United States’ Educators Are Underpaid In 2020

An Op-Ed by Jill Shaughnessy

A Tiktok video that was posted on September 15, 2020 brought over 9 million viewers’ attention to the extensive process involved in teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic. Mackenzie, 24, filmed herself during a zoom call to her kindergarten class and captioned the video “my facial expressions trying to keep kindergarteners engaged in online learning.” Mackenzie treats her teaching as a performance, as shown in the video. She uses props, animated facial expressions, and a cartoonish voice, all to keep her class of 5 year olds focused and learning. The top comment posted on the video is “you deserve minimum $100k/year” with 214,600 likes (NBC). I agree! This teacher is passionately teaching and molding young minds. In these challenging times, it takes creativity and talent to do this important job well, and Mackenzie’s salary should reflect this. But unfortunately, most likely, it does not. In an equitable society, the reward should be equal to the value of their essential contribution. I believe that the United States public education system is failing to provide its teachers with adequate salaries, especially during the current pandemic.

The pandemic has brought on a new onslaught of challenges in many fields. But those without school-age children may be oblivious to the hardships currently faced by teachers and students. Teachers require a new sense of responsibility, patience and technological capability. When I am not learning myself on Zoom, I am a nanny and tutor for a 6 year old girl, Allison. I have intense admiration for the teacher of her first grade class. She has to manage instructing a class of students, partially online, partially in-person. This teacher deals with constant interruptions and technological difficulties. Although, her patience and kindness remain. Allison has struggled with the switch to online school. I have to constantly remind her to pay attention and stop fidgeting. But her teacher has been very helpful in making sure that, despite difficulties, her class can be entertained while staying on track academically.

It is Allison’s teacher’s first teaching job and, according to Teachers.org, the beginning salary for a first grade teacher in this particular district is around 50,000 dollars. This starting salary is common compared to the national average, which is about 40,000 (NEA). Furthermore, Business Insider writes, “While the nominal teacher salary has increased over the last couple decades, when adjusted for inflation, average salary has dropped over time.” Although the role of educator is absolutely essential to society, their salaries are not reflective of this. Many believe, with the current pandemic, the least school districts could do is give their teachers hazard pay (NYDaily). However, the reality is that many districts are forced to pay their educators the same or even less than before. Education Week writes that many pay raises are being put on hold in order to deal with the circumstances of the pandemic.

Time article by Katie Rielly outlines how difficult it is to be a teacher in the United States. The article’s subject, Hope Brown, shares that she works three jobs and donates blood plasma to pay the bills. Brown often works 11 plus hour work days. Long work days are increasing with the pandemic. Teachers are now faced with additional set up time and grading after hours, which makes their jobs even harder. Furthermore, the average teacher spends more than 500 dollars a year out of pocket to provide for their classrooms (USNews). My mom is a kindergarten teacher and she tells me about the similar issues she has dealt with in her own classroom. During the early months of the pandemic, in order to convince the school board that she should still be paid, my mother sacrificed her classroom supplies. “I told the Board of Education that I wouldn’t order anything new in the fall if it meant I would get paid during the spring, while class was on hold,” she says.

In contrast, many believe that United States’ teachers are adequately compensated for their occupation, especially considering they have summers off. Some argue that the ability for teachers to rise in station and earn higher salaries over time proves they are, in fact, not underpaid. I disagree and believe this rebuttal just hides the fact that Americans do not want to pay higher taxes. To combat the issue of underpaid teachers, the solution lies in more government funding and higher property taxes for public school districts. I believe that this funding is necessary to create a just education system. It is an investment in our future.

The pandemic has reminded us that teachers are integrally important for the next generation of Americans, and they take on a very difficult job. Mackenzie’s Tiktok showed me that teaching, now more than ever, is a challenging task and should be rewarded as such. The reality is, unfortunately, our teachers are expected to teach out of their passion for education, and “for the kids,” and not for the accompanying salary.

Works Reviewed

Barbarese, J. T. “Teachers Don’t Get Hazard Pay: Protect Them from COVID-19 Rather than Rushing a Reopening of Schools.” nydailynews.com. Accessed September 20, 2020. https://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/ny-oped-teachers-dont-get-hazard-pay-20200805-v5hx3sggyff6rg6m5wcpoln5zq-story.html.

“Teaching in Haddon Township School District | Salary | Jobs | Employment (New Jersey).” Teacher.Org (blog). Accessed September 20, 2020. https://jobs.teacher.org/school-district/haddon-township-school-district/.

“6 Proven Benefits to Increasing Teacher Pay.” WeAreTeachers, February 10, 2020. https://www.weareteachers.com/benefits-to-increasing-teacher-pay/.

Hoff, Marissa Perino, Andy Kiersz, Madison. “Here’s How Much Every US State Pays Its Teachers and How Much They Spend on Each Student.” Business Insider. Accessed September 17, 2020. https://www.businessinsider.com/teacher-salary-in-every-state-2018-4.

Time. “‘I Work 3 Jobs And Donate Blood Plasma to Pay the Bills.’ This Is What It’s Like to Be a Teacher in America.” Accessed September 20, 2020. https://time.com/longform/teaching-in-america/.

“I Get Paid for 180 Days of Work Each Year, but I Actually Work More Than 250.” WeAreTeachers, June 10, 2019. https://www.weareteachers.com/teacher-overtime/.

“Kindergarten Teacher Mackenzie Adams Has Viral TikTok Video.” Accessed September 20, 2020. https://www.today.com/parents/kindergarten-teacher-mackenzie-adams-has-viral-tiktok-video-t192010.

Lea, Brittany De. “Americans Don’t Want Higher Taxes, Midterm Elections Show.” Text.Article. FOXBusiness. Fox Business, November 8, 2018. https://www.foxbusiness.com/economy/americans-dont-want-higher-taxes-midterm-elections-show.

Long, Cindy. “Average Teacher Salary Down 4.5% Over Past Decade | NEA.” Accessed September 20, 2020. https://www.nea.org/advocating-for-change/new-from-nea/average-teacher-salary-down-45-over-past-decade.

Noack, Rick. “Analysis | Why Are Teachers in Europe Paid so Much Better than Those in the United States?” Washington Post. Accessed September 17, 2020. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2018/10/10/why-are-teachers-europe-paid-so-much-better-than-united-states/.

“RANKING: How Much Money Teachers Make in Every US State — Business Insider.” Accessed September 20, 2020. https://www.businessinsider.com/teacher-salary-in-every-state-2018-4.

“Teachers in California, Michigan Spend the Most on School Supplies | Best States | US News.” Accessed September 20, 2020. https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/articles/2019-08-26/teachers-in-california-michigan-spend-the-most-on-school-supplies.

Time. “This Is What It’s Like to Be a Teacher During the Pandemic.” Accessed September 17, 2020. https://time.com/5883384/teachers-coronavirus/.

Will, Daarel Burnette Ii, Madeline. “How Coronavirus Is Jeopardizing Teacher Pay Raises — Education Week.” Education Week, March 26, 2020. https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2020/03/26/how-coronavirus-is-jeopardizing-pay-raises-for.html.

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