Teachers are undervalued. We all know this.
I knew it when I decided to go into teaching as a profession 20 years ago. My idealistic young self didn’t care that it wasn’t a lucrative career — I just wanted to make a difference and help kids learn.
But when the reality of a five-figure student loan combined with a beginning teacher’s salary hit, I realized that what we expect of educators isn’t just unrealistic — it’s insulting.
And it hasn’t gotten better since then.
Teachers in West Virginia and Oklahoma are saying “Enough is enough.”
Right now, the state of Oklahoma is looking at a teacher walkout scheduled for April 2, in protest of the state legislature’s refusal to raise teacher wages. The walkout comes on the heels of a successful teacher’s strike in West Virginia, in which public schools were shut down for nine days before legislators agreed to a 5% teacher raise, among other concessions.
Oklahoma’s teachers haven’t had a state-wide raise in 10 years. According to the National Education Association, Oklahoma ranks 48th for teacher pay, and according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, they are dead last.
What does that look like in real dollars? The minimum starting salary in the Sooner State for a teacher with a bachelor’s degree and no experience is $31,600. The minimum salary for a teacher with a master’s and 25 years of experience is $43,950. And wrapped up in those salaries are the “fringe benefits” of insurance and retirement.
Teachers’ per-hour pay is painfully low for what they do and for the skill and education required to do it.
One Oklahoma teacher calculated that at her current salary of $40,000, when all is said and done, she earns approximately $12 per hour. (The idea that teachers only work 8-hour days, nine months a year has been roundly debunked by every person who has ever been a teacher. Argue if you must, but this is a mountain I am willing to die on.)
Try communicating with parents who may or may not feel the need to take an active role in their kids’ educations. Try keeping your students engaged while also preparing them for endless standardized tests. Try keeping a room full of 6-year-olds quiet through an active shooter drill without scaring them to death.
Be a mentor. Be a counselor. Be a miracle worker. Be a shield. Do it all for one year and tell me teachers don’t deserve to get paid more.
In my adult life, I’ve worked in various professions in addition to teaching. I remember my first day working as an office manager and marveling at the ability to go to the bathroom at my leisure. No job I’ve ever had has come close to the amount of work that teaching entailed, no job has ever had as much direct impact on our world, and in no other job did I feel so drastically underpaid.
As Beth Wallis points out, teachers are highly trained professionals, and they ought to be compensated as such. We should all stand with Oklahoma teachers, and with all teachers everywhere who have been expected to be martyrs for far too long.