Are teachers overpaid? Some insist that generous benefits packages and summers off mean that teachers get a sweet deal at the taxpayer’s expense. And those who’ve been to below par schools or experienced a bad teacher who has hung onto their job certainly can feel that way.
A solid case can be made that teachers in many areas of America are underpaid. Here are five reasons why:
1. How much a teacher is paid depends on where they live.
Teachers in San Francisco can no longer afford to live where they teach. According to a piece of research by Redfin, 83% of all houses in California are out of reach to a teacher on their salary. In part that is because California is so expensive. Many people who insist that teachers are highly paid will often cherrypick salaries by reporting that teachers in California can make six figures. But when houses run in the millions, it means they’re still unable to afford a home.
According to Teacher Portal, California is the 35th most difficult place in America to make it as a teacher, even though it’s the 4th highest payer of teachers on average.
However, in Ohio, the average teacher’s salary runs somewhere closer to the American average salary of mid $50 thousands. This enables them to afford a home in the Midwest while teaching professionally.
Many teachers outside the Midwest struggle to make ends meet, and work after hours in part time jobs or all during their ‘easy’ summers off.
2. Teacher pay depends on how the district is funded and how wealthy the area is
In America schools are funded to different levels. Schools in Connecticut have almost double the amount invested in them per student as Utah. Some states have high amounts of variation in funding because they use real estate taxes to fund local schools. In Ohio this has been ruled unconstitutional, but is still used to fund the schools. In a district with rich homes and flush taxpayers, the schools are well funded and can pay teachers well and invest in students. In poor districts, there is a struggle to find money.
This effects teacher wildly. Teachers in Dayton, OH have an average salary of $52,324. But in Solon School District in Ohio it is $80,400. Same state, different tax base. American investment in children and their teachers unfortunately seems to vary by income levels of the regions around the school system. Consider this to Norway, which has committed more strongly to equal investment and resources for every school. This has led to world-wide recognition for equality as well as better results for teaching as a profession.
3. It depends on how teachers spend their time.
Teaching can be a strange hybrid as it has features of a regular dayjob and those of a freelancer. Teachers are at school for a set amount of time a day, but they also are expected to grade papers and plan for classes coming up. While some teachers in the system can compress everything down into the school day and not bring any work home, most studies of teachers show that they do a lot of work at home after school.
According to BusyTeacher.org teachers are often after work to help students or help run extra-curricular activities. They spent hours a night grading and preparing for the next day’s class. And while most don’t realize this, teachers are often mandated to continue their education and keep learning more about teaching. This further education is paid for often out of the teacher’s own pocket and also takes further time.
Estimates for a teacher’s work day then range from 8 hours all the way to 16, all depending on how much they invest into their job. Chances are a good teacher is using up all their free time. It’s no surprise that teaching actually has a high burn out rate. Teacher attrition is constantly growing, and turnover is actually costing school systems billions a year as they constantly have to recruit new teachers and train them.
4. Many teachers don’t have the resources they need, so they spend their own money
The IRS lets teachers deduct $500 for spending their own money on things for classrooms that students need. But most teachers run up far, far more than that. It’s easy to see how much teachers need by browsing the website DonorsChoose.org, where teachers list all the things they need in their classrooms to be more effective. The list can be depressing. Imagine being in a job where the company didn’t give an employee the tools they needed to be doing the best job they could be doing? That’s the situation large numbers of teachers all throughout America face.
While it’s wonderful that many people are helping teachers out with Donors Choose, the fact that it even exists demonstrates the issues teachers are dealing with that make their job not quite like everyone else’s.
5. Teachers carry student loan debt and have to continue their education on their own nickel
Another little known aspect of being a teacher is that they’re expected to keep educating themselves as well as their own students. Teachers are often mandated to keep boosting their education levels. However in America school costs money. A teacher being mandated to get a masters degree in order to maintain their position at a job will be adding education debt to their bills.
In many cases, teachers have education levels similar to professionals like that of dentists or lawyers, but not the same level of income. Those education debt payments and the impact those have on teachers free income have to be factored into looking at the average salaries.
6. Summers aren’t really all that long, and teachers don’t get regular vacation days
Most summer breaks for teachers aren’t as long as they are for the students. Teachers stay for a while after the students leave to pack up their classes and prepare their documents. They also come back to school a bit earlier than the students to prepare for the year. Good teachers also spend time preparing lesson plans and activities for the year ahead. Summer breaks are more like two months long.
That’s still more than many Americans get. Americans of similar professional level as a teacher get between 10-20 paid days off, depending on years at a job and education. But if a teacher is working during the summer because they live outside the Midwest, they’re probably not viewing it as a huge benefit. And teachers who spend most of the year working 15 hour days might want to spend the summer recuperating from the heavy schedule.
Teaching does have advantages. They still have unions that protect them which means solid retirement and healthcare (though that means social security is not available for them). Summers off are valuable, even if not quite as amazing as they might sound before considering some of the things teachers have to do during summer (use it to continue their education, or prepare for the next year). It’s not a heavy physical job. However, despite those benefits, increasingly teachers are opting out of the career. Teacher attrition is growing year over year. If it was such a plum assignment, it wouldn’t be suffering growing turnover and disillusionment among its professionals.
It’s easy to conclude from all this that teachers who work hard at their job and love working with students are not overpaid.
Ohio average teachers salaries vary greatly by district statewide – ABC Cleveland
Many teachers taking second jobs – Herald Tribune
High Teacher Turnover Rates Are a Problem for Schools – Forbes
San Francisco is Now Completely Unaffordable for Teachers – Curbed
Ohio Teacher Salary – Teacher Portal
The Real Number of Hours a Teacher Works – Upworthy
Property Tax – Ohio History Central