Teaching is an important job that requires significant education and training. So, why do so many teachers work multiple jobs in order to make ends meet?
There are a lot of misconceptions about what it really means to be a teacher. If you imagine a sea of smiling young faces and long summers off, you ought to think again. The work isn’t as cushy as some imagine it to be. It takes education, skill, training and experience to be a good teacher. (Being a great teacher requires all that, plus dedication and passion.) Still, teachers aren’t given the respect that many agree they deserve in the United States. And, their compensation suffers as a result. Many teachers work second and even third jobs to survive.
Here’s what you need to know:
Is teaching viewed as a respectable profession?
Teachers in the U.S. aren’t as respected as you might think. Sure, most Americans would probably agree that educating future generations is important work. But, when compared with educators in other countries, teachers in the U.S. aren’t held in much esteem. According to the 2018 Global Teacher Status Index, which was reported on by the Washington Post, the U.S. isn’t ranked very high when it comes to supporting their teachers.
The index measured factors like social standing of teachers, how the profession is viewed in relation to other careers, whether or not parents would recommend the career to their children and what people think teachers ought to be paid. Out of an index of 100, the United States was given a ranking of 39.7. The U.S. came in at number 16 behind countries like Russia (index-65) and Indonesia (index-62.1).
The public’s opinion of a profession impacts its compensation. These low salaries, in turn, have a negative impact on teachers’ students and families. It’s as simple and as complicated as that. Misconceptions about how teachers are viewed in the U.S., or about their salaries, delay progress. In order for things to begin to improve, we have to have a better collective understanding about the truth of teachers’ earnings.
The reality of teachers’ compensation
As long as the public imagines that teachers are well paid for the work they do, things aren’t going to change. More people should understand what life is really like for these professionals.
So, here are five key facts about teachers’ compensation:
1. Teachers’ pay is very low when compared with other professionals’
Teachers aren’t paid well at all when you compare their compensation with the earnings of other professionals with similar levels of education and experience. The average earnings of workers with at least a four-year degree are more than 50 percent higher than teachers’ average earnings.
Although teachers usually know about what to expect, low earnings make it tough for them to make ends meet.
“I knew the pay wasn’t great, but I don’t think I truly understood in terms of expenses, in terms of just being able to get by, how close I would be cutting it. I make about $34,000 as a teacher,” Kara Stoltenberg, a language arts teacher in Norman, Oklahoma, told Time. “Right now, I can’t save, I can’t buy a car, I can’t buy a house, but I can get by. The only thing that I’m able to save is my tax return. My battery in my jeep died a few months ago, and I just kept thinking, ‘When that car dies, I’m going to have to buy another one,’ and the monthly payment — I just don’t know how I’ll do it.”
2. Teachers don’t really get summers off
Teachers aren’t paid for the summer months. Therefore, this isn’t “vacation time” the way a lot of folks imagine it is. Part of the reason teacher pay is so low is that it’s based on the school year, not the calendar year.
However, teachers are often expected to work to get ready for the school year over the summer. Many prepare curriculum, catch up on relevant research and literature, learn new technologies or take a class during these months in order to be ready for a new year.
Sure, teachers are free to get another job during the summer months in order to supplement their salaries. However, it isn’t easy to find employment for just a couple of months a year. It might seem like “having summers off” would be a great thing. But, working in a profession that runs on this kind of schedule is actually pretty inconvenient.
3. Teachers’ pay is getting worse by comparison
Research from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) compared teacher’s wages to other workers with similar education and experience. They found that the teacher pay gap is wider than ever. The average weekly wages of public school teachers, when adjusted for inflation, decreased by $30 per week from 1996 to 2015. But, in contrast, the weekly wages of college graduates, on average, rose from $1,292 to $1,416 over this period.
In 1960, female teachers earned 14.7 percent more in weekly wages than comparable female workers. In 2015, they earned 13.9 percent less. (The relative wage penalty is even wider for male teachers. They earned 24.5 percent less than their peers in 2015.)
4. the vast majority of teachers use their own money to buy supplies
Despite teachers’ humble incomes, many spend their own money on supplies for their classrooms and their students. Nearly all public school teachers (94 percent) dig into their own pockets to purchase materials, according to the results of a National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) survey, which was reported by the New York Times. Many public schools are underfunded. So, teachers use their own money to get the supplies their students and classrooms need. Educators are allowed to take a $250 tax deduction when they spend their own money on supplies. But, many spend quite a bit more than that.
“Honestly, teachers don’t get paid enough at all, but I don’t think we do it for the money. I certainly don’t,” Carrie Mueller, a kindergarten teacher who spends about $5,000 a year on her classroom, told MarketWatch. “I’ll continue to provide my students with all they need regardless of how much I make,” she said.
5. Mid- and late- career teachers are still underpaid
There’s a misconception that teachers are paid well once they’ve been on the job for a while. But, even veteran teachers are underpaid. The issue doesn’t just exist at the entry level. Low compensation coupled with the long and demanding hours (teachers work an average of 10 hours and 40 minutes a day – short days is another misconception) takes a huge toll after years and decades on the job. Veteran teachers deserve to be rewarded for their years of service with compensation that is more on par with that of other vetted professionals.
Teachers work multiple jobs to make ends meet
It’s not difficult to understand why many teachers work second or even third jobs in order to make ends meet. In many cases, they really don’t have much of a choice. In order to cover their expenses, they need to bring in more income.
Students, and ultimately society at large, pay the price when teachers are forced to spread themselves this thin. Teaching is a full-time job. It’s stressful and emotionally and intellectually draining. Teachers should be afforded the opportunity to focus on the work exclusively, without having to wait tables or paint houses on the weekends to make ends meet. Still, a great many of them do just that because of their financial circumstances.
Here’s how many teachers Have other jobs:
Eighteen percent of teachers reporting having a job outside of their school system during the 2015-2016 school year, according to a recent report from the National Center for Education Statistics. Those teachers earned an average additional income of $5,100 during the 2015-2016 school year. They earned more from jobs from another industry ($5,500) than they did when they worked non-teaching jobs within the field of education ($4,500).
Recent data from The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported similar findings, according to Brookings. They found that teachers, excluding special education teachers, are about 30 percent more likely than non-teachers to work at a second job. Secondary school teachers were the most likely to take on additional work.
These teachers aren’t just taking on summer jobs. Teachers were more likely to have a second job all year long than non-teachers. In fact, they’re more likely to hold a second job during the months of January and February than during any other time of year.
an escalating teacher shortage
Teachers do important work. But, when their efforts aren’t properly respected by society, compensation dwindles. And, eventually, the profession of teaching suffers as a result.
The Economic Policy Institute recently released the first report in their “The Perfect Storm in the Teacher Labor Market Series,” which found that there is a large and growing teacher shortage problem in the United States. High-poverty schools, and their students, suffer the most from such a shortage. But, the entire public school system is taxed by a lack of qualified teachers and by high turnover.
To address the problem, the EPI recommends better working conditions, higher pay and better professional development, support and recognition. Improving these factors would help steer things in a better direction for teachers and their students.
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