“Deja Vu All Over Again”*

My wife and I had dinner in a restaurant on Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts one night this week. Our waitress, a very pleasant young woman, appeared to be in her mid-20’s.  In a short conversation as we were finishing up, we discovered that she was a First Grade teacher on the island. That’s her full-time job, but she was also working as a waitress four nights a week (and waitressing full time during summers). 

For me, this was deja vu, because nearly 40 years ago my very first report for the MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour introduced viewers to teachers holding down part-time jobs while also teaching full time.  We filmed it in McMinnville, Oregon, and I still recall the high school English teacher who worked after school in a 7-11, where he often encountered his students, now his customers. That was in 1984.

The young woman last night and the man from Oregon are hardly unique.  Overall, about 20 percent of teachers hold second jobs during the school year, accounting for roughly 9 percent of their annual income. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, teachers are about three times as likely as other U.S. workers to moonlight.  (Another study provides a precise number, 17%.)

However, if you factor in part-time jobs within the school system, like coaching, teaching evening classes, or even driving a school bus, then an astonishing 59% of teachers are working part-time to supplement what they earn as full-time teachers, according to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI).  The authors of that article, economists Emma García and Elaine Weiss, write, “Moonlighting can increase stress and drive disengagement, as teachers are forced to juggle multiple schedules and have their family and leisure time reduced. And if moonlighting occurs outside the school system, the challenges of juggling the extra work are likely greater.” 

How bad are things for teachers?  “In about half of all U.S. states, the average teacher does not even earn a living wage needed to support a family,” according to the National Association of State Boards of Education. 

Garcia and Weiss believe that economic stress is driving teachers out of the field; public awareness of this situation helps explain both the current teacher shortage and also the drop in enrollment in teacher-training programs.  

And it’s not as if teachers have tons of extra time for their part-time jobs, because public school teachers also often work more than the average 39.4 hours a week required by their employment contracts. In 2020-21, teachers worked 52 hours a week on average, including 25.2 of those hours teaching. 

(And if you are now thinking that ‘only’ 5 hours a day teaching children is a walk in the park, you obviously have never been a teacher!)

Teacher salaries have not kept up with inflation.  An NEA report released in the spring of 2022 reports that teacher salaries, adjusted for inflation, decreased by around 3.9% during the last decade.

And according to the newspaper Education Week, “Teachers are also working under a “pay penalty,” an economic concept meaning they earn lower weekly wages and receive lower overall compensation for their work than similar college-educated peers, according to the Economic Policy Institute. That penalty reached a record high in 2021, with teachers earning 76.5 cents on the dollar compared with their peers.”

Should we have a national minimum teacher salary?  Democratic congresswoman Federica Wilson of Florida believes it’s time.  In mid-December she introduced The American Teacher Act, which would provide grants and incentives to increase the minimum K-12 salary to $60,000, with yearly adjustments for inflation.  Nationally, the average salary is about $61,000, with many states falling below that dollar amount.  But even within a state where the average is above $60,000, the proposed federal law would have a profound impact because teacher salaries vary widely within states; for example, in Massachusetts the average teacher salary is about $82,000, one of the highest in the nation, but the range is staggering.  Ten districts pay more than $100,000, while a few others pay just over $40,000.

That bill has close to a zero chance of passing the House, now controlled by Republicans, and it’s unclear whether it could pass the Democratically-controlled Senate.  Public education doesn’t have strong and vocal supporters, even though most parents support public schools.

What we are experiencing is the slow death of public education.  And, should the system die, the autopsy will not say “Accidental Death,” because the attacks on public education are deliberate.  One of the attackers’ strategies is to starve the system by cutting spending and diverting dollars to vouchers, private schools, on-line academies, and for-profit charter schools.  The right wing takeover of local school boards is another piece of this concerted attack.

The unrelenting attacks have taken a toll.  In 1999 only 13% of adults were ‘completely dissatisfied’ with public schools; today it’s 23%, according to the Gallup Poll.  In 2022 only 42% of adults said they were either ‘completely satisfied’ or ‘satisfied’ with public schools, a large drop from nearly 50% in 2001.

Teachers have been fighting back, most notably through the Red4Ed movement, which began in North Carolina in 2012 but sprang to national prominence when teachers in Arizona rallied thousands of supporters to demand more resources for schools. The movement caught on and eventually led to short-term school closings in ArizonaCaliforniaColoradoKentucky, OklahomaOregonNorth CarolinaVirginiaWashington, and West Virginia. COVID-19 seems to have stopped Red4Ed’s momentum.

So, what about us? Do we wring our hands, or do we fight back?  If you want to fight back, support higher salaries for teachers. Support changes that improve the lives of teachers (and students), by limiting standardized testing and giving teachers more of a say in the curriculum. It’s time to make teaching a true profession, which I have written about here. 

  • Deja Vu All Over Again” is from Yogi Berra, who also is supposed to have said “When you come to a fork in the road, take it” and (speaking about a popular restaurant) said “Nobody goes there anymore; it’s too crowded.”

9 thoughts on ““Deja Vu All Over Again”*

  1. As a new high school teacher in 1956 in Ladue, Missouri, an upper-income suburb of St. Louis, I also worked part-time as a tutor. After my first year of teaching, I decided to try the private sector that summer and tried my hand at selling life insurance for Prudential. It was – well, interesting to be sure. I was “trained”, with an extensive training manual to master, with dozens and dozens of illustrations of how to respond to customer questions. The suggested answers to any and every question led the customer to realize that he or she needed …..more insurance. I recognized that this kind of transaction, while potentially lucrative, was intellectually dishonest, and I stayed with teaching for another year…and as they say, the rest is history, and my lifetime career in education and philanthropy.
    SO, sometimes, part-time work can be “educational”, in and of itself.
    The point to try to draw from this is that teaching in public schools can become like living in a kind of silo, isolated from the realities of life in the broader economy and society. Part of teaching is to help students figure out their own paths towards that broader society. Teachers-in-silo can best help students by encouraging them to really learn – critical thinking, writing, listening, problem-solving…..

    Like

  2. Yes, I agree that teacher salaries should be increased.

    But that’s not nearly enough to attract and retain strong educators.

    One valuable idea to come from the charter public school movement has been creation of “teacher powered” or “teacher led” schools in which the boards running the school include majorities of educators who work in the school. This allows the educators who work in the school to set salaries and working conditions. More information about this is available here:
    https://www.teacherpowered.org/ These are public schools of choice.

    The teacher led option provides opportunities for educators similar to professionals in other fields such as law and medicine – where the professionals themselves are in charge. Families also have options among the public schools that these educators have created.

    Like

  3. I wish people would stop quoting the EPI Teacher Pay Gap as if it were fact. It is based on a flawed mathematical model with incorrect parameters that, when applied to other career scenarios, creates ridiculous results like firefighters are way overpaid. https://www.eduwonk.com/2019/10/we-should-probably-stop-citing-epis-teacher-wage-gap-data.html
    “EPI’s own pay-gap methodology leads to some other conclusions that are, to put it delicately, less intuitive. Using the same Census data and the same basic techniques that EPI applies to teachers, we find that registered nurses are “overpaid” by 29%. Meanwhile, telemarketers deserve a big raise, as they currently suffer a 26% salary penalty. Aerospace engineers are apparently overpaid by 38%, but “athletes, coaches, and umpires” are paid 21% less than their skills are worth. Photographers should consider going on strike, as they make 16% less than comparable workers. Firefighters are moochers by contrast, taking in 25% above their rightful salaries.”

    Like

    • Drew, thanks for sharing your insights. Are you part of this project? https://getthefactsout.org/about/
      Get the Facts Out (GFO) is a five-year, NSF-funded partnership of the Colorado School of Mines and four national societies: the American Physical Society, the American Chemical Society, the American Association of Physics Teachers, and the Association of Mathematics Teacher Educators. GFO is a unique project that is designed to reach STEM majors in a large fraction of all U.S. mathematics, chemistry, and physics departments and has the potential to significantly address teacher shortages in these high-need STEM disciplines.

      Like

  4. Well said. As Head of School the best money I ever spent was on faculty salaries and professional development. I fought annually with my business manager about this issue, and, fortunately, as I was his boss,
    And determined his salary, I won.

    Like

  5. As we think about what needs to happen to help many more first generation, English Language Learners, some with special needs, succeed, this brief interview might be useful.

    Thx St Paul Cable News Network for featuring St Paul native Jose Perez self described English Language Learner with dyslexia, son of a woman who left Guatemala at age 17. Jose describes how High School for Recording Arts, a local charter public school helped him succeed & be invited to speak around US by identifying his interests & building on his strengths (video starts at 12 minute mark) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=khnCVbxTDKA

    HSRA starts every school year with an individual student/educator goal setting conference. Service-learning is a major feature of the school. Both of these things could be done everywhere. HSRA is an example of a school that will help Americans make significant progress.

    Like

  6. […] John Merrow, the retired education reporter for the PBS NewsHour recently wrote: “According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, teachers are about three times as likely as other U.S. workers to moonlight… However, if you factor in part-time jobs within the school system, like coaching, teaching evening classes, or even driving a school bus, then an astonishing 59% of teachers are working part-time to supplement what they earn as full time teachers, according to the Economic Policy Institute… Teacher salaries have not kept up with inflation… and according to Education Week, ‘Teachers are also working under a ‘pay penalty,’ an economic concept meaning they earn lower weekly wages and receive lower overall compensation for their work than similar college-educated peers…'” […]

    Like

  7. […] John Merrow, the retired education reporter for the PBS NewsHour recently wrote: “According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, teachers are about three times as likely as other U.S. workers to moonlight… However, if you factor in part-time jobs within the school system, like coaching, teaching evening classes, or even driving a school bus, then an astonishing 59% of teachers are working part-time to supplement what they earn as full time teachers, according to the Economic Policy Institute… Teacher salaries have not kept up with inflation… and according to Education Week, ‘Teachers are also working under a ‘pay penalty,’ an economic concept meaning they earn lower weekly wages and receive lower overall compensation for their work than similar college-educated peers…'” […]

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s