How About a Living Wage?

When the economy was booming, teachers in our community didn't feel the effects of the wealth. Our salaries remained the same while those in the private sector got raises and bonuses and new opportunities. We were told that the steady income was part of being a public worker. We had a pension and a steady income, so we didn't deserve an increase.

When the economy collapsed, teachers suddenly had salary freezes and furlough days (though the number of days in the school year remained the same -- the furlough days were our summer vacation). We were told that teachers had to "share the burden" of the bad economy. Though we hadn't experienced any of the benefits of a bull economy, we were among the first to be devoured by the bear.

So, now the economy is improving. Unemployment is dropping. Friends of mine who worked for financial institutions are now earning six figures again. Teachers, however, are earning a measly one percent raise. In other words, when the economy tanks, we take the hit. When the economy recovers, we continue with the status quo.

To put this into perspective, the starting salary when I began was $40,000 a year. Milk was $1.50 a gallon. Gas was $2.00 a gallon. And, now, it was not acceptable to fill one's tank up with milk instead of gas. Today, after the salary freezes have lifted, the starting salary is $39,000. Oh, don't worry. You can earn an extra grand by spending your own money on professional development and earn additional endorsements.

Meanwhile, milk is now almost four dollars a gallon. Eggs went from a dollar to two fifty. Everything is two to three times more expensive while our salaries have essentially dropped. Add to this ideas like merit pay, the public demonization of teachers and excessive standardized testing and you're left with a profession that is no longer a profession.

I'm not ready quit. However, I know of at least ten teachers who have abandoned this job to work in the private sector. The assumption that teachers are "burning out" is only partially correct. The truth is that many more aren't burning out so much as drowning in debt without any hope for a life vest.