Most Americans Think Teachers Are Underpaid
Maybe it's because your mom's one, or your Aunt Suzie, or your Brother Jim. Maybe it's because you've had your life touched, or moved, or shaken by a few of them. Whatever the reason, people care about teachers, and how much they make. When AOL Jobs wrote of a report that claimed teachers were overpaid, our inbox was flooded with rage. It turns out that those furious readers stand with the majority of Americans. A new poll shows that more than half of Americans feel that teachers don't earn enough money, and young Americans, minority Americans, female Americans, and Americans who vote Democratic feel the most strongly about it.
Public school teachers earned an average of $55,000 in 2009-10, according to a 2009 report from the National Education Association. But this number excludes the relatively generous benefits that teachers receive.
The national poll of 1,142 registered voters conducted by the polling company Poll Position found that 55.7 percent of Americans believe teachers are underpaid. Just 13 percent consider them overpaid and 23.5 percent of respondents thought teachers were paid just the right amount. (The survey has a 3 percent margin of error.)
Opinions, unsurprisingly, diverge starkly along political lines. Almost one in five Republicans consider teachers overpaid, compared to 14.9 percent of independents, and a measly 4 percent of Democrats. 44.6 percent of Republicans consider teachers underpaid, as do 66.7 percent of Democrats, and 57.3 percent of independents. This partly explains the racial, age and gender differences. Blacks, Hispanics, women and young people are more liberal than middle aged white men.
Conservative reports make the case that teachers are paid too much, because when they move into the private sector they usually take a pay cut. Workers with taxpayer-funded paychecks, they claim, should earn what the free market demands, and with lengthy summer breaks and high job security, teachers already get ample perks. Many conservatives also resent America's teachers unions, which are traditionally powerful players in the Democratic party, and are often accused of protecting bad teachers from losing their jobs.
Liberals, in response, stammer and scoff. Are you kidding? Teachers wake up early to prepare lessons, stay up late to grade papers, and spend the day managing a classroom of kids, some with disabilities, disorders and home problems, prepping them all for state tests that determine the future of their jobs.
More importantly, they argue, teachers have one of the most sacred tasks in our fine republic: molding our nation's young. And many of our country's best and brightest choose not to go into teaching precisely because they can earn a far prettier penny pursuing a private sector career.
It seems, at least right now, that most Americans sympathize with the latter view. This may be partly due to the anguished reports about teachers that have recently been in the news: pay cuts, mass layoffs, slashed bargaining rights. About one teacher in five now moonlights at a second job.
At 69.1 percent -- more than any other group, even Democrats -- Americans who are 18 to 29 years old believe that teachers are underpaid. Perhaps this is because millennials were very recently sitting in a classroom, and the labors and impact of their teachers are fresher in their minds. Or it could be that many of these young people have toyed with the idea of becoming teachers themselves, but having looked at the pay they decided, with a heavy heart, that it just wasn't good enough.
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Claire Gordon has contributed to Slate's DoubleX, the Huffington Post, and the book Prisons: Current Controversies. While an undergraduate at Yale University and a research fellow at Yale graduate school, she spoke on panels at Yale and Cornell, and reported from Cairo, Tokyo, and Berlin.
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