The National Council on Teacher Quality has posted a debate on the following question: are teachers underpaid? A team of two economists on one side of the debate challenges an economist on the other side of the debate and really get into some meaty points:
--is having the summer off a bug or a feature?
--how much out-of-school time do teachers spend working compared to other professions?
--is there really a list of "comparable fields" to education?
--should pay be compared at a weekly rate or an annual rate to be most accurate?
I have no idea how long this particular debate will stay at the linked URL, so if this topic interests you, go read it as soon as possible.
Am I underpaid?
Seldom will you hear me complain about my pay. In my classes I always tell the students how poor I am, how I've never been to the Bahamas (hint hint), how I drive a Kia. I hate to admit this, since I have some (now-former) students who periodically read this blog, but those types of comments are more for rapport than sympathy. I'm not one to turn down a pay raise, and neither am I happy to roll over when the school district wants to save a few dollars at my expense. I'm not happy at all with the amount of union dues I pay! I certainly can't afford the types of houses that my teachers lived in when I was growing up, but that may be more a function of the real estate market than comparable teacher pay. I linked here to a CNN story that said that when adjusted for inflation, teacher pay is up over the last 20 years but some states have seen a real decline in pay.
So, are teachers underpaid or not?
Heck, I don't know! I live comfortably. I'm in the process of buying my grandparents' house; paying for it will require a healthy chunk of my take-home pay, probably a larger chunk than it did for my non-college-educated, just-retired-from-the-military grandfather in 1961. And he paid it off in 20 years, something I'll be lucky to do. So that's one metric we can use, but like I said earlier, that may be more a function of real estate prices in general than teacher pay in particular.
I now make slightly more than I did when I worked in industry over 8 years ago, but I'm definitely putting in fewer hours a year now than I did then. I became a teacher because I thought it would allow me to be a better father--when my son's out of school, I'm off work. My dad was a railroad machinist and had four kids--there were no father-son bonding trips. Money was tight. I take my son somewhere "exotic" every summer, and we have plenty of other time throughout the school year to do things together. I have enough money to do this and I don't live paycheck-to-paycheck. Bottom line: I'm comfortable enough, and I enjoy my time off work. Maybe I'm worth more, and I could certainly make more were I to go back to industry. But I like what I do. For the most part, I'm content.
That's pretty good, isn't it?
Update, 7/1/05 9:42 pm: That didn't take long. After reading this post over at the EducationWonks I thought I should clarify my remarks here. I live a comfortable life with the money I make right now, but I certainly think there are better ways to structure pay scales. What I addressed above was merely the number of dollar signs on my paycheck, not the system that generated that paycheck.