Let’s Discuss the Teacher Shortage

It is predicted that that state of Colorado will retire 5,500 teachers this year, with only approximately 2,000 teacher-school graduates, which, based on some simple math (I do it the Saxon way), 3,500 teaching positions will be left, unfilled. While there are many, many explanations as to why no one wants to go into teaching anymore, today, I’m going to provide a cost-benefit analysis.

We can start with the most obvious issue: teacher pay. According to GlassDoor, the average high school teacher salary in my district is $47,000 (but, remember, as Saxon taught us, “average” means that we have some salaries significantly higher, but also some salaries significantly lower), which, if we are figuring in the 7 hour work day, 185 days out of the year, equates to about $32/hour (or, if we factor in 52, 40 hour work weeks like other professions, that is $22/hour)–which, again, means that some are making higher, but also, some are making significantly lower. Now, I don’t really mean to sound ungrateful, because there certainly are other professions, such as the military, that make far less than a teacher does, and sacrifices far more. In my argument, I’m holding teaching as a profession exclusive from any other professions (we can compare in some other blog post).

Here is what you are receiving for $32/hour: a professional writer, analytical thinker, self-esteem builder. My resume writing skills have a 100% job placement rate, and my own writing put me on the Dean’s List in college. I can teach these kids to break down arguments and think in ways they could never learn from a YouTube video. In this $32/hour, you are getting someone who, I would say, is an expert in identity formation, issues of morality, the structures of language, and how to have meaningful conversations. In my colleagues, you are getting well traveled, well experienced, well educated individuals. You are getting other people to help raise your children, to teach them the valuable lessons of responsibility, hard work, self advocacy, compassion, and basic hygiene skills that can only come from a role model. The stuff you are getting really is priceless, and we apparently value this at an average of $32/hour.

It used to be that, in order to compensate for the low teacher pay, districts would offer a plethora of incentives: quality health insurance, time off, retirement packages. People used to be drawn to the profession because they appreciated the community teaching brought; they loved supporting the school play, because it meant they would see all of their favorite people; they loved arriving to school early to sip on their coffee and chit chat in the teacher’s lounge; they loved being able to be on the same schedule as their families so they could travel and spend time together. Because of these incentives, people didn’t quite mind a lower pay, because the benefits were so great. However, in recent years, with the recession and “reform”, education has shifted to mimic the “business” and “professional” worlds (the rhetoric has even changed, and students are now “consumers”, parents are “stakeholders”, and administration are “managers”), which means crappier health insurance, less time off, smaller retirement packages, more students, less plan time, more responsibilities. Going to the school play is scary, because you might run into that parent who sent that nasty e-mail; you can’t chit chat before school, because there are copies to run, essays to grade, e-mails to respond to; you might get some time off, but in order to be evaluated as an effective teacher, your “time off” is inundated with extra trainings. So, lower pay is no longer incentivized.

Ok, so now let’s discuss what I am dealing with, for $32/hour:

Here’s a list of regular statements that come across my Inbox: “How dare you accuse my son of cheating! He would never do that! There must be something wrong with your classroom management style”; “My daughter said that you told her she was ugly and stupid and then laughed at her and that’s why she’s afraid to come to class and it’s all your fault”; “I don’t understand how [this curriculum you’ve been working on for months and months and even got a master’s degree in] relates to college prep–shouldn’t you be teaching more vocabulary?”; “You are evil. I would like to set up a meeting with you so that I can scream and yell at you and vent my own personal frustrations and tell you what a horrible person you are and are crappy at your job and slam the classroom door in your face” (and then you get the people who e-mail you three times in one day, because you have been busy working and haven’t had time to respond, or e-mail you at 2 AM because apparently we should be available to answer questions during our slumber and then get mad when you don’t respond). $32 worth of emotional trauma (although, most districts DO offer a limited amount of counseling sessions, which can be helpful).

Somewhere down the line, we have decided that teachers are responsible for raising our children, and if our children misbehave, do poorly on a quiz, or don’t turn in an assignment, it is the teacher’s fault for doing a poor job (and remember, the teacher is making  on average, $32/hour), and we tar and feather the teacher, rather than potentially looking at the student, the parents, or other factors. I think this stems from a couple reasons; first, while going to school is YOUR life, it is my job, and while I certainly spend more than my expected 40 hours a week working, I do have to set boundaries for myself. Secondly, I think, because we live in a world where 55% of our families are divorced, parents often feel guilty for whatever reasons, and instead of accepting their own faults, they project it onto someone else, usually a teacher, a coach, etc.

It takes a very tough individual to be a teacher. We must be secure enough in ourselves that, when the students start taunting us for our flappy arm skin and making up nicknames for us, we don’t let our instruction falter. We must be professional and tactful in responding to those e-mails and attacking conference sessions. We must be able to orchestrate and manage 30 different personalities, learning styles, and actually remember all of their names in one class period. When a student comes to us about a friend issue, a boyfriend issue, their dad just died issue, we must be able to be empathetic, and then turn around, and respond to that attacking e-mail.

So, all in all, I think one reason we have a teaching shortage is because the benefits certainly do not outweigh the costs anymore; it’s emotionally draining, mentally taxing, time consuming, and if I were a 22 year old straight out of college, and I’m looking at all of this for $32/hour, I think I’d take the pay cut, and go work as a retail sales manager.

(But don’t worry, I really do love my job).

3 Responses

  1. William Thompson

    A teacher is one of the most influential people in a child’s life. Every successful person will always tell everyone that there was one teacher that guided him or her into success.
    Warren Buffett credits one teacher he had in college for his success. Albert Einstein names a couple. Bill Gates will name his, as would Steve Jobs.
    On the flip side, there are young people being taught by teachers who do not want to be in the business and who enjoy degrading and humiliating their students because the teacher hates their job and needs to use their students as therapists to vent the teachers own shortcomings. It makes the teacher feel better to hurt others.
    My advice to teachers who are bitter and really dislike their profession is to GET OUT before they damage bright young minds. Yes, get into retail where you can create minimal damage.

      1. William Thompson

        Why is this going on? Pretty much the same thing as in Arizona, Kansas and other states where teachers are fleeing: a combination of under-resourced schools, the loss of job protections, unfair teacher evaluation methods, an increase in the amount of mandated standardized testing and the loss of professional autonomy.
        The words “student” is not in there. The satisfaction has to come not in personal financial gain but in knowing the power the teacher has to mold and shape young minds.
        You are developing the great minds and leaders of tomorrow. You will never get rich doing it. You have to look beyond the political BS and not forget why you got into this job in the first place.
        The same holds true for police offficers anf Fire Fighters. The pay is low, the pressure is great but the reward of saving lives is the greatest pay one could ever hope for.
        Never ask what you can take. Ask what you can give. You may prevent a child from commiting suicide. You may turn out a leader of tomorrow. Because of you, some child may go on to find a cure for cancer.
        If you are that frustrated it will show in the way you relate to your students and the way they relate to you in return.
        You’re the only one that can control it . Parents are frustrated because they feel the system and the teacher has failed their child. Your frustration will show through in your performance and also in the way the students and the parents see you. This causes a vicious cycle and you were the only one that can control the ultimate outcome. A teacher who is that unhappy needs to leave the profession.

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