What Can Raising A Teacher’s Salary Do?

This post was originally published on Pass the Chalk.

(Photo: 401(K)2013, flickr)


You’d likely never know. I live in a hip neighborhood. I wear (often thrifted) suit coats. But I have something to tell you: I’m one of the many, many teachers who are underpaid. In terms of hours worked vs. pay, my actual hourly wage is pretty abysmal.

Most conversations I have with strangers or family members eventually come around to this little elephant in the room. The inevitable point it seems they must make is “teachers don’t get paid enough.” It’s as if, if they didn’t say that, I had assumed that they were among the type who’d like to see me living out a daily struggle to survive.

These comments come from all over the landscape of our country: from my uber-liberal friends to my Scott Walker-loving Grandpa. There’s also always a clear or subtle undertone of “hardworking teachers like you should get paid more, but those other, lazy teachers shouldn’t.” Whichever “lazy” teacher they may be thinking of, I haven’t met many. In fact, a growing number of us areworking second jobs to make ends meet.

I think it works similarly to gay rights. If someone knows a gay person well,they are far more likely to vote for pro-gay measures. I think that the more teachers one knows, the more likely they are to support a competitive salary.

Reading Diane Ravitch’s blogs on this topic, as a teacher, is painfully depressing. It is there that I’ve read about many teachers in North Carolina facing dangerously low morale and dwindling retention after the state did away with pay increases for Masters degrees. Though there is some action going on to increase wages in the state, losing any recognition for advanced degrees is pretty depressing business.

Sure, getting an advanced degree isn’t a guarantee for student success (I had an awful math teacher with a PhD in high school…), but to gut any recognition of it entirely is pretty ridiculous.

An interesting initiative on this front is The Teacher Salary Project (not to be confused with The New Teacher Project!).

They’re advocating for state governors to commit to significantly raising teachers salaries.

The most interesting, and depressing, portion of the site is likely the nationwide map. Hover over your state and you’ll see how much is spent per pupil…and how much is spent per prison inmate. I haven’t been hiding under a rock, but to see the stark, stark contrast between the two is astonishing.

What’s more, as a nation, our average teacher’s compensation has gone down. There are only a few states where it has gone up in any significant way.

As a young person with an unsure future, I can survive off of what I’m making as a teacher. I know some who view their time in the classroom through almost a Peace Corps lens, as their pay was so little, their hours so long, and their classroom spending so great, that they literally were giving everything they had.

Even if they don’t “come out” to you, you surely know an underpaid teacher. Even if you don’t have a sibling, child or BFF in the industry, do some six degrees of separation and you’ll find someone who’s hiding in the over-worked, under-paid closet. If you’d like to see them more fairly compensated for their work, use the Teacher Salary Project’s Governors’ Challenge to reach out to your governor. It’s a small step toward solidarity that helps affirm the tremendous work educators do every day.

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