Pay Teachers More Now or The Bill Will Come Due Later

“Originally published in The Ocean City Sentinel on May 4th, 2014”

According to a 2014 USA Today article NJ was the 5th most expensive state to live in, stating
that that one would have to earn $95,000.00 annually in order Welcome-to-New-Jerseyto live comfortably. That number is in stark contrast with the state’s average starting teacher salary of $48,000, according to the National Education Association. The Garden State’s above-average teacher salary is $63,000, which still falls significantly short of the figure deemed necessary to live comfortably.

Teacher salaries have always been lower than most other professional jobs requiring a college degree. According to NEA Research, which is based on US census data, “annual pay for teachers has fallen sharply over the past 60 years in relation to the annual pay of other workers with college degrees. Throughout the nation the average earnings of workers with at least four years of college are now over 50 percent higher than the average earnings of a teacher.”

debt-750x400.jpgMore likely than not, today’s students graduating from a four year college with a teacher’s degree will also be graduating with a whole lot of debt. The class of 2015 graduated with $35,051 in student debt on average—the most in history—according to EAdvisors.com, a website that provides information to parents and students about college costs and financial aid.

Needless to say, the trend of young professionals beginning their post-college careers already burdened by huge amounts of student debt will have majorly adverse economic implications. Young people are finding it harder to make the kinds of big purchases that drive economic growth, such as buying a house or a car, being able to save for retirement, or move out of their parents’ basements.

Let’s look at the outlook for young teachers in New Jersey. If a student living in our state wants to become a teacher, they can expect to graduate college with a lot of debt, and then get a job that pays significantly less than what it would take to live comfortably. As these young teachers eventually marry and wish to start families, their expenses will increase at meteoric rates while their salaries only inch upward.

I am a teacher and I love what I do. While I don’t want to be anything else, I sometimes ask myself: why would anyone in their right mind decide to enter a field with such little promise of financial independence or comfortable existence?

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Remedying this dilemma is one of the reasons I recently became an Ambassador for the TeachStrong campaign. As a coalition, we are specifically addressing teacher compensation as one of the campaign’s nine core principles, because we cannot recruit and retain the best teachers without paying them like professionals. There is a teacher shortage crisis looming on the not-so-distant horizon that can be avoided if local and national policymakers decide to make it a priority.

It is not about individuals wanting more money—it’s about the grim reality of the consistent and systemic devaluing in the public forum of the teaching profession. Teachers are losing, but the biggest losers will be our kids, and our next generation of potential leaders.

It is vital that we as a society decide to make a change now. We need to modernize and elevate the teaching profession so that it enables our teachers to succeed in the Garden State. If we don’t, we will pay handsomely for it later.

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