This article was written by Adam Hatch - UC Berkeley graduate, son of a teacher, brother of a teacher, and a teacher himself. Adam started a unique English school in Taipei, Taiwan, where kids learn to research and write articles in English. The articles are published on the first ever English newspaper written by kids in Taiwan, called the Taipei Teen Tribune.
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When it comes to pay, teachers make very little, even if they actually “make” more than just about everyone else. That needs to change. The teaching profession faces a gamut of myths and untruths, especially about their pay, that help to keep many wonderful and deserving teachers in a perpetual state of barely scraping by. Here are the most important reasons why it’s time to pay teachers more:
1. Teachers actually do work over the summer
One of the most enduring myths about teachers is that they get summers off. While a minority of teachers are lucky enough to take the summer months off, the majority of teachers spend the summer working. This could be because they are working on lesson plans, professional development, teaching summer school, or even taking second jobs for the summer season. The pay is simply too low for teachers to kick back June through August.
One solution to this problem is to extend the school year and pay teachers accordingly. The institution of long summer vacations is both archaic and silly, and it is ultimately hurting American students. Perhaps if the United States had year-round schooling like other industrialized nations, the myth of summer vacation for teachers would disappear and teachers could have an actual conversation about salaries.
2. American teachers are underpaid compared to other developed countries
It doesn’t get any more clear - other countries pay teachers better than the United States does, even though American teachers are some of the hardest working in the world. It makes sense that if we want our students, and our future, to be on par with that of other developed nations, we should support the educators who are tasked with making that happen.
If we raised American teacher salaries to match even just the OECD average, the education system would better be able to retain and attract strong teachers. Many people are willing to argue that CEOs need massive salaries and bonuses to attract the best and brightest, so you’d think that same logic would apply to the people we select to educate the future.
3. Teachers do more work than at first glance
For some reason there is an assumption that teaching is simply what happens while a teacher is up in front of a class. This, obviously, is categorically untrue. Teachers do a tremendous amount of work beyond basic instruction - think lesson planning, professional development, parent-teacher meetings, correspondence with administrators and parents, grading assignments, making copies, and other class prep. And the list goes on.
Furthermore, teachers are more likely to take work home with them than other professions. Grading at home is common, as is responding to emails from parents and principals. So while school might be out at 3PM for students, rest assured that teachers are working day and night beyond what kids see in the classroom.
4. Teachers are being forced to pay for their own supplies
Teachers, on average, spend $500 a year on school supplies for their classes. Considering the low pay most teachers are saddled with, this becomes a serious financial burden, and one that should be borne by schools and districts, and by extension, local, state, and federal funds. However, due to cuts made during the 2008-09 recession that have never been reversed, teachers are using their own money to ensure students are getting the educations they deserve.
5. Teaching is stressful
Bored Teachers is full of jokes and memes about how stressed teachers are, but just because teachers have a sense of humor about the situation doesn’t mean they are taking it lightly. Teachers are so stressed out that between 40 and 50 percent of all new teachers quit within five years. Classes are too full, hours are too long, extracurricular work is too common, and, again, pay is too low.
As a matter of fact, teaching is the 4th most stressful job in America. 4th may not sound bad, that is until you see that the only jobs more stressful are police officer, deployed military personnel, and working parents - meaning many teachers are doubly stressed! So when you hear a teacher say they’re stressed, even if they are positive and upbeat about it, know that they are not joking. Not even a little bit.
6. Teachers are under attack
This is not hyperbole - the teaching profession is constantly having to defend itself from callous politicians, uninformed parents, and broad stereotyping. Real wages have actually fallen for teachers in recent years. Teachers face social, economic, and political negativity constantly, and if that wasn’t enough, they are also blamed for falling scores and worsening student performance, even though they are the most important line of defense against these trends.
So, not only are teachers facing undue criticism from all sides, but they are starkly underpaid while doing so. Combine the stress, the overwork, and attacks with low salaries, and you can see that only the stoutest of souls, and only those who truly love educating, are capable of being teachers. It is truly an elite field.
7. Teachers care about your kids, and your kids care about them
My brother is a kindergarten teacher - rare job for a man, and not an easy one - and at every round of parent-teacher meetings one parent will tell him that their student has asked if they can bring their teacher home to live with them. My mother, a career high school teacher, has acted as counselor, advisor, and shoulder to cry on for dozens of students over the years. And every teacher reading this has similar stories.
Their responsibilities go beyond drilling information into the heads of students - these teachers are integral parts of the lives of their students, as well as their larger communities. And while no one becomes a teacher because they want to become rich, we have a responsibility as voters and citizens to alleviate some of the difficulties of being a teacher in America, or at the very least pay them enough to match the value of their work. The time has come to raise pay for teachers to a level commensurate with their herculean efforts.