Should Teachers Just Shut Up?
How to Remarket Teaching
Someone once pointed out that artificial barriers to advancement or professions such as racial or sexual discrimination have a societal advantage—overqualified people end up doing a very good job cheaply. There’s a cost of course, as the guy who would have cured cancer ends up mopping your floor.
In the past school teaching and nursing would be the prime example of society benefiting at a cost to the individual. If you were an intelligent and ambitious woman born before the baby boom you could be a nurse of a teacher. That was pretty much it for careers. And in a vicious circle or “catch-22” these professions became further devalued as women’s work. And women as we all know seem to be bad at getting paid.
So the stereotypical intelligent and ambitious middle/upper middle class woman of today isn’t interested in teaching—she’s headed right for law school or medical school or divinity school leaving “education” for the (in her opinion) stupid/lower classes.
Meanwhile the teaching profession continues to shoot itself in the foot by constant moaning about the vileness of the job—especially the pay. There is an obvious reason for this—teachers are government employees and need to let the politicians know how to win their votes (and no one is ever satisfied with their pay)—but ultimately it contributes to a destructive stereotype and weakens the profession further.
School teaching needs a makeover or a better marketing campaign. And what do we have to work with?
First off let’s look at the pay. Morally speaking, in a perfect world every schoolteacher would make a six- figure income. The job is just that important. But In a perfect world we'd all be rich. The right question is not what should teachers be paid, but are teachers paid as well as a person with a 4 year or bachelor’s degree in a non-professional field (e.g. not nursing or engineering or computer sciences ) can expect to be paid? For a job you can qualify for with the most minimal GPA needed to graduate?
Let’s look at some facts.
From the Bureau of Labor Statistics—here are some jobs you might get with your unexceptional degree.
Note: In the following lists the median salary means the salary in the middle—half the people the BLS knows/guesses are making more than that and half are making less. Median earnings give a more realistic picture of the earning possibilities than the average salary in cases were a relatively few super earners or slackers can mess up the average. The bottom 10 is the lowest earning 10% and the top 10 is the highest earning 10%. We’ll leave it you to decide which category you would fall into right out of college.
Job Category Median Bottom 10% Top 10%
Corrections worker 38,380 25,300 64,110
Social worker 39,530 25,810 66,430
Secr./admin asst 29050 18440 43240
Postal Clerk 53100 48630 55230
Sales rep(non-tech) 51280 26950 106040
Brokerage clerk 38710 26640 61340
PR specialist 51280 30100 97910
The spread for this kind of job is basically 30-something to thousand to 60-something thousand. Notice that the government job has a small spread as this is a job with very specific defined duties and pay scale nationwide—if you want more money you have to take a different job in the post office. In contrast, sales and PR both of which cover a lot of different job situations have a much wider range.
And teachers? Where do they fit in?
The BLS gives the median as a range—unlike all the other jobs. Why? Most likely political pressure from the teacher's unions.
Lowest 10% 30970-34280
Highest 10% 75190-80970
So… it’s… right in the ballpark actually.
Remember, this is not a discussion about which job is more “important” or “harder”, it’s about the real job market. And to demolish another straw man—yes, to get to the higher pay you need more education, experience, certifications etc.—but that’s no different from any other job on this list.
So teachers are not underpaid. Fine, but what about the “perks”? Are there any?
Well, first, the other jobs have about 5 weeks off per year when you consider that a “real” job usually features 8-11 holidays and about 2 week’s vacation and change (blood giving leave, jury duty, and so on.) Teachers make the same type of money and get about 10 weeks off per year—double the time anyone else can expect!
Teachers do a lot of work outside of the 8-3 school hours. There are parent-teacher conferences, meetings, continuing education, grading, writing progress reports, lesson plans, and so on. In no way is teaching part-time when it’s on. However, there is the advantage that a lot of the side work can be done at home or has considerable scheduling flexibility. This can make life for the working parent a whole lot easier.
Teaching is mostly a government job—meaning that benefits like well-defined policies on how you can be fired, antidiscrimination protection, health care and retirement pensions—things that are going away or don’t even exist in the private sector—are all in place.
Job security? So long as you can avoid becoming a sex offender, there are always jobs for teachers, whether the economy is good, bad or indifferent.
Is it a “dead end” job—are you stuck doing only one thing even if you don’t really like it? No! Are there possibilities for moving up or doing something different? Yes! You could go into administration or pursue a research or academic degree and job. Perhaps you’d prefer to become a leader such as a superintendent or principal. You could specialize in something like special education, move from age level to age level, or work in tutoring. There are plenty of options. Contrast this with being a physician—there the job you start the day out of residency is 95% sure to be the exact same job you are doing when you retire.
And what about the intangibles? Is the job meaningful? Well, teaching is a vitally important job, one of the most important jobs that society has in fact. Very few jobs have the potential to make the kind of impact on people’s lives that teaching does.
So to summarize we have a job that doesn’t require that you be a genius, connected or rich to get into, requires only a non-descript bachelor’s degree, has decent pay, great vacation and benefits, family friendly, secure, has multiple opportunities for change and advancement, and is vitally important to society.
And it’s called school teaching.
So no, teachers should not “shut up”, but they should speak up. The default position of complaining about the problems of teaching, especially the pay (which as we have seen is not even true) has been very successful in driving ambitious and intelligent young people away from the profession. And when that happens, teaching suffers, and society suffers. It’s time for a reboot—time to start aggressively marketing what a great profession teaching really is. And you know what—once people start to realize how valuable it is, that’s when the real money will start to roll in.