While some schools have experimented with incentive-based salary increases for teachers based on objective standards such as test achievement, this seems like an unbalanced cornerstone for determining a teacher’s worth as test results vary greatly across districts and class types.
The only way to systematically and permanently revolutionize teacher quality is to provide teacher’s with average national salaries that are several thousand dollars above the current average. Like doctors and lawyers who make high salaries and must undergo rigorous and lengthy education and training, teachers too should be paid on par with these professions but should also have the stringent educational background required of other high-salaried jobs such as those given in medical and legal fields.
The value of teachers that comes from their ability to change the course of students’ lives and help them become successful, rounded, and educated citizens is of equal value to the services and benefits provided by high-paying professions such as being a doctor or lawyer. In fact, some could argue that teachers are worth more to society than lawyers, depending on whom one asks. Regardless, there is a disparity between what is expected of our teachers and their relatively paltry salaries on average.
Much attention has been given to the growing teacher shortage crisis that has been on the horizon as many existing teachers are reaching retirement age. This means that there is not only a shortage of educators more generally—there is a shortage of experience in the classroom. To provide top-notch education to students “requires an adequate supply of competent individuals who are willing and able to serve as teachers. Districts are constantly engaged in activities related to the recruitment and retention of their instructional staff but in the face of a growing school-aged population, schools must struggle to maintain standards for teaching quality while continuously recruiting bright new teachers and seeking to retain their most effective existing teachers” (Guarino, 2006, p. 176).
Part of the problem of recruiting new teachers begins as potential teachers look at the outlook for their monetary professional attainment and see that there is a great deal of expensive (sometimes even graduate-level prior to base entry) education that will not pay dividends as teachers receive subpar payment for their duties.
“There is a significant amount of empirical research on the various influences on student achievement and this research reveals how essential it is to hire and retain high-quality teachers in order to improve student learning” (Goldhaber, 2005, p. 212) but at this point, becoming a teacher is striking some students as not worth the effort in the financial sense. Research performed at a Midwestern university reveals that potential talented teachers are not finding that the educational requirements would make entry to the profession as rewarding they deemed suitable. At the site of the research in question (Goldhaber, 2005) in order to gain full certification to teach, education students were required to obtain the equivalent of a Masters degree, which is just under what a lawyer might be required (although to start at a far higher base salary) in terms of length of time of education. According to the results of the study, “48% of sophomores would be attracted to teaching if the teacher salary were 45% higher than the current level in the local teacher labor market” (Goldhaber, 2005, p. 212) especially as the students who were interviewed for this study understood that state requirements would require that they obtain a Masters degree before they were ever allowed to formally and permanently enter the teaching field.
While teachers do, on average, make just above the national average, the amount is relatively minimal and does not seem commensurate with the level of education required. More importantly, other essential professions that require roughly equal amounts of education (lawyers are the best example) pay sometimes twice what teachers will ever hope to make.
This is a hopeless imbalance in terms of adequate, appropriate compensation and to recruit the best, brightest talent, schools across the nation will need to bring salaries more in line with those found in other professions that require similar lengths of educational attainment. According to the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of 2006, “median annual earnings of kindergarten, elementary, middle, and secondary school teachers ranged from $43,580 to $48,690” whereas another vital service to society that requires just a bit more in terms of the length of education, lawyers, made on average far more. The same governmental reporting agency states that, “median annual earnings of all wage and salaried lawyers were $102,470” with the lowest half of the spectrum making between “$69,910 and $90,101” depending on the sector and nature of practice” (U.S. Department of Labor, 2006). This is a drastic disparity and one can argue that both professions, while entirely different in scope and purpose, are similarly essential for society and thus in all fairness should be more equivalent in pay scales.
In order to recruit and retain the quality of teachers necessary to meet ever-increasing demands for high educational quality, schools and governments need to restructure budgets to bring teacher salaries far more in line with other professions with similar stringent requirements. Until this disparity between education and other professions is addressed, potentially talented young teachers might be dissuades from pursing a profession where they might thrive due to mere salary-based issues.
Goldhaber, D. (2005). What Different Benchmarks Suggest About How Financially Attractive It Is to Teach in Public Schools. Journal of Education Finance. 30, 211-230.
Guarino, C., Santibañez, L., & Daley, G. (2006). Teacher Recruitment and Retention: A Review of the Recent Empirical Literature. Review of Educational Research. 76, 173-214.
United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, Bureau of labor statistics: Occupational outlook handbook 2008-2009 edition. Retrieved December 2, 2008, from Bureau of Labor Statistics Web site: http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos053.htm#earnings