Guest editorial by English teacher Katherine Posada.
Ask just about anyone, and they’ll tell you that teachers deserve to be paid more. Teachers are creating the future, they’ll say; we wouldn’t have doctors, lawyers or scientists if we didn’t have teachers. Politicians win elections by making big promises: I’m going to give those teachers a raise!
And that’s where it stops. Somewhere between the political lip service and teachers’ actual paychecks, the money teachers “deserve” gets lost.
It’s a problem nationwide. Teacher salaries have increased at a much lower rate than the national average income over the last decade, and because our salaries don’t keep up with inflation, teachers are taking home less today than we were 10 years ago when compared to the cost of living.
In Florida, it’s even worse. According to the Tampa Bay Times, teachers in Florida are paid an average of just over $48,000, more than $12,000 less than the national average. Florida is ranked 46th in average teacher pay, even though our cost of living is slightly above average.
But these numbers are actually fairly misleading, and the real numbers are even worse. In Florida’s current system a new teacher is hired in at $40,724 per year, while a teacher with 15 years of experience earns $46,164–over $14,000 below the national average. Florida teachers can then supplement this salary based on a complicated system involving classroom observations, student test scores, and (incredibly) their own SAT or ACT scores.
Think of all your teachers; how long ago do you think they took the SAT? Well, that’s what their bonus is based on.
The money teachers get for certain extra-curricular activities is laughably low, and teachers often don’t get paid anything for the extra time they put in outside of class; many club sponsorships and other activities don’t come with stipends. But teachers sacrifice their own time–time that could be spent with their families–to give students the opportunities we feel they should have.
Teachers don’t choose their career for the paycheck; we know when we get into this that we’ll never be rich. We choose this career because we love our students, and we want to give them the tools they need to be successful. The people in charge of our salaries, who promise us raises year after year, take advantage of this. They don’t deliver what they promise, because they know that we will continue to accept less than we deserve because we care about our kids. And year after year, that’s exactly what teachers do.
Low salaries mean that fewer people are becoming teachers, and that almost half of the teachers leave the profession within their first five years–they simply can’t afford to keep this job when other professions pay so much more. And fewer quality teachers means a lower quality of education.
I don’t know how to fix the problem, but I do know that the current system is bad for everyone–everyone, that is, but the people in charge, who keep getting raises despite the fact that they fail teachers and students year after year.
This story was originally published in the April 2019 Eagle Eye print edition.