Teacher battling stress

(© Krakenimages.com - stock.adobe.com)

PITTSBURGH — Teachers in the United States have been overworked and underpaid for decades. Educators do so much to help form the backbone of society and shape the minds and leaders of tomorrow, yet continue to receive woefully little public and monetary support. Let’s face facts: Those looking for six-figure bank accounts hardly ever set out to become teachers. Backing up this perception, a recent survey of U.S. teachers finds two in three say their pay is just not good enough in 2024.

The uncomfortable truth that teachers are underpaid to the point of absurdity is far from a new development, but the nationally representative survey from the non-profit RAND Corporation details just how bad the problem has become — and how fed up many teachers are feeling. Overall, 66% of U.S. teachers called their base salary “inadequate.” Meanwhile, just 39% of other American adults working different jobs said the same.

What would it take to bring teachers’ salaries up to adequate levels? The educators said a $17,000 increase in base pay, on average, would be enough. That figure equates to about a 27% pay increase, which would be comparable to the estimated gap in pay between teachers and other similarly college-educated workers and professions. This gap is often called the teacher pay penalty.

At the beginning of 2023, a team of RAND researchers surveyed public school teachers regarding how salary and work hours affect their intentions to leave their jobs and influence their well-being. The study authors also put together a parallel survey of working adults to add further context to the teachers’ responses.

“Most teachers feel overworked and underpaid, but we didn’t know what teachers considered to be fair pay or how the amount of their desired pay is related to cost of living and the working conditions in their schools,” says Elizabeth D. Steiner, lead author of the report and a policy researcher at RAND, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization, in a media release. “Teachers at all levels of experience said they deserved higher pay, suggesting the importance of raising pay across the salary schedule.”

Stressed, tired teacher
66% of U.S. teachers called their base salary “inadequate.” (© Elnur – stock.adobe.com)

More specifically, teachers cited low salaries and long working hours as the top reasons and stressors for considering leaving their positions. Notably, researchers observed a strong connection between dissatisfaction with pay and dissatisfaction with weekly hours worked.

The survey also revealed that during a given school year, the average teacher works more hours on a weekly basis than all other working adults (53 hours in comparison to 46 hours for everyone else). Even worse, roughly one in every four hours worked by teachers per week was un-contracted and uncompensated.

“The survey shows that pay, hours worked and working conditions are interrelated, suggesting that pay increases alone – without improvements in working hours or conditions – are unlikely to bring about large shifts in teachers’ well-being or intentions to leave the profession,” explains Ashley Woo, co-author and an assistant policy researcher at RAND.

African-American teachers were found more likely than their White counterparts to consider leaving their jobs. Researchers say this may threaten recent societal gains in racial and ethnic diversity across the educational workforce. African-American teachers work more hours weekly, receive slightly lower base salaries, and are generally less satisfied than Caucasian teachers with their base salary.

In conclusion, the research team advocates increased pay, reduced working hours (especially uncontracted and uncompensated hours), and better overall working conditions to boost teacher retention.

About John Anderer

Born blue in the face, John has been writing professionally for over a decade and covering the latest scientific research for StudyFinds since 2019. His work has been featured by Business Insider, Eat This Not That!, MSN, Ladders, and Yahoo!

Studies and abstracts can be confusing and awkwardly worded. He prides himself on making such content easy to read, understand, and apply to one’s everyday life.

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