Along with the age-old joke about how little teachers are paid compared with stockbrokers and mail carriers, some current and soon-to-be teachers say the size of their paycheck is important to them, even though their love of education remains central to their careers.
“They are totally underpaid,” said Kristina Schaefer, a first-year graduate student in educational psychology.
Schaefer wanted to become a teacher after she had a daughter and realized how much she liked to work with children. She said she hopes to either teach at a private Waldorf school, or at the university level.
“(Teachers) are fully responsible for our next generation,” Schaefer said. “What they teach these children will shape our world forever. That is a huge responsibility.”
“Teachers are not in their job for the money, they do it because they like to teach,” Schaefer said. “But they should be compensated better, especially in (the Los Angeles Unified School District) where the population is so diverse and there are so many children from disadvantaged neighborhoods and so many children with special needs and circumstances to deal with.”
According to the Los Angeles Unified School District, an LAUSD teacher’s annual salary could start at between $42,004 and $66,810 during the 2005-06 school year.
In 2004-05, rates for annual salaries increased by two percent, retroactive to July 1, 2004. Degree differentials and career increments also increased to two percent.
Teachers earn career increments because of their seniority with the LAUSD from which a teacher must be paid through the maximum pay schedule, as well as receive a pay increase after five qualifying years.
Teachers who receive National Board Certification receive an additional 15 percent salary increase: 7 percent for their certification, and the other half toward the completion of 92 hours of their certified duties that are outside the normal duties and hours. Teachers who have a master’s degree receive up to an extra $541 annually, and teachers who have a doctorate get up to an extra $1,071 annually.
In addition, some of the benefits teachers receive include payments made for the entire cost of medical, dental, vision and life insurance premiums.
In 2004-2005, the annual salary for LAUSD teachers and their hourly rates increased by 2 percent retroactive to July 1, 2004.
The hourly rates for a teacher in the LAUSD for 2005-06 are between $35.58 and $46.46. The flat hourly rate for an adult teacher and day-to-day substitute is $41.83.
In 2002-03, California had the highest average salaries for public school teachers, with teachers making up to $55,693, according to the National Education Association. California dropped to number three in 2003-04, as the national annual salary average for teachers moved up to $56,444.
Nancy Martinez, a journalism and English teacher at Grover Cleveland High School in Reseda, said she believes that her own salary is satisfactory, though when she thinks about the amount of time she puts into her work, she said her salary may not be great.
“There is a lot of work that is expected of you that must be done outside of school hours,” she said. “You’re not paid for that in overtime. When you actually calculate the number of hours you work versus the amount you get paid, it’s a lot less.”
Partly because of the amount of time Martinez devotes to being a teacher, she said she often thinks about her salary.
Martinez said with the amount of effort and energy she exerts into her job that she often wishes she could go on vacation.
“You work so hard, so where’s the reward?” she said.
One of Martinez’s deciding factors for becoming a teacher was stability. Before she became a teacher, she was a researcher at Marie Claire magazine.
“So it was more of the stability of, ‘OK, I’m going to be in the same place every day,’ ” Martinez said. “I had no idea how much work it was,” “The pay didn’t bother me because I knew with a career change, (and) with any time you make a career change you start at the bottom. So I knew that, and it didn’t bother me.”
Martinez said laughing, that now that she has been working as a teacher for four years, the amount of money she does not earn bothers her.
As a single mother, Schaefer has supports herself and her daughter. She added that her salary would be important to her once she starts teaching.
“It is a constant thing I factor into my ultimate career decision,” she said. “It is one reason why I’ve set my sight on teaching at a college level because the pay is so much better.”
For freshmen Liberal Studies major Jillian Dineen, who wants to become an elementary school teacher, money is also an important factor.
“You are in charge of buying the supplies, decorations and anything else you want your class to have,” she said. “And the money comes out of your pocket.”
“It will play a big role, but at the same time I feel as if teaching is what I am supposed to do with my life,” Dineen said.
For some, the prospect of a salary that is lower than many other professions does not cause a reconsideration of career choice.
“I think it is common knowledge that teachers are underpaid,” Schaefer said. “That is not something that stopped me from being interested in teaching in the first place. It is truly the way that public schools are run and how I don’t feel children are given the right opportunities to learn because of the government policies that made me reconsider my career choice.”
Dineen said that her earnings as a teacher would support her lifestyle.
“I think that I will be able to support myself, but at the same (time) it will be very hard,” she said. “With the faith I have in myself, I think that I would be able to make it through the rough times.”
Martinez said there are several programs, such as loan forgiveness, in which the federal government will cancel all or part of an educational college financial aid loan, which could help graduating students who plan to go into teaching.
Students who become full-time teachers in an elementary or secondary school that serves students from low-income families can have a portion of their Perkins Loan forgiven under The National Defense Education Act. This program forgives 15 percent of a person’s loan for the first and second year of teaching service, 20 percent for the third and fourth, and 30 percent for the fifth.
“If you’re going to start you’re going to be in about the (mid-$30,000 range), but there is a lot of opportunities to balance it out” Martinez said.
John Barundia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.