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September 24, 2009 4:39 PM   Subscribe

Why did my elementary/high school teachers complain so much about how they don't make enough money? I looked at the Department of Labor's website, and they make just as much as they would in certain postsecondary subjects (about $53,000). I always thought they made $25,000 a year or something, but this has changed everything! Am I missing something?

...Or are they just bitter they're stuck in the public school system?
posted by lhude sing cuccu to Education (82 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
I can't speak to why they complain, but believe me that there are teachers who make less than $25,000, particularly in private schools.
posted by jmd82 at 4:41 PM on September 24, 2009


Teacher salaries vary greatly by region. Is that figure a national median? That means that half of all teachers make less than that. Many will make a lot less, especially those with less experience, or in public schools.
posted by grouse at 4:43 PM on September 24, 2009


$53K is not a lot of money.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:45 PM on September 24, 2009 [9 favorites]


A beginning teacher in Roanoke County, Virginia (where your profile says you're located) makes as little as $35,000 per year: http://www.rcs.k12.va.us/perinst/forms/salary.pdf
posted by mbrubeck at 4:46 PM on September 24, 2009


they make just as much as they would in certain postsecondary subjects (about $53,000).

Each public school district will post their salary schedules; you could look yours up. You'll find that the 53K figure usually comes after several years experience and years of post-secondary education (which is required, to keep one's credential, and which you pay for out of your pocket).
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:47 PM on September 24, 2009


$53,000 is not a large salary in many places. Further the Department of Labor's web site uses national averages. For a country as large and as varied as the United States, an average is of little to no import when discussing a salary for a given job.
posted by dfriedman at 4:48 PM on September 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think teachers complain with a higher level of intensity than their pay should allow. I have worked with them for years and most of them are home from work by 4PM or even earlier. They have two weeks off for Christmas. They have summers off. Spring break. And so on. It's a great and noble job - don't get me wrong - but for each hour worked I think most teachers in most states are paid as much or more than most people in the private sector with similar educational levels.
posted by crapples at 4:49 PM on September 24, 2009 [4 favorites]


and the job is really hard, too.
posted by Ironmouth at 4:49 PM on September 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


Um, because even if they were making $53,000 a year, that's not very much? Or because complaining about not making enough money is something that pretty much everyone in the world does, no matter how much they make?
posted by The World Famous at 4:49 PM on September 24, 2009


... especially as we are including teachers with 10+, 20+, ..., years of experience.

In my sister's second year of as a full time teacher (including various teaching jobs over the summer), I made more money on my graduate student stipend (+3 months of paid internship during which I was not paid a stipend).
posted by zonem at 4:51 PM on September 24, 2009


If you look at the pdf posted by mbrubeck, look on the "Teacher-degree" page, and you can see how the salaries scale up with post-grad education.

Twenty years of experience and a Ph.D only earns you an extra four grand a year. DUDE.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:51 PM on September 24, 2009 [4 favorites]


... Let me add to my comment by saying that this is FINE with me. I think teachers do an immensely important job and they should be paid even more than they are! But, I do think they have developed a culture of complaining over the years that doesn't really stand up to close inspection.
posted by crapples at 4:51 PM on September 24, 2009


But, I do think they have developed a culture of complaining over the years that doesn't really stand up to close inspection.

Let me say that again: Twenty years of experience and a Ph.D only earns you an extra four grand a year. DUDE.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:53 PM on September 24, 2009 [18 favorites]


But, I do think they have developed a culture of complaining over the years that doesn't really stand up to close inspection.

You should spend some time with associates at big law firms.
posted by The World Famous at 4:57 PM on September 24, 2009 [3 favorites]


Best answer: Um, how old are you? I'm asking because I'm sitting here shaking my head at the idea that $53,000 sounds like a lot of money to you. And at the judgment you implied after the fold.

Especially considering what teachers actually do for a living. Being a student gives you a ridiculously myopic look at what it means to be a teacher. You sit in the chair and watch your teacher perform every day, but you have absolutely no idea how much work it takes to do that. A teaching career requires a huge amount of education: beyond the college degree, teachers are regularly required to take continuing education courses (which they have to pay for themselves, by the way, and take up those "summers off" that people think teachers have). Many teachers, especially the ones who are actually making something in the $50K range, also have master's degrees. Their work day does not start and end with the bells at school, either: they're up late at night, planning lessons for their classes, grading the work that students turn in, and filling out enormous amounts of paperwork. Many teachers are often also required to stay after school and advise extracurricular activities. Some of that work may be mindless, but a huge amount of it requires a lot of thinking. Teaching is, in addition to being a very taxing job mentally, often a very physical job: standing for long periods of time while lecturing, lugging around a lot of books and papers, et cetera.

Also, assuming you were looking at salaries in your own school district, consider this: a salary of $53,000 per year comes out to about $38K after taxes, or $3,167/month after taxes. Average home prices in your area are about $245K, or, with a good mortgage rate, about $1300 a month. Which would leave your teachers with about $1800/month to cover their student loans, bills, groceries, their kids' clothes, car payments, et cetera. School districts are cutting services immensely, and good teachers who care about having supplies for their classes often DO have to spend their own money on that stuff. It's an okay living, but it is in absolutely no way commensurate with the amount of work that a teacher does.

Essentially, your perspective is dramatically skewed. Teachers rarely make in the $50K range until they have a master's degree and many years, if not decades, of experience. That is an incredibly low salary for a career that requires so much skill and education, especially after that much time dedicated to the field.
posted by amelioration at 4:57 PM on September 24, 2009 [69 favorites]


Well, elementary school was 6-10 years ago for you. Salaries were lower than they are now, especially for government positions, which are usually indexed to inflation.

Also, as grouse says, they vary greatly by region. Especially in circumstances where the cost of living is very high, even on the higher end of the pay scale, the teacher's salary is far below that of his professional peers. Looking you up, I see you are in Roanoke, VA. It just so happens that the pay scale is published by years of experience, with a starting salary of $31,000 and $450 increases per year until you get to 20 years experience:
21 – 25 years ---- $46,000

26 – 30 years ---- $46,800

31 or more years ---- $47,800
By comparison, even lower-paid Registered Nurses with less experience make more than the most experienced teachers in Roanoke, VA.

Teaching has always been around the low end of the middle class salaries-- basically first-tier white collar position. You'll do better than being a retail clerk, but less than some skilled blue-collar jobs. And probably less than a middle manager with comparable experience.
posted by deanc at 4:59 PM on September 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


Best answer: I saw someone say that you are from Roanoke, VA ...

To put some things in perspective, public school teachers in Roanoke probably make half or less than their counterparts in Fairfax, Loudon, Prince William, or Fauquier counties.

It varies WILDLY from place to place. I grew up in one of the above counties and we had teachers leave for another of the above counties. Some of them stood to make an extra 20k per year as a result of the move.
posted by milqman at 5:01 PM on September 24, 2009


Best answer: Also, look at it this way: a typical rule for homebuying is that you can mortgage about 3 times your salary. That means a teacher making 53k can borrow about $160k for a home (adjust for teacher salaries in your particular area-- a starting teacher could make $30k-$40k for example). Now ask yourself whether you would feel like you made "good" money with that kind of lifestyle or whether you'd feel like you didn't make that much money. And the thing is that this tops out: you will never get more than an incremental raise, ever. I'd say it's not just the salary they make now they're concerned about. it's the longer perspective, seeing the salary that they will make in the future.

I myself admit that harsh economic realities didn't hit home for me until I was older.
posted by deanc at 5:04 PM on September 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


Best answer: I have a friend who has been an elementary-grade teacher for more than 20 years in the Northeast. I'm guessing her salary is in the high $40K range.

She is at work by 7 am and rarely is home by 5 pm. She works a lot of evening hours for after-school things like tutoring, student events - recitals, plays, sports games, etc., as well as the usual parent-teacher conferences, etc.

She pays out of pocket for much of her classroom and teaching supplies because what the state gives her is laughably inferior, and she often anonymously pays for supplies of many of her students who are raised by single parents and come from difficult backgrounds. When her students can't afford to go on field trips, she also digs into her pocketbook to pay their way, always anonymously and without complaint. She always brings an extra lunch, because some one inevitably forgets theirs, or their mom forgets to pack it, or can't afford to make one.

She hugs kids because parents don't bother. She congratulates kids because people don't bother. She disciplines kids because parents don't bother.

She sees many of her students grow up to lead hard lives, but every child who passes her embrace and manages to graduate from high school is a hard-earned victory for her.

She should be making twice as much money, in my opinion. She should have a fucking parade in her honor, in my opinion.
posted by HeyAllie at 5:11 PM on September 24, 2009 [62 favorites]


You remember handing in your homework or test and getting it back graded a day or two later?

Guess when and where that work has most likely been graded at: The teacher's home, about 8 pm or later. You really think they have time to do it during regular school hours?

Then let's add on the fact that teachers are often nothing more than babysitters as far as some parents are concerned. Many of the kids in school have severe problems at home, and they bring those problems along with them. You'd be surprised how many teachers are buying their students shoes or clothes. Many of these parent aren't very concerned with how Junior is doing in school, which is something that makes the teacher's job several magnitudes of order tougher. It's not just about ABCs and 2+2. It's about keeping a classroom in order and trying to make the needed time for the kids, oh, and getting your work done as well.

Teachers, for the most part, are vastly underpaid for what they do, not just for kids, but society as a whole.
posted by azpenguin at 5:12 PM on September 24, 2009 [5 favorites]


Well, count me as another person who thinks that teachers in the public schools are well-remunerated, once salary and benefits are considered together. My friend who has been teaching in the public schools since we graduated college in 1999 now makes about 75k. That's a great salary for a 32-year-old, especially given the large amounts of vacation, the guaranteed yearly raise, and the extreme unlikelihood that they'll be fired.

I'm not saying they're going to be rich; I'm saying that the way teachers tend to talk about pay (quoting only the lowest salaries, for example) makes it rather a surprise to learn what they're paid.
posted by palliser at 5:13 PM on September 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


Response by poster: Everyone: thanks for the answers, one of which I didn't even think of at all (that Roanoke, VA doesn't have the highest-paid workers around).
Are these salary increments as small for post-secondary teachers too (by year, by experience, by degree)?
amelioration: I am 18. $53,000 does sound like a lot to me, as I am still stuck on the idea that $25,000 is the norm.

I realised they had to pay for extra materials, but I didn't consider the extra education (although my high school teachers often mentioned it).

I am now wondering if the drawbacks are the same for post-secondary teachers as well, as I always felt like they made a lot more?
posted by lhude sing cuccu at 5:15 PM on September 24, 2009


I have worked with them for years and most of them are home from work by 4PM or even earlier.

This is true. On the other hand, depending on the school system, many of them arrive at work by 7 or 7:30 AM. They teach (and in some cases coach) until 3 or 4PM. And then most of the ones I know spend a couple of hours garding papers, correcting tests and homework, and writing reports and recommendations. Many's the time I've called my brother (who teaches middle school) at 8 or 9 PM and he can't talk because he's grading or writing reports or what have you. I'll grant you the summers off must be nice, but don't for a second think that teachers aren't putting in long hours.
posted by dersins at 5:18 PM on September 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


For the record, here are the salaries for a teacher with a Master's degree with 0, 10, and 20 years experience in 5 Virginia counties:
           0 yrs    10 yrs   20 yrs
Loudon     $35,098  $40,754  $46,410
Roanoke	   $36,605  $41,999  $47,636
Fauquier   $42,000  $47,207  $57,354
P. William $47,971  $60,798  $81,705
Fairfax    $49,823  $62,687  $81,451
Data from here, here, here, here, and here.
posted by mhum at 5:29 PM on September 24, 2009 [3 favorites]


Why did my elementary/high school teachers complain so much about how they don't make enough money?

Did your teachers actually complain to you directly, or is this just a general vibe you picked up?
The "Teachers are underpaid" bit always seems to increase in intensity right around budget time. You'll get used to it as you go through a few budget cycles.

Regardless, $53,000 is a perfectly respectable salary, irrespective of your current age, it's right around the median for the U.S. and slight above the median for the Roanoke Region.
posted by madajb at 5:35 PM on September 24, 2009


First of all, we should be grateful that we live in a country where we can blithely dismiss $53,000 as "not a lot of money." In the grand scheme of things, that's a lot of money. Maybe it's not considered a lot in a wealthy country.

People tend to care more about their wealth relative to people around them rather than their absolute wealth. I'm not saying teachers don't have valid complaints, just saying: it's relative.

As madajb said, $53,000 is around average. A bit more than the median for the US, I believe. But as others have said, there are plenty of schoolteachers making less.

If you're "still stuck on the idea that $25,000 is the norm," you're stuck on an incorrect idea. That's a very low salary.
posted by Jaltcoh at 5:47 PM on September 24, 2009


And, according to the Census Bureau, median earnings among people 25 years and older with a bachelor's degree is $48,097. With a master's degree, it's $58,522.
posted by mhum at 5:48 PM on September 24, 2009


While I said earlier in this thread that $53K is not a lot of money, I should also state that, as a former teacher myself, teachers often complain about their workload, which is about the same as other professional positions. Most successful mid-career folks are spending more than 35-40 hours a week at work.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:52 PM on September 24, 2009


Best answer: madajab: $53,000 is a perfectly respectable salary, irrespective of your current age, it's right around the median for the U.S.

To be clear, $53k is right around the median individual income among college degree holders. The overall median (among people 25 years and older) is closer to $35k. The median household income is around $50k.
posted by mhum at 5:52 PM on September 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


Well, remember; everyone complains about being underpaid at some point during their workday, but as a student you're going to witness that. Whether they're underpaid or not has literally nothing to do with whether or not a person complains about being underpaid.
posted by davejay at 5:53 PM on September 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


Best answer: Also consider this: among public employees, a public school teacher is one of the few professions whose minimum qualifications are quite high, salary expectations are famously low, and whose societal merit is always in question - according to the types of people who like to grouse about how much they have to pay in taxes to support a public school system. Meanwhile, other public professions with a particular set of qualifications (say, police officers, fire fighters) have high pay in relation to their amount of academic & professional preparation, can rake in overtime like it's going out of style (thus boosting their incomes tremendously), and generally have the backing of the tax paying public because they are "keeping the peace" and "heroes."

In short, teachers have low pay at least in part because the public loves to play political football with their compensation in a way that they'd never dream of doing for cops or firemen. Whether this is because people are foolish or sexist (since teaching typically has been a female-dominated profession, whereas police/fire have typically been male-dominated) I leave for someone else to figure out.
posted by contessa at 5:53 PM on September 24, 2009 [16 favorites]


mhum -

This is true, I should have made that clear, but since we are talking about teachers, I'd assumed college graduates would be the relevant comparison.
posted by madajb at 6:00 PM on September 24, 2009


In my district in Northern Westchester, NY the average teacher salary is $102,000 plus a defined benefit plan, they make contributions to their health plan of 8% of the cost (district pays the other 92%) and they get several sick days as well as the obvious great vacation time. THose are great numbers, but my opinion is they earn every penny.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 6:02 PM on September 24, 2009


I have to wonder what post-secondary subjects in particular you speak of.

I work in a post-secondary institution. An assistant professor starting in my department makes a minimum of between $70 and $110k/year.....and they do a lot less teaching compared to, you know, teachers because in four year degree colleges and universities, it's the research that gets the professor tenure....and I'm not sure this is always a good thing.

Adjunct faculty on the other hand...they make far less per class than they should.
posted by zizzle at 6:03 PM on September 24, 2009


Best answer: I am now wondering if the drawbacks are the same for post-secondary teachers as well, as I always felt like they made a lot more?

These people generally have PhDs, which is a good ten years or so of post-secondary education, which, depending on where you go to university and what your funding package is, will cost you money in massive student loans that you will eventually have to pay back PLUS the opportunity cost of spending at least 6 extra years in school when you could have been out making money and paying down the student loans you got from undergrad. Then, depending on what field you're in, you're entering into a system in which there is an oversaturation of PhDs and not nearly enough jobs to accommodate them all, so you take a shitty, part-time teaching job that pays less per class than a teaching assistant gets for TAing the same class. If you do land a sweet tenure-track job, you might be able to break six figures if you're very good and bring lots of grant money to your school; most don't and someone else will have to fill in about how much an average prof would make.

This is all to say: teachers, whether in primary, secondary, post-secondary, etc education, do not get nearly the amount of respect and money that they deserve for the jobs they do.
posted by pised at 6:05 PM on September 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


Response by poster: zizzle: I looked up arts, philosophy, and English (all about the same), then, oddly enough, "cultural studies" yielded $10,000 more per year. What is your department? I am assuming the math/sciences sector makes a bit more.

And I find it fascinating (yet how could I not have thought of this?) how much more teachers make up north as compared to here.
posted by lhude sing cuccu at 6:08 PM on September 24, 2009


I work in a business department, which yes, does make more than the arts and sciences sector (the students who are business majors also pay more in tuition --- figure that one out). However, I also happen to know that the difference between the arts and sciences faculty is maybe a difference of $7k, which is not a trivial amount.

I am also in an area with a high competition between schools for faculty and a lot of change from one university to another (and a lot of some universities wooing away faculty from other universities), so that may account for the inflation and add the cost of living in a northeast city....but even so, there's about a $20-$30k difference between what college professors make in this area and what public school teachers (with Masters degrees) make. I know this with some certainty because my husband had an interview for a high school teaching position today and looked up the pay scale for that school district just this afternoon....and my husband would be going into teaching with a Masters degree to begin with.
posted by zizzle at 6:17 PM on September 24, 2009


Best answer: And I find it fascinating (yet how could I not have thought of this?) how much more teachers make up north as compared to here.

I'd wager you could overlay a red & blue electoral map with one charting median public teacher salaries and reach some...interesting...conclusions. Not intending a derail, but it's been my experience so far that the more conservative the area, the lower the value that's placed on public education and all that comes with providing a quality one.
posted by contessa at 6:19 PM on September 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


(whoops, meant to italicize lhude sing cuccu's quote).
posted by contessa at 6:21 PM on September 24, 2009


I live in Arkansas. Starting salary for teachers is around $28,000, so there's your low end. Trust me, around this area, that $50K figure you're throwing around sounds like a helluva deal.
posted by CwgrlUp at 6:23 PM on September 24, 2009


I have a family member who works in the Chicago Public School system. Much of his day is spent breaking up fights. He gets things thrown at him on a regular basis. He gets called racial epithets. I'm not sure exactly what he makes, but $53K wouldn't be anywhere near enough for me to be treated like that.
posted by desjardins at 6:37 PM on September 24, 2009


=Note: I live in TN=

I used the very same Department of Labor information in a presentation I was giving to some teachers and guidance counselors regarding career counseling. I dropped some figures regarding teacher salary early on in the presentation without citation, and then gave them a chance to ask questions a few minutes later. They were quick to call me on my alleged bullshit inflated numbers, which was the intention--the rest of my presentation was regarding about local and regional employment figures in mind when answering questions for students.

All the national figures I used in my presentation were around 15k to 20k above the local salaries. The median starting income for a teacher with no post-secondary education was around 42k nationally; I had teachers in the group I was presenting to who were taking graduate courses in order to break the 30k line.

My own graduate area, school psychology, was facing a shortage* in my state as well at the time I was doing this presentation--salaries in neighboring Georgia were starting 15k higher, and grew faster, and those who could were taking jobs there. Those who were choosing to stay in the area were looking at a substantially lower income and only a small difference in cost of living. By the time I was done with my presentation I disgruntled the group a little more than I intended to.

*Of course the recession resolved this shortage problem rather handily and unpleasantly.
posted by Benjy at 6:45 PM on September 24, 2009


$53,000 is higher then the median U.S. average. For you people who don't think it's much: Is it your opinion that the majority of Americans are poor?
posted by delmoi at 6:56 PM on September 24, 2009 [3 favorites]


For you people who don't think it's much: Is it your opinion that the majority of Americans are poor?

No.
posted by The World Famous at 6:59 PM on September 24, 2009


Not to pile on, but jeez, thanks to all the teachers out there. I am in awe of anyone who can do it, let alone do it well, regardless of the pay.

There are few jobs I admire more and which society values less, based on the amounts we pay. I wouldn't do it for 6 figures. No way.
posted by FauxScot at 7:02 PM on September 24, 2009


$53,000 is higher then the median U.S. average. For you people who don't think it's much: Is it your opinion that the majority of Americans are poor?

I'm just basing my opinion on my own experience. $53K is just not enough to purchase and maintain a house, make car payments, pay medical and drug deductibles, pay pension, pay for kids' clothes etc., save for the future, enjoy a vacation from time to time, buy decent food at the grocery store.

It's just not enough to maintain a somewhat decent quality of life and avoid living from paycheque to paycheque.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:06 PM on September 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


Comparing the northeast to more rural areas: In most places in the US, public schools are funded through property taxes. So areas with expensive real estate will have higher budgets for the schools. Of course, having good schools makes an area more attractive to buyers, so the home prices stay high. And the school budget may be high, so the teacher pay is high, but that will be in areas with correspondingly high costs of living.

Here's one map of US average home prices (click on "sale prices" to get the more representative map). I'm guessing that we would see teacher salaries being higher in the high-cost areas. (couldn't find a convenient map of teacher salaries, and of course it would be nice to have both types of map at the county level rather than the state level.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:14 PM on September 24, 2009


Mod note: few comments removed - can we keep this to the topic of teachers and salaries and not who does or does not deserve sympathy for their jobs? thank you
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:27 PM on September 24, 2009


My father has been an educator his whole life (teacher, then administrator and vice principal.) He's about to retire.

He taught in the kind of schools in Baltimore where teachers get guns pulled on them. I'm 33, don't care about my career, don't have a degree in it, and I already make more than he ever has. The salaries you're seeing might not be low according to averages that include recent immigrants and people who never finished high school, but for people who tend to have multiple college degrees they are very low.
posted by drjimmy11 at 7:34 PM on September 24, 2009


Also, look at it this way: a typical rule for homebuying is that you can mortgage about 3 times your salary. That means a teacher making 53k can borrow about $160k for a home (adjust for teacher salaries in your particular area-- a starting teacher could make $30k-$40k for example).

Assuming their spouse doesn't work. How many one-income families are there nowadays?
posted by smackfu at 7:35 PM on September 24, 2009


Other contributing factors:

1) Student loans. Someone gets a very expensive liberal arts degree, then can only get work in their field as a teacher, and their loan payments will make any salary feel low.

2) Teaching was a woman's job, and woman made less than men. Teacher being underpaid goes way back.

3) Teaching is heavily unionized, which tends to result in trading salary for better benefits and job security.

4) It's a hard job, and anyone with a hard job thinks they don't get paid enough.
posted by smackfu at 7:41 PM on September 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm 32. $53,000 is a lot of money.
posted by jb at 7:59 PM on September 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


$53k starts seeming like the pittance that it is if it requires multiple degrees and 10 to 15 years of working experience to reach that compensation level.
posted by contessa at 8:21 PM on September 24, 2009


Assuming their spouse doesn't work. How many one-income families are there nowadays?

We're a one-income family at the moment. I make a lot more than 53K, but it's still a struggle.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:44 PM on September 24, 2009


Assuming their spouse doesn't work. How many one-income families are there nowadays?

A lot of traditionally female-dominated occupations have historically had low salaries on the theory that it's meant to be merely supplemental income; the husband's salary was meant to be the main one. That reasoning was used to pay male teachers more, as well. Surely we've stopped thinking of women's income in that way? (If it was a serious question, Google/Wikipedia refused to give me a quick, definitive answer, and I should really go to bed and stop looking, since I have a student coming in for extra help at 7 am.)

Scrolling down that list of salaries from the Department of Labor, I must say I saw few occupations requiring a master's degree (as does teaching) with a lower average annual wage. Librarian, also traditionally female-dominated, was only a bit higher ($54K); therapists (marriage and family therapists, social workers, etc.) all do appear to make a good deal less (average salary listed was around $40K).

Since the average the chart is using is a mean (Wolfram Alpha gives $43K for a median salary), I wonder how much that average is being pulled up by the large percentage of teachers with a lot of experience, whose salaries would tend to be much higher than newer teachers? I know that the 'average' salary in the district I teach in is quite a bit higher than mine, due to that.
posted by lysimache at 8:48 PM on September 24, 2009


The salaries posted for Roanoke County are certainly not very generous compared to the cost of living in Roanoke County, so I can understand the teachers' concern in that regard.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:58 PM on September 24, 2009


As the son of a teacher, and the long-term friend of many teachers, the one universal truth about teachers is that they complain about the job, ESPECIALLY when you get a bunch of them together. This tends to add to the perception that their wages are exceptionally low, regardless of the actual level of remuneration.
posted by unSane at 9:11 PM on September 24, 2009


For some, $53,000 sounds like a fabulous lot of money.
posted by Darth Fedor at 10:00 PM on September 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


Has anyone mentioned that teachers often spend a lot of money out of pocket for things that their district budget doesn't allow for (and this is worse now than it ever has been, even in well-funded areas)? That in some districts you're required to get a post-graduate degree, often at your own expense, within a certain amount of time or your contract won't be renewed, but the pay jump is minimal, relative to, say, what an MBA could expect? That you might be a teacher with a lot of experience, making what passes for good money in the profession, but if you should wish to work elsewhere, you would be competing for jobs with younger teachers who can be hired more cheaply? That, barring a second income in your household, you may find yourself with twenty-plus years of experience in your field and multiple degrees and certifications, but living in an apartment or mobile home because owning a home is simply out of the financial question?

Never mind the expectations from your "clients", the students and their parents, who expect you to be basically God and won't take human for an answer.

If not, then please let me, as the daughter of a teacher, fill you in. My mom makes probably fiftyplus grand a year. But she's been teaching FOREVER. I made more money ten years ago than she makes now.
posted by padraigin at 10:16 PM on September 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


Ask yourself this; in the case of high school teachers, how much would someone have to pay you to deal with teenagers all day, every (week)day?
posted by you just lost the game at 10:35 PM on September 24, 2009


My friend just got her first elementry teaching job (with a BA and a Masters) and started at 55K. I live in LA, and I think $55K is a lot of money.
posted by Miss X at 11:35 PM on September 24, 2009


In general, it has been my experience that grade-school teachers make more (and sometimes substantially more -- like, double) what college/university professors in the same place, both in public schools, make. For example, when i was in the Cal State system, starting salary for a PhD on a tenure track was about $46k in the SF Bay area; friends who were middle and high school teachers were starting between $80- and $100k. Of course, I was adjuncting, so I made $4000 per class without benefits! But honestly, the most depressing thing about teaching there was that finding a job in the first place was darn near impossible.

So my second experience was in mid-Michigan, where community college professors made more than professors at Michigan State. I, of course, was still an adjunct, but at least this time I got benefits along with the pathetically low salary (the adjunct faculty at MSU have since unionized, and I hope they benefit from it).

Now I'm in a tenure-track position in Oklahoma, and my salary is more than double a poverty-line salary, so I'm feeling pretty good about things. But as some of the reactions upthread suggest, there are people out there who think one cannot live comfortably on $50k-plus a year.

The takeaway lesson I'm hoping you get is that one doesn't pursue a terminal degree and go to the more prestigious (public) institutions to make more money! On the other hand, my sister is a high school teacher and I couldn't do her job for more than 2 days without wanting to cry -- it's so much harder than university teaching, almost entirely due to non-academic issues.
posted by obliquicity at 12:40 AM on September 25, 2009


It's all about potential earnings. When my husband graduated business school and got his first job teaching (community college), he earned more than his friends who started out as bottom feeders at advertising companies and in marketing. Over the years, his salary has climbed slowly while they are now making well into 6 figures. There is no potential to make money like that in education unless he stops teaching and becomes an educational administrator, or changes career. That can be a sobering thought. No matter how hard he works, he will never be able to get a bonus or a big payrise (note I am NOT in favour of merit-based pay for teachers though).

And yes, of course he made a choice to not work in the corporate world, and the holidays can be nice (he gets less than school teachers though) but they have to be taken at specified times, right? When the students are not in class. The most expensive time to holiday. And as a non-teacher, I've always had to fight it out with the parents I worked with in my job to get that time off so we could vacation together. It's a pain.

He bought an iPhone so he could show some videos in class for his social media students because the campus had a firewall. Then a few months later, it was stolen by a student. Our home insurance paid up because they know teachers have to buy so much stuff for class themselves.
posted by wingless_angel at 1:54 AM on September 25, 2009


One thing that struck me about my salary when I taught was that everyone seemed to get a piece of it. A big chunk of my salary went to retirement. In Massachusetts, the most junior teachers pay the largest percentage of their salaries and it is mandatory to the level that the state says. Health care coverage was so-so, but yikes, the amount was high. Then there was union dues.

On top of that, there is the notion of only working 9 months a year (closer to 10 really), which seems reasonable until you work out how many 7 day work weeks you have (I worked 7 days a week my first year and 6 my second once the curriculum was under control). Then you are expected to earn a certain number of "professional development points" which will be evening and weekend or summer classes which are paid out of your pocket. I've worked out the numbers and the total number of days worked (paid or otherwise) is comparable to any other job.
posted by plinth at 3:25 AM on September 25, 2009


From Ms. Vegetable:

I taught high school math in a private school in Chicago for a year. I made $28K. My students, for whatever reason, thought I made $40K. I find the comment "bitter about being stuck in the public school system" a bit odd - most teachers choose to do what they do for very little money. Public school teachers make more than private, so the presumed alternative of teaching in a private school may/may not be any "better".

IMO, no matter what teachers are paid, it will NEVER be enough. They are saints.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 4:55 AM on September 25, 2009


And I find it fascinating (yet how could I not have thought of this?) how much more teachers make up north as compared to here.

Another interesting overlay you might want to look at is cost-of-living as compared to teacher wages. I'm friends with a number of public school teachers in Boston. Even though the ones who have been teaching for more than five years are close to that "median income for college graduates" level that supposedly translates to a fantastic living, let me tell you how far $50K in a city where one-bedroom condos start at $300K. My fiancée teaches in a (quasi) public school here, and makes twice as much as she did teaching in rural Texas. When pressed, she'll tell you that she made more real dollars while working for chicken scratch in a much cheaper area.

Said teacher friends are also all female, and have all written off the idea of buying a house or putting away any money into savings until they get married. Turns out if you expect that your employees are mostly going to be married women whose husbands make decent money, you can get away with not paying them much, which is the other elephant in the room.

My fiancée also works 60-hour weeks and then grades student work at home on the weekends and takes courses all summer to keep up her credentials, and will (rightfully) rip out your throat and feed it to you if you try to bandy about the "but they work so few hours!" trope.
posted by Mayor West at 5:20 AM on September 25, 2009


It's a hard job, and anyone with a hard job thinks they don't get paid enough.

Yep. Consider that what it's actually possible for teachers to accomplish often falls short of what the public expects them to accomplish. Nobody gets paid enough to do the impossible. Nobody who's working their ass off gets paid enough to enjoy being constantly told that they suck and are overpaid.
posted by jon1270 at 5:47 AM on September 25, 2009


I don't think teachers go into it for the money. But as far as I am concerned, they should be making a hell of a lot more than investment bankers.
posted by jasondigitized at 5:48 AM on September 25, 2009


My mother was in her late 40's or early 50's the first time that she made $30,000 a year.

They can make good money if they stay in the system for a long time, but it's very difficult for, say, a 23-year-old single teacher to make ends meet - especially considering the amount of education and ongoing training that the job requires, not to mention the hours and stress.
posted by timdicator at 6:21 AM on September 25, 2009


That in some districts you're required to get a post-graduate degree, often at your own expense, within a certain amount of time or your contract won't be renewed, but the pay jump is minimal, relative to, say, what an MBA could expect?

OTOH, it's fairly common for teachers to get a Master's Degree motivated by the automatic increase in pay. If pay scales are all set by a union contract, and there are no merit increases, it's quite attractive to get a qualification increase by taking classes on the nights/weekends/summers. For instance, in North Carolina, a Master's gets you a 10% salary increase. and NBPTS certification gets you 12% on top of that. And you know you will get that when you start your Master's, unlike most jobs where getting a post-grad degree could possibly give you no salary gains at all.
posted by smackfu at 6:53 AM on September 25, 2009


Slight correction. This probably varies by locale, but frequently teachers are not expected to pay out of pocket for their graduate degrees and continuing ed. For example, Ms. Vegetable worked for catholic charities and got free classwork at loyola. The CPS policy manual states that they have tuition support for board-sponsored continuing ed (although I don't know exactly what that means). CPS also suggests perkins loan cancellation is possible depending on where they stick you.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 6:53 AM on September 25, 2009


Post secondary education is a fairly terrible business. humanities science 2
posted by a robot made out of meat at 7:04 AM on September 25, 2009


Here in Rhode Island, a teacher who sticks it out will retiure with a really nice pension, including medical benefits (for which they paid nothing or nearly nothing while they worked).

I support my kids teachers. I wish they didn't have to spend so much out of pocket on school supplies, or be the first real discipline some kids have ever received. Some of our friends are teachers in town. I have participated in local government efforts to rectify overcrowding issues. I even stood tough when they offered us School Choice under NCLB this year. My wife's on the PTO. (Do I need any more of these "I Am Not A Racist"- type testimonials?)

But man do they complain a lot about their pay, considering that they also strike illegally (in my town last year), and pull stunts like waiting until the day before schools starts before suggesting negotiating a contract. (Could this not have been handled this over the summer?)

Of course, it's Little Rhodey, so all our firefighters retire early with full benefits, and our cops are working details -- why shouldn't the teachers have an angle, too?
posted by wenestvedt at 7:09 AM on September 25, 2009


I don't think I saw this upthread: the Dept. of Labor adjusts all jobs, including teachers, for 12 months of work. Your teachers were probably earning 25% less than 53k, or about 40k.
posted by miyabo at 7:38 AM on September 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


We pay musicians repeatedly all their lives for a piece of work they did way back. That is because their work is considered special -- they are creative. So what about the teacher who creates an explanation of a tricky point just for one child?. Think of the chain of teachers that together builds the education that is used every day by each of our high earners (I know they are not all intellectuals, but pretty well all can read). Why does the system reward the musicians for past work but not the teachers?
posted by Idcoytco at 7:59 AM on September 25, 2009


We pay musicians repeatedly all their lives for a piece of work they did way back. That is because their work is considered special -- they are creative. So what about the teacher who creates an explanation of a tricky point just for one child?

That's really skewed since you're focusing on the few musicians who are successful enough to get an ongoing stream of income from one piece of music "all their lives." Most songwriters aren't Paul McCartney or the late Ellie Greenwich. Most musicians would gladly forgo the change to hit it big in exchange for a steady salary of over $50,000.
posted by Jaltcoh at 8:18 AM on September 25, 2009


guaranteed yearly raise

Whoa, what guaranteed yearly raise? I thought you got a raise when the union negotiated a new contract, which might not be yearly. And, you have absolutely no room to negotiate your own salary - you make exactly as much as someone who's been using the same tests and lecture notes for 10 years, but has been around for as many years as you have.

large amounts of vacation

Which, again, has no flexibility whatsoever. Anniversary in mid-February? Sorry, we have school that day. Birthday in late September? Sorry, can't give you that day off. Your sister's getting married in early December? - guess you'll have to use sick days. Not as much of a perk as it seems, huh? And teachers don't get as many days off as the kids - there are a lot of teacher workdays before the school years starts and after it ends. Not to mention mandatory continuing education.
posted by timepiece at 10:23 AM on September 25, 2009


Which, again, has no flexibility whatsoever. Anniversary in mid-February? Sorry, we have school that day. Birthday in late September? Sorry, can't give you that day off.

I think teachers are way underpaid. But a large number of inflexible vacation days is a lot better than no vacation days. I don't think it comes anywhere near making up for the low pay. But still.
posted by The World Famous at 10:28 AM on September 25, 2009


Historically, teachers made less. There's been an effort to bring salaries up. Teachers often have really, really good pension plans, and may be eligible for tenure.

Good teachers make too little, bad teachers make too much; same as in town.
posted by theora55 at 10:43 AM on September 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


I thought you got a raise when the union negotiated a new contract, which might not be yearly.

In my experience, all union contracts contain annual raises, unless they bargain them away for something like stable health insurance costs. Yes, this is intended partially as a cost-of-living update, so it may not be a "real" salary increase. But in the private sector, there are plenty of jobs where there may be no raises this year (or last), and tough luck, so guaranteed cost-of-living is nice. Plus if there's deflation, double win.

Which, again, has no flexibility whatsoever.

But it's not like these various facts should be a surprise to a prospective teacher. If you take a job that has historically had inflexible vacations and a fixed non-merit salary system, you won't get much sympathy for complaining about them. It's like complaining about how you don't get paid overtime for working extra in your salary job.
posted by smackfu at 11:08 AM on September 25, 2009


If anyone other than a friend or a colleague complains to us about his or her pay, it is probable that person is our teacher.

Teaching is one of the few professions in which the majority of one's time is spent working closely with people who are outside of the profession. Conversely, teachers are among the few professionals around which the average person has spent large amounts of time.

Where else in life does a person spend 30 hours a week as an authority figure to dozens of people that don't care what he or she is going through? What other individual has a motive and such ample opportunity to vent?
posted by RobinFiveWords at 2:52 PM on September 25, 2009


Where else in life does a person spend 30 hours a week as an authority figure to dozens of people that don't care what he or she is going through?

Bartenders. Cops. Judges. Criminal defense lawyers. Social workers. Parole officers. DMV employees. MetaFilter mods.
posted by The World Famous at 2:55 PM on September 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


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