There's an entire website devoted to teachers and how they're the poorest of the poor. The Teacher Salary Project is "a nonpartisan organization dedicated to raising awareness around the impact of our national policy of underpaying and under-valuing educators."
This important effort was brought to my attention via a recent blog post on the site, Why So Many Teachers Need a Second Job to Make Ends Meet. This harrowing tale starts with a public teacher of high school English. She works a full day at school and then hops into her car to shuttle strangers around driving for Lyft and Uber.
The blog's author is disgusted that many of her passengers tell her that "Driving Uber is a great job for a teacher!" The author is incensed that no one would ever say "Driving for Uber is a great job for a doctor."
Guys, I'm trying to work up some great big crocodile tears, and it is not going well. It's Christmas break. While all of the teachers I know are at home enjoying family and friends and recovering from the first half of the school year, I've been back at work since December 26. My Christmas break consisted of one whole weekend. I'm not asking for anyone to feel sorry for me or the myriad of other professional cube warriors. We chose this, just like teachers chose their profession.
Perhaps some teachers choose to take on a second job because they have the time. If I had extra time, I may choose to use some of it making more money, but most professionals don't have three months off in the summer and a month off at Christmas. (This is the part where someone explains to me that the summer break isn't a full three months and Christmas break is really only three weeks, and here's the part where I explain the rest of the world doesn't get that time either.)
The teacher at question in the blog post lives in San Francisco. You know who else has a second job in San Francisco? Basically all the humans. Either that, or they live in the adult equivalent of youth hostels, renting out their basements, their sheds, and their wombs just to make ends meet. Living in San Francisco is expensive. The median rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $3,460 a month. The total cost of living is about 60 percent more in San Francisco than in the rest of the U.S. If you live in San Francisco and you have anything resembling a middle class, professional career, you live like a pauper. San Francisco is unaffordable for high school teachers, who make an average of $70,000 per year in SFO, but no one else can afford to live there either.
I guess the good news for the San Francisco community is that it's now so expensive that very few families live there. That should eliminate the need for any teachers at all in another generation. San Francisco has the lowest percentage of children in any major city in the country. That percentage has been in free fall since the 1960s. It's so expensive that even popular former Mayors flee the city once their terms end. See Gavin Newsom.
In a truly competitive schooling system, San Francisco's old, wealthy, white residents would demand the best schools and the very best teachers, and San Francisco teachers would be rewarded. But alas, that's not the system we have. In California, in Kansas, and throughout the country, the teachers work in a system that rewards mediocrity at every level.
The blog suggests that teachers have as much training and education as doctors and lawyers and should therefore be paid accordingly. It's difficult to compare teachers to doctors and to lawyers, but I'll give it a go.
Doctors spend far, far more time getting educated than teachers do. Doctors complete an undergraduate degree, then spend another four years in medical school, before completing three to seven years in residency so they can be licensed. In the best case scenario, it takes 11 years to become a practicing doctor. Most people who become doctors end up majoring in sciences, where they boast SAT scores of more than 1600-1700. Teachers, on the other hand, can be licensed after completing a bachelor's degree, and their average SAT scores? 1438. It takes more time, more money, more effort, and more smarts to become a doctor. That's not being mean. That's not being rude, and that's not belittling teacher's efforts. It's simply the truth.
And then there's this: Would anyone in their right mind choose a doctor that was given the job and then given tenure based based simply on a union pay scale? I want the guy cutting on me to be the best--or as close to the best as I can afford. Doctors face natural marketplace competition and marketplace risks, and therefore, receive some of the rewards. The average general physician's salary is $136,000. Specialists and surgeons earn more. Radiologists, for example, earn an average of $287,000. Teachers may have better rewards if they faced any risks. As it stands today, very few people have any choice at all about which teachers will educate their children.
This is an easier comparison, because the legal field is also a bit of a racket. (Sorry, lawyer friends. It's true.) Lawyers must be licensed, though in certain circumstances, people can defend themselves. (Some day, I will write a lengthy rant about that time I needed a lawyer to fight a subpoena. The irritation. The racket. The rage, but anyway...)Becoming a lawyer, requires an undergraduate and a graduate degree--generally a J.D.--and passing an exam. It takes about seven years to become a lawyer versus the four years required to become a teacher. Lawyers are also subject to the conditions of the marketplace. They face competition. Like future doctors, future lawyers score higher on college readiness tests than future teachers. On the SAT, students planning to become lawyers score an average of 1533, compared to future teacher scores of 1438. The median salary for an attorney is $80,035. The average is $133,470, which goes to show that attorney earnings vary widely thanks to marketplace forces. Good lawyers earn more. Bad lawyers probably drive for Lyft in their spare time.
The average high school teacher salary in 2015 was $47,575. When all teachers are considered, the average teacher earned $48,911 last year. Hourly, the average teacher earns $27.28 per hour, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.The average American earns $23.23 per hour. The average American with a bachelor's degree earned $48,500 in 2013. Most were not guaranteed weekends off. A lot of doctors work weekends and holidays. Most Americans have 2-3 weeks of vacation time. Teachers have a whole lot more. The vast majority of professional jobs are subject to the whims of the marketplace. Teacher jobs are not. Almost guaranteed job security is worth something.
And I haven't even mentioned retirement! The average retirement age for a teacher is 59, while the average American doesn't retire until age 62. And then there's this: In California, the Uber-driving teacher can expect to earn 105 percent of her pay when she retires.
In a competitive education system, good teachers would make a ton of money. They'd be highly sought-after professionals enjoying lucrative contracts, but that's not the world we live in. Instead, every teacher makes virtually the same amount of money whether they're the best teacher or the worst. Mediocrity is rewarded at every level. One natural result of that? Teachers salaries are average.
The pay teachers more blog closes with this:
"Finally, now more than ever, if we want to fight global warming..."
If the blog hadn't lost me already...