(NewsNation) — It’s been a tough few years for educators, who have faced unprecedented challenges in the classroom as well as an ongoing teacher shortage.
Katharine Sparks, a NewsNation viewer from Missouri, wanted to know more about how to support teachers. During Teacher Appreciation week, she asked Kim Anderson, the executive director of the National Education Association, all about it.
Q: According to the National Education Association, the average starting teacher salary is just over $40,000. Many new teachers must work two jobs just to make ends meet. How do we address this issue? What incentives do good new teachers have to stay in education?
A: Anderson said the National Education Association is trying to raise attention about low teacher pay.
“Salaries have not kept pace with inflation,” she said. “In fact … if you adjust for inflation, teachers are making $2,000 less than they were a decade ago. And so we’re going in the opposite direction.” Although salaries need to be raised, there isn’t the political will to do so, Anderson said. One option is taking advantage of federal money from the American Rescue Plan, which was provided to schools in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, to raise salaries, she said.
“But even more than that, we have to start convincing our governors and our state legislatures all across this country, that education needs to be adequately funded in order to support students with everything that they need,” Anderson said. “And that means paying the best and the brightest in our professions more. Paying them a professional wage, instead of forcing folks to take two and three jobs, as you indicated, many of whom are living in poverty.”
Q: Earlier this year, a National Education Association survey revealed that 55% of educators will leave the profession earlier than planned. Teachers are taking early retirement, and universities are not producing as many people going into the education field. What can be done to improve this situation?
A: Anderson said it starts with making the profession more attractive to go into, “not only financially, but from respect and professional autonomy standpoint.” This means raising salaries, as well as student loan forgiveness.
“Most people in the country don’t know that about 60% of all teachers across this country have master’s degrees,” Anderson said.
With the rising cost of college, “It’s really difficult to convince someone to go into a profession when you can’t even pay off your student loans,” Anderson said.
One step in the right direction is the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program which forgives the remaining balance on people’s direct loans after they’ve made 120 qualifying monthly payments while working for a qualified employer.
“We appreciate that, but that’s not enough,” Anderson said.
What’s needed now is raising base salaries for teachers, paying them up front for residency programs and giving educators respect and professional autonomy, she added.
Teachers, Anderson said, have to play many roles.
“They buy supplies, they’ve got to be a student’s social worker, they’ve got to be a student’s mental health support, sometimes, they’ve got to be a student’s parent or guardian,” she said. “We are expecting too much on one single profession, and that is why every educator in a school building should be valued.”
Bus drivers, custodians, school nurses, receptionists and others who work in a school building are part of a “village that is helping students succeed,” Anderson said.
“We have got to make these professions more attractive to go into, and it starts with paying them a professional wage,” she said.