value on having experienced teachers in the classroom? What if we started to realize that attracting more people from all walks of life to the profession could create a better education system? What if, instead of scoffing at a young man who wants to become a teacher, we celebrate it just as much as we celebrate his desire to become a doctor? Why is it that we celebrate a man’s decision to enter ANY other profession other than education? The answer? Money.
According to recent statistics, about seventy six percent of public school educators are female and forty four percent of teachers are under the age of forty. In my own high school, we’ve had our fair share of men decide not to sign their contracts, and a few of them begin to search for other options.
If you care at all about the future of education, this should make you just as sad as it makes me. Our students are losing our male teachers. ALL male teachers. Education week just published an article asking “where are the black male teachers?” and explored how truly valuable our black male teachers are…all male teachers for that matter. Young boys need to see that young men can be successful, smart, ethical, and caring. Young boys need to have someone to look up to, but unfortunately, we will not have these men for long.
|Where are these guys going? Toward the money.|
I decided to ask my male colleagues their opinions about fair compensation.
“If I was making $55,000, I wouldn’t have to look, but I won’t make that for another 8 years…assuming that the county re-implements step increases.”
Without the slightest hint of exaggeration, my male colleague who has been teaching for six years admitted that a $10,000 increase in pay would be enough for him to stay. It may be enough for him to support his growing family and allow their wives to stay at home to care for their children. These men “strip (their) budget down literally to bare bones and (they are) still $300 short a month,” to afford to support their families.
Another male colleague suggested that teaching has become a “dead end job.” In fact, his reasons for beginning to consider other options are simply “financial and…lack of upward mobility,” as his salary has “been stuck at the same (actually lower) salary since (he) earned his masters and converted (his) certification.”
Where are the black male teachers? They are looking (quite wisely) for jobs to support their families. Where are male teachers in general? Burning out slowly.
I believe it is a widely accepted truth that teachers are overworked and grossly underpaid. Long gone are the days of keeping teachers for thirty years (unless, like me, you are able to afford to teach). At some point, educational leadership has to stop resting on the fact that there are plenty of certified teachers for every teaching position and start taking care of the employees that add value to the district. I do not have the answers, but I can identify the problem. We must stop insisting that our students are our product and that we can improve education if we improve their test scores. Instead, leaders must start to admit that if there is a greater investment in our educators, there will be a better return overall.
After all, education is not just about the scores. There was never a standardized test that shaped the woman I am today. There were, however, wonderful, talented, and caring teachers that taught me things that books could not.