Guest Blog: Why Raising Teacher Pay Matters

We are excited to introduce a new series of blog posts, in which we invite experts in the field and organizations we admire to share their perspective on a variety of issues close to our mission to help essential workers build financial security. The Teacher Salary Project is one of those organizations. Emma Liss, communications specialist, and Nínive Calegari, founder & CEO, share their story, below, on why they're fighting for increased teacher pay.

Nate Petersen is a high school Social Studies teacher in Hermon, Maine. He is passionate about teaching, and works hard to create interactive and engaging lesson plans -- ensuring all of his students’ learning needs are met, every day. Though, to ensure his own needs are met, Nate must also work a second job as a bartender to supplement his income. His two jobs just barely make it possible for him to pay rent and work towards paying off his student loans. If Nate wants to start a family, buy a house, or even stop living paycheck to paycheck, something will need to change.

At The Teacher Salary Project, we are very familiar with stories like Nate’s. We know many teachers who are just barely able to eke out a living on their salaries, even with supplemental income from second jobs. We are reminded of the story of Etoria Cheeks, a San Francisco teacher who, despite her master’s degree, was homeless for almost three months this past winter due to skyrocketing housing costs. Lucky for Etoria, she has since found a home, and San Francisco’s Mayor Ed Lee has announced a plan to put $44 million towards teacher housing. We know that wins like this would not be possible without teachers like Etoria and Nate who are brave enough to share their financial struggles to raise awareness about the dire state of so many within the teaching profession.

60% of teachers have a second job.

It is a harsh reality that teacher pay, or lack thereof, has led to a crisis throughout our country: 47 out of 50 states are currently experiencing teacher shortages. In Oklahoma, where teacher pay is the lowest in the country, the number of teachers with emergency certifications - temporary certifications granted even when teachers have not met traditional certification criteria - has skyrocketed from 32 in 2011 to 1,429 in 2017. Teachers across the country are paid 17 percent less than other professionals with similar training, according to last year's study by the Economic Policy Institute. Yet over 92 percent of teachers pay for supplies for their students out of their own pockets and over 60 percent of teachers work second jobs, some resorting to feeding their children at food banks, and others selling their blood to pay the bills.

Teachers are paid 17% less than other professionals with similar training.

The Teacher Salary Project is raising awareness about the impact of the national policy of underpaying and under-valuing our educators. Since our founding in 2005 we have brought teachers’ voices to the forefront of the teacher pay conversation. Our book, Teachers Have It Easy, a New York Times bestseller, weaves stories of teachers’ hectic daily lives with prescriptions on how to reform and improve education. Our feature film, American Teacher, was directed by Academy Award Winner Vanessa Roth, scored by musician Thao Nguyen, narrated by actor Matt Damon and produced by Vanessa Roth, Dave Eggers and Ninive Calegari. It follows the stories of four teachers on the front lines of the American education system as they navigate a year in the classroom.

We recognize the importance of changing policy in the journey towards fair teacher compensation. We have pushed for governors across the country to make real changes in teacher pay and education funding in their home states. We have rallied support for legislation that takes positive steps towards improving the wages and perceptions of teachers across the country. We have tracked states’ plans to improve compensation through their state equity plans (read our full report, Tackling the Challenge of Raising Teacher pay, State by State), and created tools to help constituents participate in the legislation process. We have worked to raise awareness about teachers who have to work second jobs through published opinions in the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the San Francisco Chronicle. And we have produced short films that give real teachers the chance to tell their stories in their own words.

We are committed to working with everyone in the country to ensure teaching becomes the prestigious, desirable, financially viable, and professionally exciting job we all know it needs to be. Tackling the issue of teacher pay is a huge task, and we cannot confront it alone. We are thrilled to see the important work that Landed is doing to support teachers who want to live in the communities where they work. Despite increases in cost of living, teacher pay has declined over the past 40 years while housing prices have skyrocketed in many cities around the country. Landed’s work is an essential step on the path towards elevating the teaching profession and ensuring teachers can stay in the communities where they teach, and we are so pleased to have them on this journey with us.