While walking through his corn field, a whisper from the heavens stopped Ray Kinsella dead in his tracks. The voice whispered, “If you build it, they will come.” The “it” referred to a baseball field, and the “they” was Shoeless Joe Jackson and seven other 1919 Chicago White Sox members. So, Ray built the field, and they came. The year was 1989, and the movie was “Field of Dreams.” Superintendents, HR directors, talent directors, and principals have long wondered if we build it will they come. If it worked for Ray Kinsella, would it work for us? Right now, for many schools, the answer is no. The question is if we build great schools, will teachers come? The answer seems to be if you build a great school and pay great money, teachers will come.
I know first-hand the difficulty there is with hiring teachers. As a former principal of a small elementary charter school, I had my fair share of difficulties hiring. Whether entering the school year with two vacant positions and finally getting an entire staff a week before school begins or losing teachers at the breaks because the district up the street offered more money, it was tough. I have gone through a lengthy interview process, excited about making an offer to a top candidate, only to be rejected.
A few years back, I interviewed a transition to teaching candidate who would be new to the profession after making a career change. Not only was he an excellent candidate who interviewed well, but he was also rare because he was a Black male wanting to teach at the elementary level—specifically wanting to teach 4th grade math. After going through all three rounds, I was excited to make him a verbal offer to join our team. I called him to make the offer, and he accepted. I told him that an official offer would be sent via email within 24 hours. Three days later, I got a call from him. I could tell in his voice he was concerned. He let me know that he would not be accepting our offer. When I asked what had changed, he said it was the money. He knew making this transition would be a pay cut from his previous job, but our offer was significantly lower than other offers. He mentioned that he could not live off that salary as a single father.
These types of rejections seem to happen more frequently. They were happening because what we offered was substantially less than what the school down the street could offer. Often the school was either the same size or comparable in size.
I am not the only one who is struggling. School leaders across the country are struggling with hiring teachers. Three years removed from the COVID-19 pandemic that turned the education profession on its head, it was a struggle to get and keep teachers in the classroom, and now it has become even more challenging. According to the Indiana Department of Education there are roughly 1700 teaching position vacancies in the following areas:
- Early Childhood
- Language Arts
- Social Studies
- Special Education
If you include positions such as music, ENL/ESL, career/technical education, foreign language, and art, the number jumps up to over 2000. If these jobs do not get filled, the students will be impacted.
Money over Love
Right now, teachers must choose between taking the money or taking the job they love. The gap in teachers’ pay across schools districts causes many teachers to be unable to teach for love, and they are forced to find a school district where they can get paid the most. I met a teacher who was born and raised in a small northern Indiana town. Her goal was to always return home after college to teach in the city where she grew up. After graduating, she was encouraged to look for teaching jobs elsewhere, and she did. It was then she quickly realized the difference in pay. In her small town, the average teacher salary was around $49,000; however, first-year teachers began at $40,000. The average teacher in Indiana was paid $51,119 which is ranked 37th in the country. Teacher salaries in surrounding states was much more appealing. In Illinois the average is $67,049, Michigan $62,170, and Ohio is $59,713. Ultimately it became a decision over teaching for love in her hometown or teaching for money somewhere else.
The graph below represents the starting teacher salaries in Indiana and surrounding states according to the NEA’s Teacher Salary Benchmark Report:
|State||Starting Salary||Starting Salary Master’s Degree)|
So much in the education profession has taken that joy of teaching away from many educators. Teachers must deal with the staffing shortage, which puts more work on the teachers who stay. The pandemic burned out teachers; they were overworked, stretched thin, and shown little respect. All this caused stress for many teachers across our country. Stress was a common trend among the reason teachers are leaving the profession at such a high rate. Stress was high before the COVID-19 pandemic, and now the pandemic has caused stress levels to soar even more. According to a survey by RAND, three out of four former teachers named stress as the reason for their departure.
Teacher Salaries Across the Country
Tim Walker’s piece for the National Education Association titled “Average Teacher Salary Lower Today Than Ten Years Ago” highlights just how much teacher salaries have dropped in the past decade. Inflation and inadequate teacher salaries could push many educators out the door. The article stated that an average teacher salary of $66,397 for the 2021-2022 school year means teachers bring home about $2,179 less than they did during the 2011-2012 school year. How can we expect teachers to survive with taking that much less home? We expect more and pay teachers less than we did ten years ago. The demand for student achievement has gone up higher than it was ten years ago. Teachers are coming off teaching during a pandemic that was not even a thought ten years ago. Class sizes have grown due to the lack of finding teachers. The cost of living and surviving has increased, but we expect teachers to do more with less. One point to note is that the starting teaching salary is much lower. Teachers must consider the livable wage especially if they have their own kids.
- New York
- New Jersey
The deck is stacked against many schools across the country as we all race to staff our buildings with the best and brightest. As the demand for quality teachers continues to increase with the growing need for student support, the number of teachers available appears to match the demand. We need a bold approach to solve this problem, and we need support for all schools. While pay is not the magical cure to solve our problems, it sure is a remedy to ease the pain. Be on the lookout for my next piece, where I lay out possible solutions to the problems.