Teachers are likely not underpaid, and do not have it worse than other professions

I saw this post going massively viral a few days ago: Nobody Wants to Teach Anymore: Everyone should know why. This article is entirely devoid of any stats…as I was reading I was waiting for the author to cite some actual data showing how underpaid teachers are, and nothing. It is just a huge rant.

From Yahoo, America’s new “national teacher shortage” is neither new nor national:

Typically hard-to-staff areas and subjects continue to experience short supply. A government survey in June found that 47% of schools needed to fill a vacancy in special education, compared with only 11% in physical education. Non-white schools and schools in areas of high poverty face more pressure to hire than whiter and richer schools, and they have struggled with teacher shortages for decades.

So it’s not that there is a nationwide teacher shortage, but rather it’s limited to certain types of teaching jobs and in certain communities.

So are teachers underpaid? Let’s see what the BLS says for ‘Kindergarten and Elementary School Teachers’:

Teachers earn $61,000/year, which is comparable to the median income of 4-year degree holders, so relative to people with degrees, teachers are not underpaid. This is still considerably more than high school graduates. Moreover, teachers enjoy considerable job benefits, like healthcare and generous pensions, as well as having Summer months off and job security (teachers are hard to fire). Of course, this is a median number, so some teachers earn less than this, but again, the same is true for all professions. A teacher who retires today after 30 years of teaching can expect earn between $35,000-$50,000/year (depending on the state and other variables, although this is often in lieu of Social Security).

She argues that teachers are undervalued and not paid a living wage even though this is clearly contested by the BLS data:

There’s a long, long history of Americans undervaluing teachers. They’ve never paid us a living wage. For most of the 19th and 20th centuries, it was seen as women’s work, and therefore constantly trivialized. Nobody even understands what teachers do. There’s times when politicians and administrators even promote the notion that teachers should work for free, because it’s “not about the money.”

Let’s just assume the premise of her argument is correct: teachers are undervalued and underpaid. But it’s like this for almost all non-professional jobs. Teachers are hardly unique or singled out in this regard. Waitresses, truck drivers, nurses, delivery drivers, Chipotle workers–any job that is in the service sector or unskilled tends to have low pay, demanding or inflexible hours, and other stringent work conditions, such as dress codes, limited bathroom access, or having to deal with unpleasant or obnoxious customers or bosses (retail jobs come to mind). So being a teacher may suck, but most jobs suck and seem underpaid and underappreciated relative to the work involved.

Complaints about Chipotle conditions are pretty common. As someone on indeed.com describes it, “Very high demanding labor work as a grill, depending on the store, can be very stressful, management mostly doesnt care about you.only gave me 15 minute break…”

We call someone burned out when we want to accuse them of working too hard, caring too much, or neglecting their personal lives. It happens to teachers all the time. Their bosses increase their class sizes and teaching loads, assign them all kinds of service projects, and then lecture them about the importance of dedication/sacrifice.

Again, it’s like this for many professions, not just teachers. Perhaps some teachers feel overburdened and overworked or underappreciated, but how does this compare to other professions? This is the relevant question to ask, which the above article doesn’t try to answer. Teaching doesn’t even rank in a USA Today list of the 25 worst jobs. Teachers still earn more than all the professions on that list, including even newscasters and broadcasters.

Every single teacher I know has a second or third source of income, even professors. They’re either married to a banker, or they work a conventional second job. They have side hustles.

So what? The BLS data still shows teachers earn more than high school graduates. Double-income households are fairly common nowadays; it’s not unique to teachers. Many Uber drivers for example also have second jobs.

This is not to say being a teacher is not without challenges, such as having to deal with bratty kids, incompetent administrators, or parents who insist their ‘slow’ kid is special. I think the misconception that ‘teaching is not about money’ likely applies to other professions too. But the author fails to provide sufficient evidence that teachers have it harder than other professions.