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THE STINGER

The student news site of Emmaus High School

THE STINGER

THE STINGER

Graphic courtesy of Canva.
Balancing work and school
February 22, 2024

Underpaid teachers discourage students

Graphic+courtesy+of+Canva.
Graphic courtesy of Canva.

This was previously published in our October issue.

We’ve all been there. You’re sitting in a class that just lasts forever, and there is nothing you want more than for it to end. It could be a subject you would normally hate, or even one you love, but in the end, the make-or-break factor? It’s the teacher.

A good teacher is the difference between a fun, informative class and an hour and a half long busywork session. When our teachers are paid pennies, it’s no wonder that their students suffer.

In public schools across all 50 states, teachers are required to have at least a bachelor’s degree in order to be permitted to teach. The National Center for Education Statistics states that the average salary for someone with a bachelor’s degree is $61,600 per year. In Pennsylvania, a further 57 percent of teachers have a master’s degree — with an average salary of $81,848 per year. Yet, according to the National Education Association, the average starting salary for teachers is only $41,770 each year. While this number may rise as teachers gain more experience and exceed the “entry level,” it also harms the chances of new teachers being hired at all, and has led to devastating turnover rates.

Everyone wants to be paid their worth — teachers are no different. It doesn’t matter if you’re doing something you love: if your salary is laughable, you simply can’t work to the best of your abilities.

On top of this, teacher pay can vary dramatically from school district to school district. According to Allgheny Institute, in the 56 lowest-funded school districts in Pennsylvania alone, teacher pay can be anywhere from 20-40 percent below all district’s averages.

If you’ve ever worked a lousy part-time job, you’ll get it. “I don’t get paid enough to do this,” or “This is above my paygrade” are both phrases that I have said only half-jokingly to my coworkers many times. While they are cliches, it isn’t as if there’s no truth behind them — when something that is just a little too stress-inducing happens, and you’re not getting paid a large enough sum of money for it to be worth it, you simply won’t care.

In this aspect at least, many teachers are the same as any of us: it’s hard to dedicate a lot of time and strength to something if your time and effort aren’t accurately represented in your paycheck.

Since the pandemic, the number of teachers has dropped drastically. According to The Wall Street Journal, from February 2020 to May 2022, over 300,000 teachers left their jobs — with a large portion of that being early retirees and teachers quitting their jobs. Recovery from this teacher shortage is still lagging, with 44 percent of schools posting teaching vacancies, and 61 percent of school administrators stating that they found it difficult to hire personnel. When the salary of an entry level teacher is almost $20,000 dollars below the national average for employees with the same level of education, it is no wonder that schools are struggling to fill these positions.

Even Emmaus has felt the effects of this teacher shortage, with the district struggling to find someone to teach social studies at the beginning of the school year. Three whole classes were left without a teacher for weeks.

According to AP News, as of June 2023, almost 9,600 teachers had left their jobs in the 2022-2023 school year, a loss that was double the amount of newly certified teachers. Overall, the attrition rate was at 7.7 percent.

In their 2022 survey, McKinsey Quarterly, one of the oldest and largest management consultancies in the U.S., established that the most common reason for teachers to leave their positions was, unsurprisingly, compensation.

Teachers are not the only ones who benefit from having a larger salary.

Higher wages for teachers does not always correlate with better student performance. No matter the pay, not every teacher is going to be able to effectively teach every single student they have. However, according to Nevada Independent, a project of the Nevada News Bureau, higher teacher wages do directly affect the rates of job retention and turn-over. With higher salaries, fewer teachers leave their jobs, and because of that, are able to gain more experience in order to become more effective teachers. Through this, student academic performance is improved.

In his 2014 study for the Journal of Public Economics, Matthew Hendricks notes that, “a 1% increase in teacher pay reduces teacher turnover by 0.16 percentage points,” and that, “a 1% increase in teacher pay reduces the turnover rate by 1.4%.”

Hendricks goes on to say that increased pay for teachers generates higher retention rates among students, overall improving student achievement.

Statistics aside, it’s simple. If the teacher isn’t motivated, it’s next to impossible for a student to be.

As a student, it’s easy to tell when a teacher consistently isn’t able to put in the effort or can’t muster up the energy to run an engaging, informative class. If a teacher can’t stay engaged and focused, how could a student?

When teachers have no motivation to keep an active, attentive lesson going, it makes it significantly harder for students to give that subject the attention that is necessary to succeed in the class.

If so many teachers lack the motivation to keep their students in a position of learning and growing, there is one clear solution: incentivize them. Shifting and raising funds may not be easy, but it will be worth it.

For years now, teacher salaries have been the butt of many employment-based jokes. Just about everyone knows that teachers don’t make enough — so why, after all this time, do teachers still get paid portions of what they deserve?

The encouragement and motivation of teachers affects everyone, from current employees to future ones. When it is so evident that higher pay will not only lead to better quality of life for teachers, but on top of that, better student performance, there is no reason for us to continue justifying underpaying teachers.

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About the Contributor
Carina McCallum, Opinion Editor
This is Carina’s second year on The Stinger. At Emmaus, she is Secretary of the Red Cross Club, as well as a member of EHS’s Science Fair, Model UN, National Honor Society, Student Mentors, and Hornet Ambassadors. In her free time, Carina likes reading, baking, and spending time with friends.

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