A Focus on Teacher Salaries

Last month, The Nation’s Alissa Quart put the spotlight on teacher salaries in her article, Teachers are Working for Uber Just to Keep a Foothold in the Middle Class. Quart highlighted Matt Barry, a public high school history teacher in the suburbs of San Jose who at 32 has taken a part time job with Uber to support his wife Nicole and their soon-to-be-born child. As teachers, Barry and his wife each bring in about $70,000 annually, but it isn’t enough for them to afford a home in their community of Gilroy, CA where the median home price is $650,000 and the cost of living far exceeds their income as public school teachers. Barry tries to make up the difference by driving for Uber. Quart quoted Barry as saying, “Teachers are killing themselves. I shouldn’t be having to drive Uber 8 o’clock on a weekday. I just shut down from the mental toll: grading papers in between rides, thinking of what I could be doing instead of driving—like creating a curriculum.”

Barry’s story is not unique, and Uber is not the only company benefiting from the situation. Uber, like many other companies who hire independent contractors and part-time employees, realize that teachers represent a very skilled, reliable, and thus valuable labor option for them because in recent years, teacher salaries around the country have not kept pace with the cost of living. It is not a new problem that teachers have looked to second jobs to supplement their income. I can remember my days growing up watching my father work several part-time jobs to offset his Massachusetts teaching salary. As Quart suggests, “What’s new is the degree of desperation.” It is becoming more and more common to find teachers who have turned to accepting state assistance or who have started crowd-sourcing through GoFundMe sites. Quart pointed out, “Meanwhile, teachers working in increasingly expensive locales like San Francisco and Chicago are forced into the lowest echelons of the gig economy or to work other side jobs like bartending in order to survive.”

In a blog for Education Week, Walt Gardner put teacher salaries in proper perspective, noting that public school teachers in the San Francisco area are putting an “ever increasing portion of their paychecks” into housing with the median rent for a one-bedroom apartment in that area at $3,500 and San Francisco’s teacher salaries ranking 528th out of 821 districts in the state. These lop-sided ratios can make the best and most qualified teachers leave for more affordable parts of the state, but what does that leave the students with who cannot control their community’s high cost of living?

Solutions to this problem have to come soon. One such fix comes from local communities like Los Angeles and Milwaukee who have turned to affordable housing solutions for teachers. On its website, Los Angeles Unified School District has secured 90 affordable family apartments with amenities to help address the wage gap for their teachers. Milwaukee’s housing initiative for young teachers started in late 2013 with a project to transform a former neighborhood school into housing for its teachers. Known as “Teach Town”, the proposal took its cue from similar projects in Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New Orleans.

Earlier this year, the Atlantic’s Alia Wong asked the question, what if America’s teachers made more money? Wong cited an average public-school teacher salary of just $56,000 in 2012-2013, compared to $69,000 for nurses and $83,000 for programmers in that same year. She went on to reference a recent report from the OECD that concluded that “students are more likely to be low-performers if they attend schools that struggle with shortages and low teacher morale.” Wong went on to suggest that increasing compensation to teachers in the form of incentives, benefits, and salaries is one short-term strategy to bringing about high performance from teachers in schools, but more importantly, teachers need to feel valued in their school community and believe that they are an important part of the decision-making process for their school or organization. Raising the level of respect and the overall social standing for teachers is going to be the best strategy to solve our current teacher salary dilemma.

This article was written originally for MultiBriefs Education.


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