David Frost is a writer in The Writers’ Bloc and an organizer with Roanoke Peoples’ Power Network
Virginia has the highest discrepancy between teacher pay and comparatively educated professionals out of any state in the country.
There are several reasons why the teacher pay gap exists. None of those reasons are ethical or grounded in objective fact.
The History of Teacher Pay
Teaching in the United States was initially a predominantly male profession. At that time, the 1800s, women suffered through substantial gender inequality.
They were often not allowed to work outside the home. Therefore, teaching, like most professions, utilized a male workforce. However, people at the time considered teaching a temporary profession. Teachers used the profession as a temporary transition to other professions.
However, male teachers were often unavailable. That led some communities to hire female teaching professionals. School administrators took advantage of the social situation that women faced. They paid women substantially less than male teachers.
The social norms of the time were also substantially different. At that time, women often had a family or a husband that they lived with and did not require the money to meet their basic needs. The normative age for teachers at that time was incredibly young, and teaching did not require a bachelor’s degree.
Teaching is very different today than it was in the nineteenth century. Teaching requires a bachelor’s degree, with many teachers also getting a master’s degree.
Beyond a bachelor’s degree, teaching also requires testing and credentialing. Teachers, of all genders , also may or may not live alone and independently from others. Societally, marriage tends to occur later in life (if at all), beyond the average starting age for teachers.
The Gender Pay Gap
One hypothesis for the teacher pay gap is that it coincides with the gender pay gap. One of the original arguments against paying female teachers the same as their male counterparts was that women rarely provided for a family.
Administrators and government officials felt that they knew more about women’s family life and financial well-being than the female teachers knew themselves.
Numerous factors are at play in a woman’s life. Many women may support a family. A woman may have a disabled husband or disabled parents that they help, or they may have children from a husband who is currently deceased.
Making assumptions about the lives of female teachers or forcing a traditional family structure upon someone who did not want that and did not ask for it is morally wrong. The only fair way forward is to treat all people fairly, including equal pay for equal work.
Lack of Respect
Reactionary think tanks often claim that teachers do not deserve equal pay to people with similar educations because they get summers off. However, teachers work an average of forty-seven hours per week.
One-quarter of teachers work sixty or more hours a week. There are more things that teachers do than what occurs during school hours. Teachers must create lesson plans, grade papers, meet with parents, draft IEPs, and do other tasks.
A planning period rarely accommodates everything teachers need to accomplish. Teachers also have to buy classroom supplies out of pocket.
If that were not bad enough, teachers are often targeted for blame when some children underperform on standardized tests. Standardized tests are often the cause of children receiving an underwhelming education.
Standardized testing removes teacher creativity and student exploration opportunities, shortening the child’s intellectual development.
Anti-intellectual thinking has existed in American culture since its creation. However, anti-intellectualism has increased recently. The most substantial aspect of the current anti-intellectual sentiment is a misplaced economic resentment that many people without college educations feel toward people with college degrees.
However, student loan debt is crippling a new generation of college graduates, leading many to wonder whether a degree will benefit them at all.
The point of the preceding three paragraphs is that the lack of respect for teachers has created a toxic environment. Many teachers are leaving the profession. The remaining ones may have trouble pushing for better pay in a social and political landscape where they receive diminished respect.
Perhaps the biggest reason teachers receive underwhelming paychecks is that many neo-liberals, and capitalism in general,wish to destroy the public commons.
School is something that benefits the whole community. The wealthy are more likely to send their children to private schools where their children grow up around other children of wealthy individuals.
Therefore, they do not want to pay for something that does not benefit them.
Teachers also have teachers’ unions, and neo-liberals detest unionization. The rhetoric surrounding teachers’ unions often goes together with the lack of respect teachers receive and the social Darwinist demands of neo-liberalism. Although unionization improves income equality, neo-liberals deify the market.
Neo-liberals often attempt to reframe school as a training place for occupational purposes. However, such an approach robs the individual student and the larger society of education’s benefits.
Education is one aspect of society that does not benefit from neoliberal ideology. The anarchist thought is that education should prepare children for full life instead of a life of servitude in a factory.
Reactionaries also resent the idea that education, regardless of age range, tends to produce people who are more tolerant of individuals who are different from themselves.
This change in attitude happens because the student learns about the world and befriends people they would not have befriended otherwise. Although reactionaries like to claim that indoctrination takes place in schools, what occurs is that students often grow out of the views they grew up around.
David Graeber’s Teacher Pay Discussion
Anarchist, activist and anthropology professor David Graeber presented a unique idea on teacher pay. Graeber believed that teacher pay was so poor because helping others is enjoyable.
Although enjoying one’s work is something that seems like a natural aspiration, the cultural climate in the United States considers suffering for one’s employment a virtue.
Graeber noted that professions that do not add value to the economy or community receive a good salary. However, many people see altruistic professions as rewarding enough that they do not deserve to earn a good paycheck.
The idea behind that strange sentiment is that the more a person dislikes their work but still performs occupation, the better their work ethic and overall character.
Teachers deserve considerably better pay in Virginia than what they receive at the current time. There are no valid excuses for why they receive such little pay. The minimum wage is currently $11/hr, up from $9.50/hr last year.
Inflation increased by seven percent, not because people asked for better pay but because of corporate price gouging. The five percent increase that teachers will receive this year is far from adequate in a state that already pays its teachers less than any other state.
Virginia educators deserve better treatment from the state they call home.