It shouldn’t be news to anyone at this point that America’s education system has significantly fallen off from where it once was. In the 1950s and 60s it was among the best in the world, and nowadays our students are mediocre in pretty much every subject. Top 20, maybe top 15 at the best.
The reasons for this are vast, complicated, and systemic. I cannot possibly address all of them in one post, but there is an issue I’d like to focus on specifically. Simply put, our teachers across America are not paid enough. There are a bunch of other reasons why our education system isn’t doing as well, but for me this is a huge part of the problem.
I’d like to do a case-study of one US state in particular: Nevada. I think NV is a good choice because it is a microcosm of the larger, nationwide problem with teacher salaries. I don’t want throw too many numbers into this, but some are necessary. The two biggest school districts in NV are Washoe County and Clark County, and when you look at the numbers it becomes clear right off the bat that teachers aren’t being paid enough. An entry level teacher with a bachelor’s degree (if he/she can find a teaching job with the County) will make $32,289/yr in Washoe his/her first year and $34,684/yr in Clark. To put it on a relative scale, some valet attendants at Vegas casinos make more than teachers.
It takes a bachelor’s degree to get those base salaries. The median student loan debt in 2014 is $33,000. How are you supposed to pay off $33K in debt on $32k a year? This isn’t the only profession that doesn’t keep up with student debt, but its an especially big problem for low-paid teachers. Keep in mind, this debt figure is an average. There are people with even more student debt. Of course teacher salaries increase gradually over time, but to get the bigger pay increases the teachers have to take more classes and spend more money. It’s a bit of a vicious circle. I know many teachers in Nevada in particular who have taken second jobs since becoming teachers, which they have freely admitted to me affects their lesson plan preparations for the next day. When the teacher can’t prepare, the quality of education suffers.
It true that the state of Nevada’s cost of living is slightly less than the national average, but the teacher salaries are still not proportionate to the cost of living. What’s more is that there are often too many kids in a class and not enough books for everyone. What really sets me off though and what compelled me to write this post is that teachers in Nevada and throughout America for the most part have to buy their own school supplies! I’ve known this for a long time but it’s mystifying to me as to why the state or federal governments don’t give teachers some sort of subsidy or grant with which to buy supplies. How is a teacher already struggling with debt and cost of living expenses supposed to be able to spend several hundred dollars (sometimes into the thousands) per year on supplies they need to do their jobs? I’m sure there’s some sort of tax write-off at the end of the fiscal year, but it’s still difficult to initially come up with that much money on a tight budget.
I’ve even seen charity drives to raise money for school supplies! While these efforts are definitely noble and needed, we shouldn’t need a charity drive for school supplies in the first place.
The work that teachers at all levels do is far too important for them to be paid so relatively little. It’s not a 9 month, 8-3 job. The teachers I know work year-round, even when not dealing directly with students. It’s hard work.The perception of education and what teachers do needs to be changed not only in NV but also across America. Too many politicians at the state and federal levels see education as a burden on a budget and teachers as government moochers. This is the entirely wrong perception to have. Education must be viewed as an investment on the future, and it must be seen as the fundamental tenet of democracy that it is. The people our teachers educate today are the leaders and voters of tomorrow, and if we have uneducated people running our country some poor decisions will be inevitably made.
In my personal opinion, teachers should be given whatever money they need to help educate their students. Teachers are some of the most dedicated people in the world, and none of them are in it for the money. They do it because they love to do it. They aren’t looking for six figure salaries, either. I’m talking about enabling them and empowering them to let them teach the best ways they know how, and if that costs a bit extra than what we’re spending now then so be it. They’re our children after all and we all want the best for them, right? I do not have children, but if I did I would feel much better about dropping them off at school every day knowing they were going to get the best education in the world, instead of the 15th-20th best education.
Giving teachers some more financial peace of mind would allow them to focus on what they do best – teaching. If they do not have to worry about a second job, they can spend more time grading, preparing lesson plans, meeting with parents, and meeting with students. Also, working two jobs like some teachers do is exhausting. Here’s a simple fact: fatigued teachers are less-effective than rested teachers!
If we increase teacher salary across the nation in tandem with a few other policies, I think the American education system can get back to where it was. I hope it does but given the current state of Congress I’m not optimistic. Perhaps the changes we need to make should start at the state level. A state legislature is much more likely to actually do something about this problem than Congress is right now, so if you feel as passionately about this as I do I encourage you to advocate and vote for a raise in teacher salaries whenever it is possible to do so.