Pay Them (Teachers) And They Will Come!

Maury Cook
School Principal

When I graduated from college with my four-year degree in education back in 1988, my salary ($15,000) qualified me for food stamps and I was single. Today most starting salaries in education would place a family of 4 with one income on that same list. There is a lot of talk about the teacher shortage that will hit the us during the next decade and a lot of rhetoric has been thrown about regarding recruiting and retention of teachers both here in Montana and across the country.

When all is said and done, and by the way, more is said than done, we can strip it down to one thing; Money. We in the education world can talk all we want and say what is politically correct about our job. "I get more reward than money with my job." or "I don't teach for the money." Everyone outside of education wants us to say that so their taxes don't go up paying teacher's more money.

Most American's with children pay more in day care than they do educating their children. if we are going to recruit a more diverse population of people into the educational field we must look at what the salaries are that teachers make as compared to their counterparts in other occupations with the same four-year commitment to college. Now as I research this there is not a great disparity anywhere in starting salaries, except in the medical, computer sciences and the engineering fields but must of us know that many of the other jobs out there that do not require a degree will pay more than a teacher's salary. You can drive a truck in a mine and make more starting. You can be an apprentice carpenter, plumber, or electrician and make more, and without the student debt. How much overtime can a teacher accrue through hard work? Oh yes, ZERO.

The upside of salaries in those other fields can range in the hundreds of thousands. In Montana's educational setting those large six figure salaries are not possible except as a principal, in the largest school districts, and only after a master's or doctorate degree. Which by the way we will spend our own money to achieve. Most other private businesses and government jobs pay to keep their employees up to date on the latest developments in their field. The teaching profession provides some training, but any training that goes toward advancement in salary is mostly paid by the individual.

Some of the people out there will complain about the 3 months off in the summer that a teacher GETS. Really? the last time I checked teachers get laid off in the summer and do not get paid unless they prorate their pay over 12 months. There are no students in the summer, therefore no job. An estimated seventy percent of teachers seek additional employment in the summer and very few can find work at the same wage that they would be making as a teacher. I have three college degree's all paid for with student loans and have myself worked for minimum wage in jobs that a high school student was my supervisor. How's that for humble pie?

At one point during one of my master's programs the board of regents came for a visit to gain insight on their plan for making teaching a five-year degree. "Well" I asked, "And what are you going to do about salaries?"

"Nothing" was the reply. So, let's see, increase the student debt without increasing the ability to pay back that debt. Sounds logical???? Of course I am being facetious. But really?

The career choice we make, some say, is just that a choice but I disagree. Great teachers are more born than they are made and teaching is more art than science. As I like to say, "Teaching is art of the heart". If it were a science anyone could do this job well. The reality is that not everyone is a master teacher and teaching is as much a talent as acting, vocal or singing ability, and athletic ability are. What salary ceiling do the people at the highest level in those professions have? The answer is none. They make millions and could make millions more if the day were longer.

Retaining great people in our field has a lot more to it than salary, and the conditions of the working environment are crucial. I would certainly say in this day and age with the state of the family and what behaviors teachers endure, we are dealing with some of the most difficult environments in the work place, especially those in inner city schools in large metropolitan areas.

To conclude; Educators make all other professions possible. Pay them and they will come.

RELATED - Is Teaching Right for Me? & How to Become a Teacher

Maury Cook

Maury Cook

Principal at Ramsay School
I am currently the Principal of Ramsay School in Ramsay, MT. I have a degree in Elementary Education, an Advanced Degree in School Counseling and a Master’s degree in Educational Leadership. I spent my first 14 years as a middle school teacher and the middle 11 years as an elementary school counselor. My last two years have been as a combination Principal/Superintendent at Ramsay school where I continue to help build a great Professional learning Community. I also have a very extensive background in coaching and spent most of my years as the head girl’s coach at Anaconda High. My uncompromising view for education is that all students can learn given a positive learning atmosphere that welcomes exploration and enhances student confidence. It is my belief that an educator’s mission is to make school enjoyable and exciting. If students look forward to attending school, they will want to learn. That is what an effective school is all about.
Maury Cook