In the past few years, we’ve seen teachers across the country protest for wage increases, and it is definitely a discussion that America needs to have. The fact is that teachers in the U.S. are both vastly overworked and vastly underpaid – a situation ripe for teachers’ strikes.
Despite these facts, there are still a lot of misconceptions about the teaching profession in America, and they come along with talking points that are sometimes used to discredit teachers’ demands.
Here are the facts regarding 4 myths about teachers.
1. Teachers work less than other people
You’ve probably heard this one before. It’s true that the average length of a school day in the U.S. is 6.5 hours, but teachers actually put in much more time than that. Teachers at elementary, middle, and high schools all across the country routinely put in 10 hours a day or more.
Although teachers are required to put in 38.2 hours of work each week, they actually end up working an average of 53.3 hours weekly due to grading papers at home, lesson planning, conferences, meetings, programs, and other after-school activities.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, most other professions in the U.S. work an average of 42.3 hours per week.
2. Teachers have a paid summer vacation
This is another common myth you might have heard. As someone whose sister is a teacher, I can tell you that this is not accurate. Teachers in America only get paid for the days they work.
One educator put it this way: she works 187 days a year, and that’s what she gets paid for, nothing more, nothing less.
The reality of teacher pay is that they can choose to get paid over the course of 9 months (the length of the school year) or have money withheld from their paychecks so they can continue to receive payments over the summer. Either way, it’s a tight squeeze, and teachers have to budget for the entire year wisely.
That’s the reason why many teachers work a second job during the summer (or sometimes even during the school year) to make ends meet. Teachers are actually 30% more likely to work a second job than non-teachers.
3. Teachers are provided with all necessary supplies
This one is a little mind-blowing. The sad fact is that many American schoolteachers have to pay for school supplies out of their own pocket. It’s hard to believe that our public education system does not provide its teachers with EVERY SINGLE THING THEY NEED to provide children with an adequate education, but that’s the reality of the situation teachers face every day.
A 2016 study found that, on average, teachers spend $530 out of their own pocket to buy supplies for their students and classrooms. One teacher in Colorado said she spends between $800-$1,000 each year to provide supplemental materials for her students. The president of the Colorado Education Association said teachers in Colorado are “fed up by the constant year-over-year chronic underfunding of our public schools.”
4. Teachers are paid a decent wage
As mentioned earlier, many teachers take on a second job. The reason is obvious: they don’t make enough money. In 2015-2016, almost 18% of public school teachers worked a job outside the school system. In addition to that, 44.5% of teachers worked on extracurricular activities within the school system to make extra money (my sister did this, as a volleyball coach).
Unfortunately, supplemental income is the name of the game if you work as a public school teacher in America. The average salary in the U.S. for a K-12 public school teacher is just over $58,000, but pay varies from state to state. In fact, pay is below average (or significantly below average) in 36 states.
New York pays its teachers an average of $79,152, the highest in the country, while South Dakota comes in dead last with an average of $42,025.
We’ll have to wait and see if recent protests in Arizona, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Chicago and other states and localities will spread throughout the country and teachers all across America get the raises they deserve.