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Opinion: American Counties Grossly Underpay Teachers

Updated: Oct 18, 2021

Jessica Shoemaker, a teacher at Langley High School, sighs as she stares at a screen of faceless icons. Her question about rhetoric hangs unanswered in the air when none of the 32 icons light up in response. She frowns as she recalls staying up till 2 A.M. grading these very students’ papers and crafting their lesson for today.

Millions of teachers across the United States find themselves in a similar position as Shoemaker, yet persevere in their work, hoping that their students will benefit from it. Today’s American teachers earn an average annual salary of $64,340. Based on how much time, effort, and resources these educators put into their work, they are heavily underpaid.

Detractors of the idea that teachers should be paid more cite the increase in teacher salary over the past decade. They don’t realize that these numbers are nominal when adjusted for inflation; the average salary of educators dropped 1.3% from 2000 to 2019.

Teachers contribute to their students’ lives, providing so much more than academic understanding. They are second parents who permanently shape impressionable young minds. Educators shape the country’s future by teaching their pupils skills, perceptions, and a sense of ethics in addition to factual knowledge. The onset of COVID-19 has only brought further reason to raise teachers’ salaries. Several teachers in counties around the U.S. have been forced to return to school in person.

While those teaching from home are safe, they lose what many consider the most valuable part of their job: interacting personally with students. Others encounter technological difficulties, which they have to spend time addressing. In any case, these difficult times have ushered in obstacles to teachers’ daily lives that they must receive compensation for facing. The most dedicated teachers are known to spend cuts of their take-home salary on their students in classrooms. The National Center for Educational Statistics testifies that teachers, in 2014 and 2016, spent an annual average of $479.00 out-of-pocket on students. Because there is a trend of low-income students attending urban schools, urban teachers tend to spend more than their suburban and rural counterparts. Such is the nature of teachers that they are motivated by their students to the point where they are willing to spend the little money they make on them.

California, New York, and Massachusetts top the list of states with the highest average teacher salary at $86,000. Mississippi and West Virginia remain at the bottom, at an average of $46,000. Ultimately, it is in states’ best interests to pay their teachers more, as high standardized test scores may draw national attention and generate funds for schools.

In many cases, the argument for paying teachers more cannot be refuted with the fact that counties do not carry enough money to spend more on teacher salaries. Fairfax County, Virginia’s largest school district, spent $2.1 million on personal laptops in 2019, then made another such purchase this year. Although distributing laptops to students has paid off, part of the money spent should have gone to the educators that enabled the venture to be successful.


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