Become a Teacher

Business colleges routinely brag about what attractive jobs their graduate are likely to get.  But we in education colleges rarely do the same.  If we make an appeal to prospective teachers at all it is usually akin to an appeal to enter the priesthood.  You’ll make the world a better place, we say.  We almost never say, “And you’ll do well for yourself while doing well for others.”  Just look at the marketing — even the title — of Teach for America.

But the reality is that teaching is a pretty good gig.  Yes, the work can be draining, but the hours are great and you get regular breaks throughout the year, including a long one over the summer.  The annual pay is OK, but when you consider it on an hourly or weekly basis, you’ll get paid more than the average white collar or professional specialty and technical worker (according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics).  In addition, during a period of almost 10% unemployment you’ll sure appreciate the high job security.  And let’s not forget the benefits, including solid health-care and an extremely generous retirement package that will let you retire in your mid-50s with about 60% of your peak salary guaranteed for the remainder of your life and adjusted for inflation.  It would take a fortune in a 401k or 403b to produce that kind of pension benefit.

People shouldn’t complain about what a good gig teaching is; people should seek to become teachers and get it themselves.  That’s the sensible advice that a Madison, WI teacher gave:

As someone who has been teaching for 18 years, Brand is familiar with the resentment and jealousy that her summer break elicits from those outside the profession. “It’s definitely a perk of the job,” she says, noting that people who covet her summers off could be teachers if they so choose. “I just say, ‘Well, you could go back to school and be a teacher yourself. It’s got its trade-offs.'”

If only we told prospective teachers about how attractive the job could be, we’d almost certainly draw more of them, including more of our best and brightest.  Why should all those kids go to business school when they could be preparing to be teachers?

The problem is that people fear that advertising the pecuniary benefits of teaching would undermine the appropriate motivation for teachers.  Balderdash!  Do you think the brilliant heart surgeon is undermined in her motivation by the attractive pay?

And teacher unions cultivate a false sense of poverty among teachers in order to keep them and the general public mobilized for the next demand for increased pay or benefits.  Let them try.  We should launch our own campaign in ed schools of telling the world about how rewarding, both personally and financially, teaching can be.

(edited for typos)

17 Responses to Become a Teacher

  1. […] Now I’m wondering about teaching:  Can an alternatively certified 22-year-old really outperform a 59-year old veteran?  And, if so, what does it say about teaching as a “profession.” […]

  2. Perhaps its also because teacher salaries and benefits are one of the most expensive parts of school budgets. If we tout how good teachers “really” have it, whats the incentive for communities not to use those statements against teachers when budget negotiation time rolls around?

    I worked in a district where a prominent community member took out a full page add in the newspaper every year publishing the names and salaries of the top 50 paid teachers in the district. He did not break down the money by salary + pay for coaching or teaching summer school or even list years of experience. The community always used that as ammunition at BOE meetings to try and cut back on even Cost of Living adjustments to the contract.

    Its a hard balance to strike.

  3. Matthew Ladner says:

    Jay-

    The other problem here is that teaching IS NOT an attractive profession for the would-be high-flyer, despite summers off and the higher average hourly wage.

  4. Good point, Matt. Just think what teachers we could attract if we paid them like rock stars. Of course, as you’ve suggested that would require having fewer than 3.1 million of them and having them work more than 190 days (with 8 paid days off) per year.

  5. The problem is that people fear that advertising the pecuniary benefits of teaching would undermine the appropriate motivation for teachers.

    My experience in an affluent suburban school district tells me that unless the structure and/or culture of public schools are changed, raising salaries does in fact attract people who have the wrong motivation.

    Here’s an example: on back to school night a 6-figure teacher, when asked why he had changed careers, told parents, “I wanted the summers off.”

  6. Another factoid: a friend of mine recently returned to college to finish her B.A. degree. Her counselor, provided by the college, has tried to talk her into going into teaching because of the good salary & benefits.

    She has no interest in teaching & finds it scandalous that a person would go into teaching only for salary and benefits.

    But that is the advice career counselors here are advising college students.

  7. Yet another example!

    A friend of mine knows a young man who wants to make his living as a musician.

    His parents won’t hear of it & have more or less forced him to get a Masters in Education so he can support himself as a teacher. He hates teaching – says so openly – but he’s got his Masters & is now looking for a job.

    Good salary & benefits.

  8. Then there’s my favorite: the teacher here who told students, “I make 6 figures a year and I only work 120 days a year.”

    Apparently he’d done the arithmetic to find out exactly how many days he actually works as opposed to showing up for staff development days.

    On staff development days, he told the kids, “I do what you do. I text my friends.”

  9. “But that is the advice career counselors here are advising college students.”

    I mean “….the advice career counselors here are giving college students”

  10. Just think what teachers we could attract if we paid them like rock stars.

    I’d rather not.

  11. […] a post written yesterday, the venerable Dr. Jay Greene makes the point that education schools typically undersell the benefits of the teaching profession to their own […]

  12. Patrick says:

    Ms Johnson,

    “She has no interest in teaching & finds it scandalous that a person would go into teaching only for salary and benefits.”

    Why is that scandalous?

    Alternatively, if this is scandalous, why do we constantly hear complaints about the need to RAISE teacher salaries? If the only reason teachers are to be teachers is just to HELP kids, why raise their salaries at all? Why not just have a whole bunch of volunteers?

  13. Patrick says:

    “On staff development days, he told the kids, “I do what you do. I text my friends.”

    Um…those who don’t have the text plan nap or daydream. Come on, lets be honest. Development days are regarded as junk and a waste of time by most teachers.

  14. Ryan says:

    60% guaranteed? My teacher retirement plan tops out at 30.

  15. michael says:

    And then there are the private school teachers. I make a fraction of my public school counterparts and fund my own retirement and health care. I’m not complaining about my plight; just tired of public school teachers whining about theirs.

  16. What school district or state are you in, Ryan? You should consider moving almost anywhere else, because the maximum pension benefit is typically at least 60% of peak earnings. In MO it is 66%.

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