Thursday, June 03, 2004

Underpaid Teachers

Dave Eggers, on has a sobering article on the state of high-school teacher's salaries:

The latest statistics put the average teacher's salary at about $46,000; some teachers earn a little more, some a little less (the average teacher's salary—not the starting salary—is $38,000 in Kansas, $36,000 in New Mexico, and $32,000 in South Dakota). Overall, that's about the same that we pay pile-driver operators ($45,980) and about $8,000 less than the average elevator repairman pulls down. Meanwhile, a San Francisco dockworker makes about $115,000, while the clerk who logs shipping records into the longshoreman's computer makes $136,000.

The first step to creating an education system full of the best teachers we can find is to pay them in line with their importance to their communities. We pay orthodontists an average of $350,000, and no one would say that their impact on the lives of kids is greater than a teacher's. But it seems difficult for everyone, from parents to politicians, to shake free of a tradition in which teaching was seen as something of a volunteer project for women whose husbands brought home the real money. Today's teachers need to, but very often can't, support a family on their salaries. They find it difficult or impossible to buy homes, to save money, to live comfortably, and, in wealthier areas, to live in or near the towns where they teach.

The whole article is excellent, with interviews of 4 teachers working two or three jobs, struggling to make ends meet. The problem is as real in India as in the US; perhaps it's worse here.
I've been thinking about this issue for a while now, because my sister was considering teaching. She's decided to work for CRY (Child Relief and You) instead. One of the reasons was definitely the salary; many schools were paying take-home salaries of nearly Rs. 2500 (About $55) per month. Not one of the non-teaching jobs she was interviewed for paid less than twice that, and most paid four or five times the amount. Her story ended well; she's got a job she loves, working with children. But what about all the thousands of teachers who don't have other options?

After hearing about my sister's job search, I asked about teacher's salaries in my hometown. I was shocked to hear that it wasn't only starting salaries that were low; teachers a year or two from retirement were being paid Rs. 6000 (About $130) per month. How on earth do they manage? Campus interviews after my undergraduate engineering degree landed me a first job that pays five times the amount a teacher with a master's degree and twenty years of experience can expect. At the hospital where my parents work, janitors who haven't gone beyond the sixth grade get paid more than the senior teachers at my high school. In such an inequitable situation, why would anybody seriously consider teaching as a profession?

Apparently private school teachers throughout India are exploited. Many of them work for less than minimum wage. The school management forces several teachers to sign receipts for more than the amount of their salary. To make it worse, they have to pay taxes on their nominal salaries, instead of the actual amount. And they put up with it because they know that a complaint means immediate termination, followed by blacklisting at other schools in the area.

Government-run schools appear to be pay better; it's just that the education students get is much worse. A friend of mine suggested the quickest way to improve that would be to insist that government employees send their children only to government schools. As for private schools, complaints about the teaching standards are widespread; I cribbed about it last week. How can administrators not see that talent goes where the money is?


Anonymous said...

The situation just plain sucks monkey balls. Are there really many people out there, who, with a more acceptable pay, would teach? There's no way a teacher will be able to make as much as a really successful person in the industry.

Maybe the answer is to have the industry support educational institutions. They're certainly reaping the benefits of education, so the least they can do is support the providers of their primary resource.

Like your blog,

m. said...

true. i volunteered in a corporation school for a while as a teacher - they were short staffed, and couldnt sack people who didnt do their jobs properly either.
can you beat it, we had to be careful about how many chalk pieces we used in each class...!!
but you know whats really amazing : the kind of sparks you come across in the kids. despite all those conditions and drawbacks, theyre still super enthu to learn if youre enthu about your teaching.
chk out everybody loves a good drought by p sainath. hes the (scathing!) voice of rural india, and in one of the chapters he talks about education, especially in rural areas. superb research and writing.
hats off to your sister :-)like dubya says "Quite frankly,
teachers are the only profession that teach our children” !!! :d