Are Teachers Underpaid?

Thursday, August 14, 2003
A recent study suggest that teachers are paid better than the average american, even better than accountants and many engineers. The study is based on the fact that teachers make an average of $44,000 (I don't know how accurate that is but it is coming from a teacher's union) but work only 9 months in the year. Doing the Math you would see that that would be the equivilant of almost $60,000 a year which is a pretty good salary.

Now teachers will argue that they put in a lot of hours outside of their normal school hours. They have to grade papers and they often participate in after school programs. However, I am going to take a controversial stand (what's new) and agree with the study (I hope my teacher friends like Christina and Michelle forgive me). How can I say this?

Well first let me take the first point, working extra hours. Some teachers argue they work 3000 hours a year. Spread over 40 weeks that means 12 hours a day 6 days a week resting only on Sundays. My point is yeah? When I was a consultant I worked WAY more than that. 72 hour weeks were good weeks. Working 100 hour weeks were not unheard of. My Investment Banking friends AVERAGED 100 hour weeks sometimes "sleeping" (if you can call 2 hours sleep) at the office several days in a row. Even now, I probably work on average 60 hours a week. Its just part of the job. Additionally, teachers receive compensation outside of their actual pay. I know in California there is a box on tax forms that give teachers a tax break on mortgages and other consumer type loans. This could add thousands to a teachers income.

But none of this is my point. My point is that I believe people get paid what they are worth. We live in a free society. People are free to move jobs if they want to. Now do I think I should be paid more? Like every other American of course I do but if it is really the case I should go get a different job (and I probably will if I continue to get underpaid). If I'm worth more I could easily prove it to my company by getting an offer somewhere else. Teachers have the same freedom.

The real problem is Economics. It's simple suppy and demand. There is a strong demand for teachers but an even larger supply of capable teachers. The key word is capable. The reason I say that is because one of the underlying problems is that we have very low standards for teachers. We tend to think that anybody with a a pulse is capable of teaching. We as a society don't really care if they are capable of teaching as long as they stand in front of the students and watch them a few hours a day. The DEMAND is for anybody who is basically willing to babysit the students. Since a lot of people are qualified for this there is the large supply.

Now this creates a problem for teachers who actually teach. Since we as a society don't put a premium on actual teaching skills great teachers are dragged down by their less capable brethren. We as a society therefore refuse to pay more taxes to increase teacher salary because we don't feel that it is a difficult job and that anyone off the street can do it. Do I agree with this? NO. But it is the sad state of affairs. So given our expectations and criteria for teachers I do not beileve teachers are underpaid. I believe the actual problem is that our expectations and criteria for teachers is much too low.