Schools all over the country are opening their doors for the 2018-2019 school year. Unfortunately, some of them are going to open without enough teachers. Many school districts are in the midst of an extreme teacher shortage. Some districts are getting creative to try and fix the problem, trying everything from reducing the barriers to entry to importing teachers from different countries. However, deep down most people know where to start to fix the problem, compensation.
As an 8th year teacher, I now have a pretty firm grasp of the teacher compensation conversation. I am recently married and attempting to start a family. Only can I now see the built-in limitations of the profession from a long-term sustainability standpoint.
There is a well-known Chinese food restaurant chain down the street in my neighborhood. It’s by a college campus so employee turnover is pretty high. About once a year they have a “Now hiring managers” sign in the front window. The sign also outlines the starting salary for the job. I have been teaching since 2011 and get around a 1 to 3% raise every year. This year is the very first year I walked by that sign and the number listed was less than what I make now.
That’s no slight at fast-food managers. It’s not an easy job. However, it doesn’t require a bachelor’s or master’s degree. From a job marketplace standpoint, why would I rack up five years worth of student loans to get a job that doesn’t pay me as much as the manager position I’m already qualified for?
I ask myself that question every time I walk past that sign.
Let me be clear: The only reason I ever think about leaving the classroom is pay.
There are a number of reasons that teachers leave the classroom. Articles that list the main causes of teachers quitting the profession often cite working conditions, long hours outside of school, less autonomy, etc, but no matter what list you look at, compensation will be near the top. People who truly want to be teachers will accept the other challenges that come along with it if they are compensated fairly. They might even accept it if they aren’t compensated fairly…for a while. Then something happens, you get married, have kids and realize you can’t be as selfless at work as you once were. There is a reason many teachers quit within the first five years.
This is the case I find myself in now. I find myself budgeting for the high cost of childcare for my future kids in my head when I sleep at night and then, of course, skyrocketing cost of college. And, I still have to be able to retire after that too.
My family will be fine. My state doesn’t pay teachers much but my school, for the most part, pays pretty well, relative to the surrounding public schools at least. I also have a couple of side hustles. I have no student loans hanging over my head. Two incomes are always better than one and my wife makes good money, though she had to leave the classroom and become and an administrator to do it.
It is important for me to be a teacher. I can take being overworked and long hours of grading papers outside of school. And in a marriage with two middle-class salaries, no children or outstanding student loan debts, I can afford to ignore those signs for GED entry-level work that pays significantly more than the job I went to college for, but there are a whole lot of teachers who don’t fall into that category. So, we shouldn’t be surprised when they leave for better opportunities.