“I am a fool to do this job.” So states one teacher in the PDK Poll as reported by EducationWeek. The comment reflects the fact that teacher compensation is the number one complaint of the teachers polled. In fact, of the 556 teachers polled, 55% of teachers said they would strike for higher compensation.
As we reported on this issue previously, most of the angst comes from unfulfilled promises by strong arm teacher union politics. Because of unions’ unrelenting support on seniority pay raises and lifetime job security, hundreds of new teachers and central office staff are laid off, class sizes increase, and after-school programs fail. This is bad for everyone, including taxpayers, new teachers who are in dire need of job placement, and most importantly, the children.
So there needs to be a shift of focus toward policy solutions that work rather than causing strikes over unfulfilled teachers demands. As Don Nielsen, program chair to the American Center for Transforming Education, points out in Every School, “Almost everyone, including legislators, agree that teachers do not make enough money. Teaching is a skilled occupation, yet many people in the profession can hardly afford to pay rent.”
Nielsen focuses on the root of the problem: underemployment. For example, he notes that the average teacher pay in Seattle is $77,239. The annual compensation is low for a trained professional. But it’s crucial to note that this is for only 10 months work. Nielsen continues, “Teachers in Seattle are employed 1,320 hours per year, regardless of how many hours they might actually work.” Bumping their annual hours to a more typical 2,080 hours per year, the annual salary rate becomes “$121,719, a very competitive salary for a college graduate.”
A related issue is that children “need to attend class for more hours per day and more days per year in order to achieve the academic standard.” Yet children are not the same. All do not learn the same way, and some need more contact time. Meeting their needs would require schools to stay open longer, which would result in teachers having the opportunity to be employed for more hours.
Nielsen suggests that we think about hiring teachers under different annual contracts—choosing to work for nine, ten, eleven, or even twelve months. The other option is to simply increase the length of the school year for all, similar to other developed nations such as Japan or South Korea. Nielsen notes that moving to a 200-day school year would give teachers “an immediate 11% raise.”
This idea does not need to be implemented all at once. As a state can afford it, they should phase the increase in the number of hours a teacher can be employed over several years. However, Nielsen argues that every additional hour added would “make the profession more attractive and would reduce turnover.”