[As an aside: A friend who regularly reads this blog commented that she did not understand the title that I gave this post. I had to laugh. The ideas for titles just sort of come to me. I don’t think about them too deeply. My blogmeister told me that it was good to use titles that were catchy–that would get the reader’s attention. This one comes from an old joke, and I realized that it really only works when the joke is spoken aloud–not when it is read. Q: “What’s a Greek urn?” A: “Eh–not much.” It’s in the same vein as “Who’s buried in Grant’s Tomb?]
I met someone this past week who commented to me that his son (a college graduate) was making more money selling Verizon cell phones than he would have made as a new teacher. On so many levels, this does not seem right.
Can a young adult really make a $30,000-40,000 salary selling cell phones? What education pathway leads to selling phones–what should one study? What educational background and skill set does one need? Don’t get me wrong–my last encounters with Verizon salespeople were entirely satuisfactory. They each did a great job with customer service and with the expertise needed to handle the sale or to resolve the problem. I am sure that some of those folks put in more than a 40-hour week. They work on weekends. It’s good to know that this can be a satisfying and sustaining kind of job. Hell, in this economy, it’s good to know that his kid has a full-time job!
But this begs the question: Do we value salesmanship over teaching? Should we?
New teachers in Delaware make between $26,000 and $32,000 during their first year. The job has traditionaly required a 4-year college degree, a teaching license, certification by the state for the subject you have been trained to teach–like math or science. It requires training and classroom experience.
I hear the rumble of protest and the rustle of finger-pointing, so let me attempt to quiet it sooner than later. Yes. Teachers work for about 10 months of the year. Yes. Teachers have most of the summer off. Yes. Most teachers have arranged to have their annual salary for 10 months of work extended across 12 months–otherwise, budgeting can become a nightmare. No. Teachers get paid only for the work that they do during the 10 months that school is in session–they DO NOT get paid for their time off during the summer.
If the average new teacher salary is around $29,000, and the school year is 190 days, and each school day is 7.5 hours, then first-year teachers get paid about $20 per hour. In spite of this princely sum, many new teachers find that they need to (1) find a summer job, (2 work a second job during the school year, or (3) combine year-long job opportunities just to make ends meet. Additionally, a teaching salary can be combined with a partner’s salary. This relatively low salary for professional work is a major motivating factor for teachers to leave the classroom–to move to an administrative position or to leave teaching altogether for a job in industry or business, banking, real estate, etc.
I have never really grumbled much about the salary I received for teaching. My first teaching job, way back in September of 1972, paid the grand total of $8,000. When I left teaching in June 2011, I was making $80,000 in my 39th year of teaching–seventeen years at 3rd and 4th grades, and twenty-two years of teaching 6th grade science.
$80,000 is not a bad salary. However, the single-salary scale–the system under which teachers are paid–has dribbled out salary increases to me at a slow and unsteady pace, and has served as a hindrance on my career earnings. I was a top-rated, high-functioning teacher with 39 years’ experience, a master’s degree, and more than 45 college credits beyond my Master of Instruction degree. In a comparable profession with comparable background and experience, I would have been worth and would have been paid much more.
BTW: You can keep your merit pay. What teachers really want is career opportunities–just like everyone else. More about this in a future post.