Why Don't American Teachers Make More Money?

Image source:  telegraph.co.uk

 

I was having a conversation with a fellow teacher.  She told me about a friend of hers who, without even a college degree, got an entry level corporate job that paid a higher starting salary than most teachers earn after 20 years.  We found it ironic that that many teachers would not even receive an interview for a corporate job by most HR departments because they are seen as teachers.

 

That’s funny, isn’t it?  Given the work ethic, people skills and organizational skills required by teaching, the profession is still seen as the domain of a certain kind of person.  This person must be content with low wages and “would not thrive” in a corporate environment.

 

If that seems crazy to you, and yet you still agree with it on some level, you are not alone.  Somehow teachers are either seen as whiny or downtrodden, undeservedly penalized or undeserving of how good we have it.  Even by teachers!   

 

In Dana Goldstein’s book, The Teacher Wars, the author uncovers the fascinating history of teaching in the 19th century, redefined to make it a “female profession” in order to lower its overall cost. “…As school reformers began to realize in the 1820s that schooling should be compulsory — that parents should be forced to send their kids to school, and public education should be universal — they had to come up with a way to do this basically in an affordable manner, because raising taxes was just about as unpopular back then as it is now.” Because female employees in the mid-1800’s could never expect to be paid what male teachers were paid, redefining teaching as a “female profession” made it easy to keep salaries low.

 

But this is the 21st century!  Why, with so many males in the teaching workforce, and with women’s roles redefined, should the profession still be seen this way?  I think the answer tells us more than just why teachers’ salaries are low;  it also speaks to the difficulty we have in defining quality education today.

 

Teaching is, for most people, a nurturing profession.  Teachers are more than just disseminators of information.  They must get involved with their students, meet them where they’re at, bring them up.

 

In this country, we see the model of nurturance as the parent, primarily the mother, who brings up her baby.  We greatly respect that role, treasure it even.  But we have great difficulty and discomfort attaching monetary value to it.

 

Parents, especially mothers, are supposed to nurture their children.  It’s their job, their responsibility, and the idea that they should be rewarded for it is ludicrous.  Unfortunately, anyone who is in a nurturing profession is seen in the same light as a parent.

 

Teachers, because they are nurturers, appear unnecessarily greedy if they attempt to put a monetary value on the job they do.  The more nurturing the teacher (i.e. – preschool) the less we as a society want to pay them.  The farther an educator is from the nurturance role, the more they can be expected to make.

 

And how have we as a society attempted to deal with the inequities of teacher pay?  We have tried to transform the profession so that it is no longer nurturing!  Endless testing, enacting stark evaluation systems for teachers and students, pushes for unambiguous skill and drill work, these things are meant to replace the “touchy-feely” aspects of education that make it difficult for the public to evaluate it.

 

But this is madness.  The profession must be nurturing because teaching does not work without nurturance.  Yet the kind of nurturance teachers provide come from years of specific professional development.

 

Teaching is not parenting.  Teachers must go to school to learn the huge differences between parental nurturance and educational nurturance, and the ones who learn these lessons best, teach most effectively.  If teachers have fallen short in our advocacy, it is because we have not explained this crucial difference to the public.

 

Is it our job to explain this?  In fact, I think we are the only ones who can.  The rest of society has a blind spot and cannot see the difference without explicit guidance.

 

Teacher nurturance is not a quality of certain people, it is a commodity.  Unlike parenting, if you want your teachers to provide the best, you have to pay the nurturer what they are worth.  If you don’t, you end up with people called teachers who can’t teach.

 

Does the idea of nurturance as a commodity make you uncomfortable?  If so, then you see my point.  And there will be no improvements either in the quality of education or teacher pay until we recognize our inability to differentiate between parental and teaching nurturance so that we can value it.

 

 Want to know what I do to nurture students as a music teacher?  Visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nF3Lbi666Vo  Do you nurture anyone in your job, and are you valued for it?

 

 

 

 

2 comments

  • Eric Taub

    Eric Taub

    It is a question of economics not right or wrong. Supply of teachers is greater than the demand for teachers. If there were fewer willing to teach salaries would rise. This is clearly true at the University level. The number of qualified Physics PhD's to teach advanced Physics is small enough that they are highly paid. The supply of people qualified to teach second grade is just too large to justify higher salaries.

    It is a question of economics not right or wrong. Supply of teachers is greater than the demand for teachers. If there were fewer willing to teach salaries would rise. This is clearly true at the University level. The number of qualified Physics PhD's to teach advanced Physics is small enough that they are highly paid. The supply of people qualified to teach second grade is just too large to justify higher salaries.

  • Adam Cole

    Adam Cole

    Hi, Eric, Thanks for the thoughtful comment! Teacher salaries are not ruled by simple economics. In the first place, the salaries are determined not by supply and demand, but by a set salary rate determined by each state. The salaries will not change depending on how many teachers they have. In addition, all education funding in this state is supposed to be determined by a funding formula created by the legislature. The legislature has subsequently ignored the number and given far less to education than the number says, so that should tell you something about the correlation of money with data. Finally, even if the number were a question of supply and demand, the total supply of teachers should not be seen as the same as quality teachers. Current educational policy tends to devalue teaching experience, viewing beginning teachers as indistinguishable from teachers with thirty years experience, so that experience, not valued, is disposed of along with the idea of the value of teachers who have that hard to quantify experience. When so-caled "merit pay" is put into effect, paying "the best" teachers marginally more than the rest, the teacher's qualifications are often determined by factors that have little to do with some of the most important aspects of teaching, such as nurturance. So while there's a little truth to what you said, there's a lot more to it than that.

    Hi, Eric,

    Thanks for the thoughtful comment!

    Teacher salaries are not ruled by simple economics. In the first place, the salaries are determined not by supply and demand, but by a set salary rate determined by each state. The salaries will not change depending on how many teachers they have. In addition, all education funding in this state is supposed to be determined by a funding formula created by the legislature. The legislature has subsequently ignored the number and given far less to education than the number says, so that should tell you something about the correlation of money with data. Finally, even if the number were a question of supply and demand, the total supply of teachers should not be seen as the same as quality teachers. Current educational policy tends to devalue teaching experience, viewing beginning teachers as indistinguishable from teachers with thirty years experience, so that experience, not valued, is disposed of along with the idea of the value of teachers who have that hard to quantify experience. When so-caled "merit pay" is put into effect, paying "the best" teachers marginally more than the rest, the teacher's qualifications are often determined by factors that have little to do with some of the most important aspects of teaching, such as nurturance. So while there's a little truth to what you said, there's a lot more to it than that.

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