The gender gap contributes to disparities in pay between teachers and similarly educated professionals.
WHEN LILY ESKELSEN García, president of the 3.2-million member National Education Association, attended the State of the Union address earlier this year as a guest of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, she had an unexpected encounter at a reception after the speech.
A waitress for the company catering the reception approached the head of the powerful teachers union, who was looking to put down an empty glass.
“Lily,” the waitress said. “I’m so happy to meet you.”
“So, this is your second job?” Eskelsen García asked.
“No,” Fabito said. “This is my third. I have another on weekends.”
The plight of the teaching profession is a narrative that’s made headlines over the last two years, as educators have become more vocal about the state of their profession, including how their low pay stands in stark contrast to the high expectations placed on them. They’ve walked out of classrooms in protest, rallied at state capitols and gone on strike in nearly a dozen jurisdictions to demand higher pay, smaller class sizes and increased state investment in their K-12 systems.
Though average teacher salary has increased by 11.5% over the last decade, when taking inflation into account, average teacher salary has actually decreased by 4.5%, according to new data from the NEA.
“When you see the pay gap, you can see the gender gap, you can see the respect gap,” Eskelsen García said on a call with reporters last week, during which she detailed her chance meeting with Fabito. “The numbers speak for themselves. You can see that our teacher pay over the last decade has continued to erode.”
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The report also includes data on teacher starting salaries and shows that in many states average starting salaries are below pre-recession levels. The average starting salary for the 2017-18 school year was $39,249, a 3% percent decrease over the last decade, after adjusting for inflation.
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Moreover, 63% of public school districts still offer a starting salary below $40,000, according to the report, and nearly 300 school districts pay first-year teachers less than $30,000 a year.
“When we go into colleges of education and ask them why they’ve seen a drop in the number of people applying to teacher colleges, they keep saying that these are prospective teachers who have to look at the pay they are going to receive as new teachers. And they are saying, ‘We won’t be able to pay off our student loans for that,'” Eskelsen García said. “People who want to be teachers are going into other professions because of the pay gap.”
“I am working hard so I can have money to pay for mortgage, insurance and all other expenses,” Fabito says during a brief break on her way from one job to the next. In addition to her jobs at the elementary school and for the catering company, Fabito is a caregiver in a private home.
Already in 2019, educators have walked the picket lines, held sick-outs, marched and protested in Los Angeles, Virginia, Denver, West Virginia, Oakland, Kentucky and Sacramento – all in the last four months. The discontent on display follows a year rocked by educator unrest, in which teachers in places like Arizona, Kentucky, North Carolina, Oklahoma and West Virginiaorganized around the same issues of pay, class size and resources, and ultimately motivated thousands of educators to run for office in the 2018 midterm election.
There are some promising signs it’s making an impact on the profession.
The average classroom teacher salary for 2018-19 school year is projected to increase by 2.1 percent over the 2017-18 school year, from $60,477 to $61,730, according to the NEA report, in part because of the salary bumps negotiated in states and cities where educators spoke up.
“Educators don’t do this work to get rich,” Eskelsen García said. “They do this work because they believe in students. But their pay is not commensurate with the dedication and expertise they bring to the profession.”