Most teachers love their jobs. They love working with young people and molding them into what they are to become. Teachers are some of the most trusted and admired professionals in any community. When I think about the best teachers that I had growing up I can use the following descriptors to describe them: hardworkers, dedicated, caring, honest, respected, and intelligent. However, in recent years, teachers are fleeing the profession and the ability to move to a new job with better pay is certainly a factor. In order to better understand the wage gap facing teachers it is important to look at who teachers are and to compare them to others with similar training and importance to our society.
Teachers are Trustworthy
If you look at any poll (www.gallup.com/poll/1654/honesty-ethics-professions.aspx) referencing the most trustworthy, honest, or ethical professions in the United States the results that are typically at the top include nurses, police officers, and, of course, teachers. Not surprisingly each of these professions necessitates a high amount of trust, we wouldn’t want to trust our medical information with a dishonest person, we also trust our nurses to act in our best interests. We trust that they have the necessary training and skills to perform the job, in reality most people don’t go into the Emergency Room and think twice about the nurse who is treating them. Society also seems to expect the same level of honesty from police officers, in spite of the bad press that they have been getting as of late, the country as a whole trusts our neighborhood police officer to be trustworthy. Again, no surprise here, these are the people who uphold the law and ensure our safety in our communities on a day-to-day basis. The final most commonly trusted profession goes to our teachers. Teachers are charged with looking after and developing the minds of our most prized pieces of society, children. I have no qualms with any of these professions being highly trusted, I myself trust the people in each of these professions and I trust them to be experts and to do what is right.
Teachers are Trained Experts
Each of these trusted professions requires a certain amount of training. Aspiring nurses will need a degree in nursing and in some states they will be required to engage in continuing education in order to keep their license up to date. Police officer training in general consists of a 6 month-1 year training program with a time after completion usually designated for on the job training or field officer training. Some departments are requiring police officers to have a 4-year degree while many do not require any college education. Teachers must graduate with a bachelor’s degree in their content area and must do a student teaching experience for at least 1 semester. After getting licensed teachers must then obtain continuing education credits in order to keep their license active.
Teachers are Compensated Less
The professions described above all require a similar amount of training and a similar amount of skill and trust in order to perform their jobs adequately. In my eyes there is a certain art mixed with skill in being a nurse, police officer, or a teacher. Sadly the similarities end when we compare starting salaries. According to the National Educations Association (NEA) a nurse can expect make around 45,000 dollars (www.nea.org/home/12661.htm) in his/her first year of nursing. My friend, who recently was hired on as a trainee for a local police department has a yearly salary of 50,000 dollars to be upped to $52,000 dollars a year upon completion of his training. These two careers, when compared with a starting teacher put the teaching profession to shame, NEA quotes the starting pay for teachers in the United States at $30,377 dollars per year.
“But Don’t They Have Summers Off….?”
We all have heard this, “You would get paid more if you didn’t have summers off.” Yes, this is true, teachers have a break in the summer. It is also true that many, but certainly not all, do professional development or summer school. For the sake of this argument we will say that teachers do not work during the summer, as any work done during the summer is voluntary and not a job requirement. However, even with summers off and long breaks during the year teachers work a similar amount of hours when compared with the traditional 9-5er’s and other professions like police officers and nurses.
A person who works in a typical office may work a conventional 40 hour work week. If we tip this worker to the top of the possible range of days worked by taking 8 hours a day multiplied by 5 days in a week, and 52 weeks in a year we get a total 2080 hours per year. While many jobs offer different numbers of days off for holidays we can safely assume that most workers in most professions get 5 holidays off per year, Christmas, Independence Day, Thanksgiving, etc. This takes the work total down to 2040.
I am a teacher so I will use my own day as an example. I go to work at 7 am to plan for the day and I am going non-stop until 3:45 when I release students. My day, however, does not end there. After school I usually grade, collaborate, make copies, and plan for the next day until 5:00. This is my typical day; teachers in my district have a 184-day school year, creating a minimum of 1840 hours that I am working per year during the week at school. Now, any teacher will tell you this number just barely scratches the surface. On weekends I typically spend a minimum of 2 hours working on my grading, planning for the week, and getting ready for school. With 36 weeks in the school year we can add 72 hours to this total, putting the number for teachers at 1932 hours.
This 1932-hour number is probably on the low side and the 2040-hour number for traditional workers is on the high side, however, we will use numbers for comparison purposes. If we go back to the original teacher salary numbers we see teachers are making $30,377 in their first years, this equates to $15.72 per hour. Nurses, using the $45,000 entry-level salary at 2040 hours per year make $22.05 dollars per hour. Police officers, with a starting pay of $52,000 per year make $25.49 per hour. Much of the money paying for the salaries of each of these professions comes from the taxpayers. So why then do we seem to value teachers so low and the others so high?
Why the Gap?
The gap in pay is directly connected to the system devaluation of our teachers and the professionals who are our teachers. In short teachers become devalued for many reasons not the least of which is the misconception above. For some reason our society has run with the myths that teachers work less than other professions with similar stakes and education levels and as such their compensation is appropriate. Any and all teachers know better.
Gallup Honesty/Ethics in Professions www.gallup.com/poll/1654/honesty-ethics-professions.aspx
National Education Association www.nea.org/home/12661.htm
English Language Development teacher attempting to bring some truth to the table.
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