The daily teacher struggle when faced with declining wages
Monday, April 23, 2018
It is starting to become the norm for teachers to seek out other forms of income to make up lost ground from low teacher salaries that plague many schools from coast to coast.
In this Multibriefs Exclusive from 2016, I highlighted the struggle that many of today's teachers face and what they are doing to try to make up for lost income in other ways. I also explored the solutions that some communities are implementing in an effort to address the teacher pay dilemma.
In this Multibriefs Exclusive just over a year ago, I wrote about the real costs of being a teacher, detailing how teachers try to stretch their supply budgets for their classrooms and avoid the inevitable fate that they will need to spend their own money to purchase the classroom supplies that their students need. This struggle is real, and a year later, there seems to be no end in site in the downward trend of teacher salaries across the country and their lasting impact on our profession.
According to this report by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), teacher salaries have declined nationally over the last decade by 1.3 percent when adjusted for inflation. Breaking this data down by state shows great variability. States such as Louisiana, Massachusetts, Montana, North Dakota and Wyoming have all seen salaries rise by more than 10 percent over the last decade. Other states like Indiana and North Carolina have seen more than a 10 percent decline in salaries in that same time period.
The same NCES report also shows great variability in the average teacher salary from state to state, with a low of $44,128 in Oklahoma and a high of $75,279 in New York. How does this decline and variability impact the lives of teachers for whom this is their current financial reality?
In a recent series of articles, Education Week has been taking a deep dive into the topic to explore the ways into how teachers make up for low salaries. The publication has launched a campaign on Twitter called #HowTeachersGetBy, encouraging educators to share their stories and their thoughts on this topic with the Twitter community.
Teachers in Oklahoma got so frustrated by what they saw as a lack of movement by the state legislature to address the fact that Oklahoma salaries are among the lowest in the nation that they walked out of classrooms for nine days. Ultimately, the walkout did not secure any additional funding.
Education Week's Madeline Will highlighted the real struggle of Oklahoma teachers such as Sara Doolittle: "Sara Doolittle is a high school English teacher in Norman, Oklahoma, who has 20 years experience. When she moved from Colorado to Oklahoma eight years ago, her teaching salary was nearly cut in half. After the birth of her son, Doolittle decided to go to graduate school so she could use student loans to cover the cost of daycare. She is now a full-time teacher, a full-time graduate student working toward her Ph.D., and a part-time research assistant."
She shared another video from teacher Jenn Johnson who reluctantly left the profession after moving to Oklahoma from Arizona and Florida, where she taught, due to a projected $15,000 cut in pay.
On the #HowTeachersGetBy Twitter feed, teacher after teacher has shared personal stories of the "side hustles" they have had to take on to make up for lost income, or the hard decision they have made recently to leave the profession altogether because they simply can't afford to be a teacher anymore.
How do we put a stop to this?
The National Education Association (NEA) has taken a strong stance on this issue, dispelling several common myths about teacher salaries on their website. The NEA has compiled data to refute each of the following common counter arguments that are often made regarding teacher salaries:
- Myth: Teachers make just as much as other, comparable professions.
- Myth: Teachers are well-paid when their weekly or hourly wage is compared with other professions.
- Myth: The school day is only six or seven hours, so it's only fair that teachers make less than "full-time" professionals.
- Myth: Teachers have summers off.
- Myth: Teachers receive excellent health and pension benefits that make up for lower salaries.
- Myth: Thanks to tenure, teachers can never be fired, no matter how bad they are.
- Myth: If schools were allowed to grant merit pay, good teachers would be well compensated .
- Myth: Teaching is easy — anyone can do it.
- Myth: The rewards of working with children make up for low pay.
As a profession, we need to continue to urge our local and state policymakers and financial decision-makers to work together to find ways to reverse this trend. The lives of our children may be at stake if we can't figure this out collectively.
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