Imagine a day when college students stay up at night worrying about a future in the teaching profession the same way many of them worry now about which medical school will accept them. Creating a profession so desirable is an exciting and important prospect. It’s not impossible, but it will require educators, legislators and everyday Americans to change our culture and make teaching a rewarding career, both financially and professionally. Now is a perfect time to call for such a change.
The Lumina Foundation anticipates a shortage of 16 million college-educated adults in the U.S. workforce by 2025. In addition to that gap, 7,000 students drop out of school every day. Teachers, the most important component of a school campus, need our respect and support, and more than thank you notes with apples or discounts at their local tanning salon. They need professional salaries, healthy working conditions and autonomy to meet high standards.
Here are some statistics highlighting the urgent need for policy change:
- 68% of college students said they would consider teaching if paid more than 50% of the occupations they were considering.
- Teachers are paid 14% less than other professionals with similar training.
- 92.4% of teachers use their own money to buy supplies.
- Every year in the U.S., 14% of teachers leave the profession, and in urban areas, 20% leave. This turnover costs the country $7 billion dollars each year, and threatens the ability of individual schools and communities to thrive.
- An alarming 62% of teachers have second jobs outside the classroom to make ends meet.
- In 1970, starting teachers earned $2,000/year less than starting attorneys in NYC. Today, a starting teacher earns $45K and a starting attorney earns $160K.
1.8 of our 3.2 million teachers are about to retire and we can use this opportunity to ask ourselves: How can we make sure college students who are interested in teaching don’t feel condemned to a vow of poverty by taking on this important role, especially given the huge college loan debt they face? How do we stop lambasting this group of professionals and get communities behind them? And, finally, when we have great people in the classroom, what conditions and salaries are needed to keep them there?
A 2011 Gates Foundation and Scholastic study points to the fact that many working teachers don’t have salary on the top of their list for school improvement. We can’t allow this information to let America off the hook. Teachers who have found ways to make ends meet will always rank their students’ needs above their own, but low salaries dissuade college students from teaching and push educators out of the classroom.
We know that our country’s greatest strength is each child sitting in a school today—their future innovations, contributions and families. So, why continue to undernourish that asset?
posted by Nínive Calegari, a former public school teacher, co-producer of American Teacher Project and co-founder of 826 Valencia and 826 National.