‘Paltry’ pay for mid-career teachers

Experienced teachers earn “paltry” salaries in many state, reports the Center for American Progress.

In Colorado, teachers with a graduate degree and 10 years of experience make less than a trucker in the state. In Oklahoma, teachers with 15 years of experience and a master’s degree make less than sheet metal workers. And teachers in Georgia with 10 years of experience and a graduate degree make less than a flight attendant in the state.

In South Dakota, a teacher with 10 years experience averages $33,100 per year, well below the state’s median income and about what a press operator earns.

In Canada, starting salaries are lower for primary teachers, but rise more quickly, the report notes. By mid-career, Canadian teachers earn about $10,000 more than U.S. teachers.


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  1. Michael E. Lopez says:

    Maybe — and I’m just speculating here, not advocating — but maybe teachers just aren’t that important.

    Don’t get me wrong: the *right* teacher can be immensely important to students who really need him or her. Students who don’t have cultural and academic support at home are at the mercy of the school system for developing the values and background which will allow them to function in “mainstream” society.

    That’s why we (as a society) tend to get so romantic about our teachers in books and film: many of us remember that one, special teacher who helped us when we needed it. For my part, I remember those 6 special teachers… but that’s another matter.

    But those movies, and those books, are possibly all created by the exceptions. It might (*MIGHT*) be the case that a huge proportion, maybe even a majority, of students’ lives aren’t deeply affected by teachers. Either they’re already being prepared for mainstream culture by their families, in which case the teacher is superfluous, or they’re not going to make the necessary sort of connections, in which case the teacher is superfluous by his or her absence.

    If you look at the way in which a child’s background, parenting, and family status strongly determines the course of his or her education, well, then looking as an outsider you might think that the “real” purpose of teachers is to make sure the kids don’t kill each other while they’re kept in their adolescent creches. Which would make them not professionals, but really just the equivalent of mall cops.

    I take it no one thinks it’s a tragedy that mall cops get paid less than sheet metal workers, who are hard to come by in some places.

    Like I said, this is just speculation. I’m a fan of our little “cult of the teacher” that we’ve got going in the culture. I’d like to think that teachers as a profession aren’t broadly unimportant, and that it’s a noble calling which should be filled with the best and most capable adults we can find.

    But it occurred to me, reading this blog post, that maybe I’m wrong, and that maybe teachers are just prison guards about whom we entertain certain fantasies that, while true in the exceptional cases, are really just comforting myths. And if that’s the case, then the low pay that actually emerges from the sausage-factory of democracy shouldn’t surprise us.

    • Roger Sweeny says:

      Mall cops aren’t paid much because the job is easy. There are lots of people who don’t look scrawny and can stay on their feet much of the day. Teachers have a lot harder job of “classroom management.” And they have to know what they are supposed to be teaching.

      Salary dot com says the median salary for a prison guard is $41,00, though in places like California, it is considerably higher.

      • Michael E. Lopez says:

        Yeah, but the *difficulty* of work isn’t what determines pay, contrary to what a lot of well-intentioned people would like to think. There are a lot of really hard jobs out there that pay minimum wage or close to it.

        What determines pay is the importance of the work in concert with the scarcity of people both qualified and willing to do it.

        • Importance of the work and scarcity of the talent are free market concepts neither of which apply in the case of public school teachers any more then does the difficulty, or claimed difficulty, of the job.

          With regard to the importance of the child’s background, that’s also difficult to determine given that, unlike a mall cop’s bosses, a teacher’s bosses can afford to be indifferent to both the teacher’s skills and the educational results. Determining the importance of teaching skill then has to be viewed against not only the socio-economic status of the kids but the indifference of management to that skill.

        • Roger Sweeny says:

          “What determines pay is the importance of the work in concert with the scarcity of people both qualified and willing to do it.”

          I completely agree. The combination of ability to “manage a classroom” and look like you’re teaching is relatively scarce. Many jobs are physically difficult but can be done by lots of people. They pay poorly, like mall cops. Other jobs are difficult but can be done by a more limited number of people. They pay better, like teachers.

  2. Nothing like cherry picking data. Put NY, NJ, And CA on the chart. Compare to other civil service and trade union jobs on a dollar per hour basis including bennies.then compare to engineering and medical.

  3. This chart also doesn’t take into account the differences in pay between urban teachers rural teachers. The $42,000 they show for Texas is a lot of money in some West Texas small town, but it’s not so much in Austin or Dallas. The Austin district pays about $48,000 for teachers with ten years (where median family income is about $54,000), which evens things up a bit. Out in rural Marfa, where median family income is only $30,000 or so, the salaries seem to be closer to $40,000 for teachers with ten years.

    Who is better off, salary-wise, the teacher in Austin or Marfa? Kinda hard to say.

  4. Elizabeth says:

    The rather slight difference between beginning and mid-career closely models other professions – the big jumps or differentials exist for folks moving to lead and supervisory positions. There is usually not a huge gap between entry level and experienced in a non-supervisory position unless you are in a directly revenue generating position.

  5. Ted Craig says:

    The comparisons are fairly selective, too. Why would Georgia flight attendants get paid so much? Oh yeah, because the state is home to Delta. Why would truckers get paid so much in Colorado? Oh yeah, mountains. .

  6. Mark Roulo says:

    In Colorado, teachers with a graduate degree and 10 years of experience make less than a trucker in the state.

    I don’t know what the typical Colorado truck driver job is like, but Yahoo finance just posted a story about how Swift Transportation (based in New Jersey) is having trouble finding drivers. Some poking around on glassdoor finds that the drivers can be away from home for two weeks at a time. That is the sort of thing that is going to drive up pay …

    • Roger Sweeny says:

      Teaching is, as the old saying goes, “indoor work, no heavy lifting.”

      And if you are a college graduate, you have probably picked up the idea that a trucking job is beneath you, that it doesn’t make use of your talents, etc. Some people will pay a lot in foregone income for a higher status job.

  7. SuperSub says:

    Supply & Demand, Federal subsidization, Teachers as mass-manufactured (certified) widgets, Cherry-picking data.

    There’s a lot going on here.

    At least in NY, there’s a flood of teachers. A college admin from SUNY Albany I know recently told me that the school (one of many) graduated more elementary ed majors last year than there were job openings across the whole state. A friend of mine with 12 years experience who was laid off two years ago just accepted a position at Step 1 with a district… she had no negotiating power to request a higher step. She asked, and they immediately told her no and that they would understand if she could not accept the position at the offered salary. A HS science position I applied for last year had over 800 applicants. A position I’m in the running for now has two applicants who are mid-life career changers whose education degrees were fully paid for by federal grants. The government has sunk so much money into college-for-all and teaching programs that teachers are a dime a dozen. Moreover, schools care more about state-based certifications over ability, so they’re unwilling to pay extra for highly-capable teachers.

    The opposite is true for the other skilled jobs that the report used. A student who graduated from a local high school last year was immediately hired as a machinist making $40,000, with promises of rapid raises once he developed his skills more. He had been an intern with the company learning the basics during his senior year. Another small company I know of has a manufacturing floor that is half-shut down because they can’t find enough machinists to operate the equipment, and are willing to pay a premium if they can just find a qualified applicant. At a STEM round-table discussion of senior executives from GE, National Grid, Global Foundries, and other smaller biotech and nano firms, they openly declared that we need to push non-4 degree year career paths… they do not have enough technicians to meet the demand caused by recent retirements and expansion. They asked us to tell students the starting salaries after 2 year associates or certificate programs… and they ranged from $40,000-$70,000. A quarter of the audience’s hands went up, and a VP from Global Foundries instantly informed us all we were overqualified.
    Truck drivers, sheet metal workers are likely in the same boat given the demands of the job and the lack of ‘prestige’ with the position.