Does money matter for teachers?

People used to ask me, “What do you do?”

I’d say, “I’m a Publications Specialist.” Before that I’d say, “I’m an editor, writer, graphic artist, or copy editor.” They’d nod and smile in approval and ask more questions about it. I felt respected.

Now, when people ask that question, I say, “I’m a teacher.” Their eyes pop open, sometimes there’s a gasp or a grunt or even a hiss with a dramatic “Ouch” at the end. I was startled that at first. I stopped wanting to answer people. I avoided the question when we were meeting people. Sometimes I even told my husband that I would just say I’m a writer and editor because I still am so I’m not lying or anything. I’d just leave out what I do the majority of the time throughout the year.

But, I couldn’t avoid it completely. So as I started answering that question more and more, I realized people just felt sorry for me when I said I was a teacher and it didn’t have to be bad. So, I’d laugh and grunt with them. I’d agree and then unload my frustrations on them. It felt kind of good considering that I needed counseling after all the rough weeks of teaching.

However, the underlying problem of telling people that I am a teacher never seemed to change.

There’s a tangible lack of respect for teachers. We are jokes. We are servants. We are babysitters. We can’t do anything else. We are burps in a person’s life that they’d like to forget about.

Or, we are honored for being so special that we work for scraps thrown from the dinner table and educate the children who will someday rule over all of us and either save or destroy the world. This latter “honored” reaction, I’ve found, happens a lot less than the other negative ones.

Somewhere, far, far away

According to an article in The Guardian, How the job of teachers compares around the world, there’s respect for Chinese teachers and teachers in Finland receive the monetary rewards that make teaching worthwhile and transform it into a respected, even sought-after profession.

So, yes, asking “Does money matter to teachers?” is a loaded question, I know. Many teachers would say, “Sit down and let’s talk for at least two weeks about why teachers absolutely need to be paid more.” Still others would say, “It’s not about the money.”

Despite either reaction, let’s just say this, teachers deserve more money based on the fact that they work endless hours and hold the world’s future in their hands. And, of course, I’m talking about the good ones. Those who look like they’ve been through WW III after the first week of school and lug stacks of papers back and forth from the school to their homes.

There was a video I watched about a year ago about applying to a demanding job.

People who were applying for jobs were asked by their potential employers to do what moms do without knowing that it was actually a list of tasks that every mom does. And, we all know moms don’t get paid for what they do. The people interviewing for the jobs were horrified and immediately rejected the jobs. In the end, when they were told that they were really applying for the job that all moms do, their faces changed to a knowing, a deep appreciation, a realization that only mothers do something so insanely valuable for no pay whatsoever.

I would argue that good teachers come close to that idea. Is it the same? Absolutely not, just the same idea.

To say we as teachers don’t work for the money is quite true. To say we shouldn’t demand more pay is not fair and ridiculous.

Dedication

We don’t work for the money because we’re paid nothing compared to the amount of hours we put into it. We grade stacks of papers at home throughout the week—if we are good teachers. We chase students around about homework, classwork, quizzes, and tests. We counsel them when they make mistakes and think they can’t go on. We care for them like they’re our own children. Then, we send them home to hopefully do homework, study, and sleep. We start over the next day even if we know they stayed up late playing video games and didn’t do homework.

Given that we are a world that runs on money, teachers need it not only to survive but to hope for more, to fuel their own fire if they’re giving so much of their energies to teaching.

It’s a profession with very raw, concrete value; yet, it’s treated as a volunteer opportunity offering little respect. Why would anyone with an ounce of respect want to teach or even continue to teach then?

We wouldn’t. In fact, any teacher worth their salt and willing to be honest will tell you that he or she contemplated leaving more than once. Many teachers make other plans and go as far as to pack their materials, but they remember their students, their lessons, the challenges that made them better human beings, and they think of the future without dedicated teachers.

We don’t do it for the money, but that’s precisely why teachers, good, hardworking, dedicated teachers, should be paid as much as any professional and respected equally or even more.

What’s interesting though, is that as a writer, editor, graphic artist, and publications specialist, I started out getting paid significantly less than an average public school teacher yet I got a whole lot more respect.

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9 thoughts on “Does money matter for teachers?”

  1. Hi Lisa yes, very accurate ruminations. I have taught in different Higher Ed contexts all my working life and would agree with what you say. However, you and I and other teachers know that teaching a receptive group stuff they want to learn can produce the most fun and satisfaction it’s possible to have in any working context. That was always my compensation when things got difficult either re money or the organisational structures around teaching – which often seem to value the structure more highly than the educational process…

    1. It would make so much more sense if teachers were paid the worth of their profession. I don’t see that happening in the United States though. With our reluctance to change and the vicious cycle of a damaged program, people just tend to feed on the negative, never learning everything could change in an instant.

  2. When I started out teaching in Asia, the respect and admiration I received surprised me because I felt like I was barely a ‘real’ teacher. Now, living in the states years later and with much more experience I am struggling to be recognized for everything I do. We desperately need to value teachers more and make it a feasible career rather than one that leaves you struggling both emotionally and financially.

    1. I absolutely agree. I feel that all the time. So emotionally draining and then, financially, I question my sanity when preparing for the future. I always wanted to teach abroad just to experience the difference in values. Well, we will keep hoping and writing and speaking about it.

  3. I remember telling my teachers in high school that I wanted to become a teacher like them. I expected them to be excited, happy for me and really supportive. Most of them did not react that way. They wanted to steer me towards something else. Now I understand.

    1. It’s a tough job and many of us stay because of passion if we can keep ourselves motivated and above water. Thank you for reading. I hope to stop by your corner more often.

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