Dave Eggers and Ninive Clements Calegari of the New York Times say teachers are underpaid and blamed entirely way too much for the underachieving American education system.
In their argument, Eggers and Clements Calegari compared teachers to military professionals.
“We don’t say, ‘It’s these lazy soldiers and their bloated benefits plans! That’s why we haven’t done better in Afghanistan!’ No, if the results aren’t there, we blame the planners. We blame the generals, the secretary of defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff,” writes Eggers and Clements Calegari.
So why shouldn’t we treat teachers just the same? Why is it teachers’ fault if their students underachieve because the system is flawed or because their parents aren’t encouraging them to study harder or do their homework?
When students underachieve, not only do we blame the teachers, but we also reduce their already-small pay, fire a lot of them away and make the others scared for their jobs, writes Eggers and Clements Calegari.
Compare that to soldiers. When military operations get tough, we rally support for the troops, we give them better tools, weapons, protection and training, and then we offer large incentives to create more interest among prospects.
The writers argue that right now is a turning point in the American education system as many current teachers begin to retire. America now has a golden opportunity to create more interest in the profession and recruit/train better teachers.
Currently, teachers earn 14% less than professionals in other occupations that require similar levels of education, and their salaries have been decreasing for the past 30 years, inflation adjusted.
The average starting salary for teachers is $39,000, and the average ending salary (after 25 years in the profession) is $67,000. These figures make raising a family on one income nearly impossible and prices teachers out of home ownership in 32 metropolitan areas.
These low salaries force 62% of teachers to work out-of-the-classroom to make ends meet. Many teachers take up common jobs as waitresses, construction workers or retail cashiers to supplement their low incomes, just to provide for their families.
Why would a talented and intelligent teacher continue on in this career? Not many good reasons, state Eggers and Clements Calegari.
That’s exactly why most of the good teachers have left the field. They leave because of the tireless, stressful work, low-pay and the student’s who never truly appreciate their help. That’s not even to mention the occasional angry phone call from a parent.
But the problems are fixable, according to the writers. They looked at teaching professions in Finland, Singapore and South Korea, the three countries that perform best on standardized tests.
In these countries, the government recruits top graduates into the profession, pays for their training (in Finland and Singapore) and pays teachers more (250% more in South Korea).
The writers state that America could follow these countries’ practices and produce better teachers to fix the education system. Sixty-eight percent of 900 top-tier American college students said they would consider teaching careers if salaries started at $65,000 and rose to a minimum of $150,000.