An Oklahoma teacher holds a sign as teachers rally against low school funding at the state Capitol in Oklahoma City in April. Teacher pay and school funding have become flashpoints in many states. 

Keys to enhancing teaching profession: Power, prestige and pay

Thanks to all the teachers who sent me their suggestions on how to improve the status of the profession. In reading the responses, I noted three major themes: pay, power and prestige. 

Respondents said more of all three are necessary to recruit and retain teachers.

Teachers in countries with higher performing schools earn professional salaries on par with doctors or lawyers. However, the other side of that story is that entry into teacher preparation programs in those nations can be as competitive as getting into med school or law school.

Raising the pay should go hand-in-hand with raising the standards of admission to the field, said several teachers. It has to become a point of prestige to earn a seat in a college of education.

Teachers also spoke about being overlooked in discussions around education in Georgia. Yes, lawmakers call in a few teacher representatives to testify on education bills, but they often ignore much of what they say. (Exhibit 1: Senate study committee on when schools should dismiss for the summer and resume in Georgia.) 

Teachers want more power, both over their classrooms and state education policy. They mentioned how often their judgments are ignored and their decisions second-guessed. 

Here are a few of the responses from teachers on pay. I will share responses on power and prestige in later blogs this weekend:

--I think there should be a way to earn a significant raise without having to pay for an additional degree. I have a master’s and about 15 years of experience. To get a significant raise, I would have to pay around $30,000 for a specialist’s degree to receive more than the $50-$100 more a month that you might receive every two years.

And that degree work is after hours. The flattening of income as you advance in your career as a teacher puts you far behind peers in other fields…I have just read an article about giving a fixed sum as a means to reduce economic inequality. It seems like a good start to help teachers.

--It has always been a mystery to me how teachers who have many years of experience in the classroom and sometimes multiple degrees beyond a bachelor’s degree are some of the lowest paid professionals in the country. 

-There has always been a stigma that teachers are underpaid, and while legislators toss around the idea of increasing teacher pay by $5,000 a year during this legislative session, teachers all over Georgia will be educating our next generation for a wage that is not indicative of their experience or education. (Note: That $5,000 raise has now been reduced by Gov. Brian Kemp to $3,000.)

The problem boils down to something very simple: almost half of our teachers leave the profession before teaching a full five years. Why? They are underpaid and under-appreciated. How can someone feel like they are a professional - let’s say with a master’s degree and 10 years of professional experience in the classroom - when they are waiting tables at night to make ends meet after teaching all day? 

My first college degree was in business and marketing. Most of my peers make twice to three times my salary, yet I have additional degrees and certificates, in addition to the invaluable experience of helping children overcome obstacles, earn their high school diplomas and move on to bigger and brighter futures. 

When we consider how inspirational and important our teachers are in the lives of our children, yet pay them as if their work does not matter, it is no wonder that burnout is at a maximum and teachers naturally look to move on to other professions. They have families and children that they have to care for as well... and at some point, the poor salaries and lack of respect for the profession in general end up being the final nail in the coffin. 

-Honestly, the answer is simple. Reinstate the bonus pay promised for National Board Certification.  (In 2009, Georgia eliminated the bonus, which had been awarded to teachers who completed a rigorous, performance-based, peer-reviewed certification process.)

-My recommendation would be to increase our salary. I have three college degrees with 16 years of experience and I make around $69,000 per year. In the corporate world, I would probably be making at least $100,000 per year. 

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About the Author

Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.