Thoughts on Paying Teachers More

This is a guest post from Anonymous Teacher.

Obviously, as a teacher, I am biased, so take that into consideration as you read. However, I do think that I have had these views since before I was a teacher, so that might lend credibility to them…

I both agree and disagree with the owner of this blog. I definitely agree that it is a complex situation. Americans do have a tendency to throw money at the problem, whatever the problem is, and that has definitely been seen in education. As a teacher, I can attest to the fact that a lot of that money is either not used because it is earmarked for specific projects or expenses and can’t be used for more useful things, or it is used on supplies which are great… and end up sitting in a supply closet for years and years because there isn’t anyone to pass them out or because teachers don’t know how to use them/don’t have time to use them.

However.

Intelligent people don’t go into teaching. Obviously, there are exceptions (I would like to think of myself as one of these exceptions!) but as a rule, teachers are not the smartest, not the best, not the cream of the crop. In fact, because I did so well in school, people were surprised to hear that I was going into teaching. Why? People who are competent and intelligent don’t want to take a job that pays so poorly and where they will be treated badly. Why would they? Paying teachers more would draw good people in—people who have not seriously considered teaching because they can earn more elsewhere—and possibly get a little bit of respect in the process. Teachers are not in the profession for the money, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be paid better, especially considering what a difficult and important job it is.

One of the comments talked about how much teachers spend out of their own bank accounts. This is another reason, in my opinion, that teachers should be paid more. One year I spent $5000 of my own money. Five thousand. Not including mandatory union dues. Not including the massages that were necessary for me to keep going to work every day because the environment was so difficult. That was the most I have spent, but that is only because I learned to beg for things.

When you are a new teacher, you receive basic supplies. Usually enough pencils for about two weeks, crayons and paint for every other student, paper, a few dry erase markers, three rolls of Scotch tape… you get the idea. Depending upon your school/secretary/administrator, you might get more pencils when you need them or you might be told that you should have the kids not go through pencils so quickly. Now, I only worked in the ghetto, but my friends who worked in other schools had similar experiences. Other things that are needed but not considered necessary by the administration were up to the teachers: permanent markers, labels, file folders, scissors, stickers, any bulletin board or wall decorations/materials, flash cards, games, art paper… you get the idea. Most teachers I know spent between $250-$600 before school started just to set up their classroom.

The first year I taught, I asked the secretary where I could get scissors—either student or adult. She told me—with a straight face—that I bought them. I thought she was joking, but no. Scissors weren’t considered a classroom supply that was necessary. More well to do districts often have a teacher spending fund—I think it’s usually about $250 a year, nowhere near what is needed—usually provided by the PTA.

Another issue in teacher pay is the amount of hours worked. On our timesheets, we were supposed to put 30 hours per week, as the kids are in school (not counting recess) for 6 hours per day. Well, even the worst teacher in the world has to spend time doing lesson plans, buying supplies, and grading papers, not to mention sweeping and mopping the classroom since that is not usually taken care of. I used to put down my actual hours—not that it would matter—and was reprimanded for it. If you figure out teachers’ wages on an actual per-hour basis, it is pretty pathetic.

Putting the fairness issue aside, though, I come back to the fact that I think higher salaries would attract better people. We shouldn’t expect teachers to be missionaries, letting their families go without so that they can continue in a job that they think is worthwhile.

I would like to live in a world where people are not judged by their “net worth” or how much they make, but we don’t, and until teachers are paid better, I think it will continue to be a profession that is seen as a fallback career for people who can’t get better paying jobs.

One Reply to “Thoughts on Paying Teachers More”

  1. Given the confusion of responses to my post talking about the increased teacher wages in the charter school experiment, I think I need to clarify my point of view, because I don’t want people to come away thinking that I don’t think we should pay teachers higher salaries.

    Teachers need to make more money. This is extremely, painfully obvious. Teaching is an incredibly valuable and important profession, and the pittances that we pay our teachers are nothing less than shameful and pathetic. And this author is absolutely right (as was Brendan earlier) when she says that more intelligent people would be attracted to the profession if they knew that they could make a living at it.

    My issue with the article about the charter school was that I thought the teacher salaries were a bit unbalanced; while I think that teachers should make more money, I also think that you need to balance basic needs. And, yes, I do think there is such a thing as excessive salary. Given how much of the population lives below the poverty line, I think you can see why the thought of using state funds to fund a few ludicrously high salaries would make me uneasy.

    The solution of just raising salaries ignores problems like supplies, which teachers should not be paying for out of their own pockets, and basic maintenance issues. In the Times article, they were talking about a brand new school, so this wasn’t as much of an issue, but in schools in other areas, there are serious structural problems that are not being addressed…and the teachers are also being underpaid. I want to see enough money going to education that teachers can be well compensated for their work, making it into an honorable and appealing profession, and to make sure that all the toilets in the school are functional. Anyone who has read Savage Inequalities will know what I’m talking about.

    I was also a bit depressed by the thought that a lucky few teachers would be getting insanely high salaries, while other teachers in the district would continue being paid a pittance. That would cause some resentment, I imagine. I think also that there is a fundamental imbalance between teachers and administrators, which they actually were addressing in the charter school article by paying the administrator less than the teacher.

    It’s just a fundamentally broken system, and the point I was making with the charter school post was that raising teacher salaries (which needs to be done!) is not going to be the instant fix people seem to think it is. And that there needs to be some sort of reasonable cap for starting salaries; a teacher should be able to afford a decent house in a comfortable neighborhood with his or her salary, but a private jet isn’t necessary. And maybe I’m mistaken; maybe I shouldn’t be forcing my lifestyle judgments onto my conception of a reasonable salary. But as long as people don’t have universal health care, I’m sticking with the idea that government funds should be used to establish comfortable, reasonable salaries. Not stratospheric ones. If you can fund health care for every American and buy every teacher a jet, fine.

    And I also stand firmly behind the fact that students who have awful home lives cannot succeed in school, and that if we really want to see change, we need to working from the ground up, making children a valued resource rather than throwaway garbage. Children should not have to live in places where people are getting shot all the time. They should have access to health care. They should know that they are valued. They should not be homeless, except by choice. If they end up in foster care, they should end up in stable, healthy, happy environments. You can pay teachers a million dollars a year, and it won’t matter if their students leave school every day and enter hell.

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