Teachers need financial security

Teachers are responsible for society’s most important function: educating the young. Mentors, tutors, instructors, educators, teachers and professors must all provide a lasting education to the next generation of citizens. Unfortunately for the noble individuals who take on this task, American policymakers do not believe that such an enormous responsibility is worthy of adequate compensation. Instead of sufficiently rewarding teachers, it seems the United States is content with letting them slip into financial insecurity.

According to an international study released last week, American teachers earn up to $42 less per teaching hour than some foreign teachers despite the fact that they put in almost a third more hours. A teacher in the United States with 15 years of experience earns an average annual salary of $36,219; no wonder there is a national teacher shortage. This in mind, it is hard to imagine many college graduates who would accept a public school position considering problems such as crumbling facilities and student discipline troubles.

Legislators and school officials need to take a closer look at how they can make the teaching profession more attractive. If salaries are not raised to match the importance of their duties, schools will have a hard time finding the two million teachers they will need over the next decade. First and foremost, teachers deserve more appreciation and respect for their work. Once American society as a whole can begin valuing educators, higher salaries will be more easily justified. Teachers aren’t just people who design course plans and stand back as students do their homework – they play an integral role in each student’s life as a mentor. Each teacher is in a position to inspire children to learn and independently pursue knowledge. People’s success in their adult lives can be directly correlated to their educational opportunities. The quality teachers who can make or break those opportunities for a student will become minorities without the compensation they deserve.

The decision to become a teacher is not an easy one; multiple degrees are hard to justify when looking at prospective teacher salaries. Although the recent study only concerns elementary and secondary teachers, college professors are often subject to the same financial disadvantages. However, the public seems to assume a professor at a big university or expensive private college is rather wealthy. This conception could not be further from the truth. According to a 1998 study by the National Center for Education Statistics, after adjusting for inflation, average salaries of full-time instructional faculty in each rank remained below their 1972-73 values. Colleges and universities must increase salaries in order to retain highly qualified professors. After all, it is the professors who provide the prestigious and comprehensive education that is marketed to students.

Raising teacher pay is the broad goal, but how to do it is a difficult question. Federal assistance is always an option and could help attract young graduates by raising starting salaries for teachers. Merit-based salary increases for experienced teachers are not reliable because it is nearly impossible to fairly judge teaching excellence. Student tests are a poor indicator of teaching ability. Legislators and school administrators must face these and other concerns when discussing the inadequate and unfair salaries of American teachers. To be sure, one of the basic solutions to improve educational quality is to raise starting pay for teachers in order to attract more qualified people.