A Kansas teacher looks at teacher pay

From Kansas Policy Institute.

Teacher Pay — Inside Looking Out

By David Dorsey

It would be hard to find a more divisive and splintered education issue than teacher salaries. Everyone seems to have a fervent opinion that either (a) teachers are vastly underpaid, (b) teachers are actually overpaid, or (c) teachers are getting paid about what they should. And the reasons for this triad of stances are numerous. It is not my purpose to delve into those in this essay, nor is it to make a case for any of them. (You thought I was going to pick (a) since I teach!) This is the first of several op-eds I will present on this rather complex, layered issue. In the first piece, the perspective will be one you rarely hear from: an individual teacher.
Me.

A funny thing about the issue of teacher compensation is the group that is most impacted — teachers — really seem to care the least. Having taught for 20 years, one thing I can say with certainty: rarely does the issue of how much we are paid get brought up in conversation. Oh, sure, you may see teachers on television rallying for more money, but that is always union driven. The media is also complicit in keeping teacher salaries on the front burner. A recent article in the Topeka Capital-Journal is an example of the bind between the media and the unions. It proclaims teacher pay has actually gone down 1.1 percent over the last decade when adjusted for inflation (yawn). Here’s a news bulletin: so has virtually everybody’s. Ever hear of that economic sinkhole now referred to as the Great Recession? According to the Census Bureau, inflation-adjusted median family income in Kansas for the same time period is down 7.6 percent.

I know it has been said countless times before, but it bears repeating: People don’t get into the teaching profession for the money. Duh. That’s why we don’t talk about pay among ourselves. In fact, when money is discussed, most teachers would rather see it go to improved working conditions (e.g., more/better materials, updated technology, improved facilities). A much more important issue to us is time, especially given the current teaching environment that each year sees an increased demand on ours.

We understand the relationship between time and money. That’s another reason you don’t hear individual teachers complain much about salaries. We realize a shorter work year means less money. And it’s true that many are drawn to teaching because it is not a year-round profession. That in itself is attractive to many, enough so to recruit and enough so to keep them. It would be naïve not to recognize that. Consider this: Those who became teachers right out of college probably have never worked year-round. Just last week a teacher friend of mine said she didn’t think she could work a twelve-month job.

Twenty years ago I changed careers to become a teacher. Why? I was drawn to being around kids to help shape their lives. I also have a very creative side, and I saw teaching, in part, as a way to express myself creatively. And I knowingly took a pay cut to do so.

So next time you read an article that “definitively” proves teachers are underpaid (or overpaid) remember this: We knew what we were getting into.

But having said all this, would I like to see teacher salaries increase? That depends. It will be the subject of my next piece.