It’s back to school time. School supplies are on sale, parents are snapping photos, and students are celebrating. Or not. It also means that legions of professionals are about to roll up their sleeves and welcome another crop kiddos with open arms and unabated enthusiasm.
With school on the brain, a very thoughtful neighbor of mine decided to put my profession on blast in a public forum online in which she condemned teachers for taking so many of her precious tax dollars. Her diatribe can be distilled into two ideas: public servants should do their work out of the goodness of their hearts, and no one in teaching should ever make six figures. She then shared screenshots from a website that purports to know the salaries of government officials, including teachers, administrators, police officers, and even park district employees.
Since we are public servants, our salaries are public record. The public has the right to know not just the general salary schedule that you can find on most any school district website, but also the exact amount that each individual teacher makes every year. While I have to admit that one measly post won’t quell the mob mentality that often erupts when someone learns that a thirty-year teacher with multiple graduate degrees pulls in a salary comparable to a software engineer, I’m going to give it my best shot anyway.
You Don’t Work For Nothing, Why Should I?
Newsflash, Neighbor Lady: teaching is a career. The vast majority of teachers—with the exception of districts that are experiencing such teacher severe shortages that they are simply looking for warm bodies—have a minimum of undergraduate degrees and hundreds of hours of training before they step foot in their first classroom. Many teachers then pursue a litany of professional development in the form of Master’s and doctoral degrees, additional certifications, and more. Nevermind the countless hours of behind the scenes work that the public never sees.
If your instinct is to grab my arm and say, Penny, most careers are like that, let me stop you right there. You’re making my point. If teaching is like most careers, then teaching should come with a paycheck, not a pittance. The notion that because I love my job so much that I consider it part of my identity doesn’t mean I deserve to be paid less than someone who simply grinds through a 9-5 that they only tolerate. It certainly doesn’t mean that I should work for free. Neighbor Lady, if you expect to collect a paycheck at your job, I expect to collect one at mine.
You Get What You Pay For
It’s true that not every teacher is a good one. Let’s put that out in the open right away. Just like not every lawyer, barber, or manicurist is. And I understand that there was a time when unions had more bite and it was difficult to fire subpar teachers. Now, though, many unions are no match for right-to-work state regulations and new evaluation systems that many districts are adopting. Call it a termination, a firing, or a non-renewal of contract, but over the past few years, I can think of at least a dozen teachers who have been let go. It’s happening whether the general public hears about it or not.
If districts are culling the teaching population in pursuit of excellence, why shouldn’t excellence be compensated? Let’s be very clear. Even in affluent districts like the one that Neighbor Lady sends her kids to, the vast majority of teachers are not earning anything close to six figures (sadly, this includes yours truly and Mr. P). But it is a possibility, and it’s not a possibility that anyone, including Neighbor Lady, should be mad about.
Districts that are perpetually underfunded are hit hardest by teacher shortages. Why? Because no one wants to work for free and no one wants to feel like they are on the chopping block due to forces outside of their control. If you’re looking for talented teachers—and you are looking for talent because that’s what you want for your kids and our collective future, right Neighbor Lady?—, you want your school district to stay competitive. Like any other industry, if a candidate can snag multiple job offers, eventually he or she is going to take a look at earning potential, even if salary isn’t the deciding factor.
But wait, what is that, Neighbor Lady? You don’t have kids? If the argument that an educated general population isn’t enough to sell you on wanting what’s best for the kids in your neighborhood, let’s look at what’s in it for you. One of the biggest draws to the city you live in is the school district. Even when housing prices were in the toilet during the recession, the strength and reputation of your school district is what kept those prices from getting flushed. Never mind the fact that you live in a town with a $100,000+ median yearly family income and $400,000 median home prices. You had to know your taxes were going to be high. In short, Neighbor Lady, if you want a top school district, remember this: you get what you pay for.
Grab an Application, We’re Hiring
The one thing that always gets me is the fact that if my profession is so desirable, so easy, so downright cush, why aren’t more people interested in pursuing it? If you can’t beat us, why not join us? There shouldn’t be a teacher shortage ever based on the talking points on the NextDoor forums and in the media. In fact, Neighbor Lady, you could have applied for any of the dozens of openings this year in the very district you criticized.
And yet you didn’t, nor will the vast majority of others. Mark my words. The teaching shortage won’t taper anytime soon. But hopefully the criticism will.
So Tell Me…What do you think of teachers being able to earn six figure salaries by the end of their careers?