The Life of a Teacher in the U.S.


In 2018, public-school teachers across six states in the U.S staged walkouts and marched on their state capitols, protesting poor wages and sharp decreases in funding for public education since the Great Recession. Apparently, the roughly 3.2-million full-time public-school teachers in the U.S. have a lot to complain about. So exactly what are the reasons for the increasing and palpable discontent among teachers in the U.S. today?

Image via Flickr by US Department of Education

Miserable Wages

According to statistics provided by the Department of Education, public-school teachers are earning less, if inflation rates are considered, than they did in 1990. Compared to other educated professionals, teachers in the U.S today earn roughly 18.7 percent less, whereas in 1994, the gap was only 1.8 percent. Since 2009 alone, the average teacher’s salary has decreased by four percent.

A staggering amount of teachers, many of whom hold Masters degrees, state that they could not survive without a second, and sometimes even a third, job. To make things even worse, nine out of ten teachers say they have to buy some, or all, of their teaching supplies out of their own pockets because of shrinking budgets for public education, amounting to an average of about $500 annually. Budget cuts have also led to overcrowded classrooms, outdated textbooks, and school buildings in dire need of maintenance, furthermore contributing to the dismal and unsatisfactory working environment of teachers.

Less Control in Their Classrooms

Not being able to survive on their low salaries is by no means the only source of dissatisfaction for teachers. Many states have over the last few decades implemented new criteria for student achievement, which has led to curricula changes and also standardized tests through which teachers are evaluated according to their students’ academic performance. Teachers, furthermore, have to attend daylong professional development programs aimed at improving standardized test scores, which keep them away from the classroom. The effect of all the new mandates from the administration and the state, is that teachers have been given a lot of extra work that doesn’t pertain to their actual job, teaching, but is centered purely on evaluations.

A Lack of Respect for Teachers

Many teachers feel that they, and their profession, are not given adequate respect. This disrespect doesn’t only come from one source. Apart from government mandates that increasingly dictate to teachers how to do their job and school budgets cuts that have led to a challenging working environment, teachers also face daily insults from parents and students.

According to teachers parents tend to interfere with their jobs, often questioning scores or the teachers’ ability to teach. Some parents even sit in on classes to evaluate the performance of the teachers. Student discipline and behavior, according to many teachers, have also declined in the past few decades. They state that they increasingly have to contend with unruly and disrespectful behavior, and even violence, in their daily duties. As it has become quite easy to just buy an essay online, teachers also have to often deal with work that is not actually the students’.

Teachers Work Long Hours

To justify the low salaries that teachers have, some people cite the facts that teachers have short work days and long summer breaks. According to teachers, however, both these ‘facts’ cannot be further from the truth. Firstly, most teachers work at least eight hours or more a day, getting to school before 7 a.m. and staying well after the end of the school day. If the hours that teachers spend teaching, attending meetings, preparing for lessons, grading papers, and working on admin and evaluations, are all added up, the average teacher’s working week is far longer than the normal 40 hours.

The summer holidays are also rarely a time of relaxation and rest for teachers. Apart from preparing for the next school year, most of them spend the time running summer schools at their schools, attending professional development courses, or actually working at an alternative job to pay the bills.

The Future of Teaching in the U.S.

It seems that public perception is changing of the teaching profession after last year’s protests, with many backing tax increases to improve teacher’s salaries and prevent further budget cuts. But change will have to come sooner than later. In states like Oklahoma, many teachers were awarded emergency certifications that they were not qualified for to fill the fast increasing amount of teacher vacancies. Students are also not enrolling in college teacher education programs that readily anymore, as the prospects of becoming a teacher in the U.S are not appealing.


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