My grandmother taught in an elementary school in New Jersey immediately upon graduating from college, and she retired just a few years ago. Her experience was warm, encouraging and incredibly rewarding. Nowadays, when my family and grandparents meet for dinners at the convenient Italian restaurant located midway between Westfield and Monroe Township, NJ, she has the most to say about the American education system.
In our conversations, elementary school teacher salaries are the most popular topics. While my grandmother received a relatively more generous compensation package in teaching for over 35 years at Robertsville Elementary School in Marlboro Township, NJ, she noted the uneven and neglected pay system for educators nationwide. According to Salary Wizard by salary.com, an IBM subsidiary, the median expected salary for a typical teacher in public elementary schools is $51,816. In digging a bit deeper, public school teacher wages are widely varied geographically across the U.S., with South Dakota earning about $34,000 annually, while California and New York hitting roughly $70,000 annually, according to a 2012 NSF report. Also, teaching salaries have only rose 5% between 2000 and 2010, in constant dollars, which are adjusted for inflation. In comparison, and still relatively mediocre, real wage growth in the U.S. has risen nearly 10%, or double that of teachers, over the same period. Productivity has soared to 25%, which means average workers and teachers are working longer and harder in their daily jobs.
While one can pour over endless mounds of statistics about average teachers’ pay and conditions, it is clear that America’s educators of our future contributors to society are underpaid, underappreciated and disincentivized to enter this noble field. Future teachers explore far and wide to find suitable working locations to meet the needs of themselves and their families. As teaching young people is such an honorable and selfless career, I feel both proud and saddened that my grandmother dedicated her entire life to helping young people learn and succeed.